| Belford-Oxford Double
I left the Missouri Gulch trailhead at 5:10, encouraged by clear skis and cold overnight temperatures. After about an hour of hiking on the steep but excellent trail, I was greeted with the first views of Mt. Belford.
A few minutes later, I could see the Northwest Gulch, which is the obvious snow climb to the summit. The picture was actually taken on the way out.
About half way up the gully I could see the North Ridge, which is visible at the top of the photo. I headed for a low spot in the ridge at lookers left instead of the summit.
I gained the ridge at 8:30 and was provided with a great view Mt. Belford.
I could now see my first objective, Mt. Oxford, which appeared to be quite a long ways off.
I took off the skins and descended into Belford Gulch, which connects the two peaks. The temperature was still -5 C and the snow was totally supportive, yet easy to get an edge into. The storms of the past few days had deposited about 6 inches of fresh, which completely buried the dust layer. As you can see in the photos, the snow everywhere in this area of the Sawatch is now a pristine white. Here is a shot taken while descending into the gulch, with the Belford-Oxford saddle visible in the middle of the photo. I would aim for the saddle after forcing myself to stop the descent into the gulch.
Once at the saddle, I could look back and see my line from Belford's North Ridge. Belford itself is the rock outcrop slightly to the right of center. I pointed the skis toward the summit of Oxford, which I reached at about 9:30.
From Oxford's summit, I could see more than a dozen 14ers. I took some pictures of a few of the closer ones. First the Southeast face of La Plata.
Belford, displaying its Northeast face.
The North Face of Mt. Harvard.
Although the air temperature was still about 0 C when I started the descent from Oxford, the sun had softened the snowpack to the point where the new snow would break under the weight of my skis. It was a challenge skiing through the numerous rocks without being able to turn reliably. Back at the saddle, I put the skins back on, pointing the skis at Belford this time. Here is a shot from the ridge, looking back at Oxford.
From the summit of Belford, I could see the North Face of Missouri Mountain.
Clouds had rolled in earlier and occasional light snow was falling as I prepared to leave Belford. The temperatures remained cool and I had little worries about the snow stability as I skied off the summit almost exactly at noon. Here is a shot of the snowfield above the Northwest Gulch. Although there were many rocks in this section, they were not difficult to ski around. The snow remained breakable and I worked very hard trying to improve my tele technique in this stuff.
This is the view looking down into the gulch.
Here is a shot taken lower down in the gulch. Notice that my turns did not expose the dirt layer, even at this relatively low elevation. Actually, I only saw dirt in my tracks following the last few turns at about 11,800.
I highly recommend this aesthetic tour. Dawson says that it is 9.5 miles and just shy of 6,000 vertical. I was able to complete the route in 9 hours without rushing. I was probably lucky with the cool weather, so an early start may be advisable. There would be virtually no danger of loosing your way on the wide, well marked trail if you hiked the first section in the dark.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):