| Chilly Day on Belford/Oxford
My original plans for this weekend (S. Maroon and Snowmass) had been cancelled at the last minute due to the group worrying about snow conditions. Not wanting to let a precious end-of-summer-season weekend go to waste, I decided to head down to the Sawatch.
I arrived at the Missouri Gulch trailhead at dinnertime on Friday and set up camp. The drizzle and cool temperatures ensured an early bedtime. After a rather chilly night (note: sleeping bag liners work wonders!) I started to get ready at about 6.
When I went to put on my hiking boots I realized I had a problem. I happen to own two pairs of low-top boots that look pretty similar to each other. In my rush to leave home on Friday I reached in the dark closet and happened to grab the right boot of each pair. And of course I didn't realize this until now. Of course, as my wife could tell you, if I had grabbed both left boots instead I would have been fine. Given the unknown conditions on the trail, I opted to put a boot on the right foot and my trail runner on the left. At least I'd have good traction on one foot!
I and my unique fashion sense started up the trail at about 6:30. The nice thing about cold weather is it motivates you to keep moving to stay warm. I passed one or two other people by the time I reached treeline.
The trail to Elkhead Pass
I had heard the route over Elkhead Pass was more pleasant (but longer), so I decided to ascend the standard route and descend via Elkhead to spare my knees. The trail up Belford was brutally steep with endless switchbacks. The snow gradually increased the higher I went, but I never felt like I needed anything more than my trekking poles. The wind also kept things quite frosty.
After passing two other people descending (early risers!) I summited at about 9:45.
Summit pose with Oxford in the background
Looking west towards Missouri and Huron
Panorama looking north
After refueling and assessing the weather, I decided to push on to Oxford. The two guys I had encountered earlier both said they decided against it due to the cold, but I was feeling just fine.
The traverse over to Oxford
It took me about an hour to cover the distance between the two summits. I was obviously the first person to cross that day as the trail showed no human prints in the snow. The ascent to the summit of Oxford was refreshingly gradual. I made it to the top at 11:00.
Mt. Oxford - population: me
Mt. Harvard to the south
The clouds were building fast, so I quickly started back.
Looking back at the traverse to Belford
After making good time back to the saddle, I started the steep ascent back to Belford's south ridge. Given all the elevation I had already gained that day, this climb really tested my legs. As I (very slowly) made it to the top, I encountered two guys who were going to make a quick attempt on Oxford after dropping their packs. The last I saw of them they were sprinting across the traverse at a pace that put me to shame.
Once on the ridge the trail down to Elkhead Pass was obvious. On the way down I passed several parties headed up to Belford. The trail was much gentler than the standard route.
Looking down on the pass
Several packs stashed at Elkhead
At the pass I had a nice view of upper Missouri Gulch. As the clouds were really rolling in by that point, I wasted no time in continuing my descent.
Looking up at a snowy Missouri Mountain
The trail down the gulch continued to be nice and gentle, so I was able to make good time. It probably ended up being about the same amount of time as going down the standard route would have been (due to the extra distance), but the solitude and easy slope made it well worth it.
I made it to the "old building" at treeline just as the sleet began. As I descended the precipitation came and went, but it was never particularly heavy.
The aspens at higher elevation were definitely near their peak color
Once at the trailhead there was plenty of sunshine to dry me off as I packed up my campsite.
Winter is coming fast to the high country, but I was very happy to get a few more summits under my belt.
A rainbow near Leadville caps off another great day in the mountains!
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