| Belford/Oxford via Missouri Gulch
Hit the trail at 4:30 a.m. Thought the full moon would help us out and give us some light, but we still had to use the headlamps because the moon was obscured by mountains and trees. The air temperature was pretty nice. The steep switchbacks were not so nice. They were relentless, but I kept with my mantra: Legs are evil so they must be punished.
Breaking above treeline was refreshing, especially when the trail finally leveled out for a bit ("for a bit" being the key words, as this climb has very little relief from the steep up or steep down). As we hiked toward the Mt. Belford / Elkhead Pass fork, we waved to a couple waking campers.
This easy section of trail didn't last long, though. Belford's steep ridge immediately let us know how serious it was. It was consistently steep and painfully long. Like the Energizer bunny, it just kept going and going ...
The many alpine flowers in bloom were amazing.
Finally made it to the summit of Mt. Belford at 8 a.m. Truly stunning views in every direction. Hung out and refueled in the wind shelter for about 15 minutes, then we marched on toward Mt. Oxford. Have to admit, I first saw Harvard and thought it was Oxford. After hiking a few feet from Belford's summit (toward Harvard), I noticed the real Oxford and realized my error. What a relief that was (climbing to Harvard would be one hell of a climb!).
Going down the ridge from Belford (toward the Belford/Oxford saddle) was quite steep, but there were many rocks to brake yourself on. Then, going up Mt. Oxford, we met at least one false peak, which was kind of annoying. And other than about 20 feet of snow (which was hard-packed and very easy to cross), there were no major obstacles encountered. As we headed toward Oxford's summit we passed one climber, the first person we saw all day (aside from the campers).
Made it to the summit of Mt. Oxford at 9:15 and took a 10- to 15-minute break on top. Absolutely incredible views. Great weather, too.
Heading back up Belford was kind of painful, but it wasn't too much steeper than the ridge in the beginning of the climb. And like I said, there were many solid rocks to step on as we climbed up. Passed the 2nd and 3rd people of the day on the saddle. Happily made it back to Belford's summit (for the second time that day) at 10:30 a.m., where we saw something like 8 to 10 people on top.
Walking back down the long ridge to Missouri Gulch was very tiring, but it was nice to know there was no more UP remaining. And, actually, going down the ridge was much easier than I expected, as there were plenty of stable rocks to step on and brake yourself as you descended. There were even some steps made of rock here and there. CFI did a fine job.
Back below treeline I had forgotten about all those dizzying switchbacks. Man, were they murder on the quads and knees. Eventually made it back to the car at 12:15, exhausted. Quite the satisfying mountain fix.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):