| Beautiful day on Belford/Oxford!
I camped along the road since there was a sign at the Missouri Gulch trailhead that said No Overnight Camping. The alarm went off at 4:00 am – nauseatingly early. I put on my headlamp, broke camp, and all the while wondering how I was going to do without gloves - I had forgotten them at home. My hands were frozen just folding up the tent poles but I was trying to stay optimistic - thinking that once the sun comes out I will be fine, this is the coldest part of the day.
I drove to the trailhead, got my pack ready, and headed out at 4:40 am. My earliest 14er start yet but I was following the recommendation to start an hour before daybreak since I really wanted to climb both Belford and Oxford. I really wanted to avoid any afternoon thunderstorms and bad weather.
I start out on the trail with my headlamp on and then I shortly realize that I can see past where the light was shining – so much for the 1 hour early, it was probably closer to 30 minutes. The trail was easily navigated with the headlamp, the first part of the trail is a non-technical trail with a lot of switchbacks. Then I hiked through the valley and got my first view of Belford. The trail got steeper and the wind picked up considerably. I had my jacket covering my fingers but they were starting to turn purple. I was hoping that the trail might wind around the backside of the mountain to give me more wind protection but no luck. I was stopped every couple minutes to rub my hands together and try to get some blood flowing. Finally I stop completely to put on my spare pair of socks as mittens but a group came up to me and they offered me their spare pair of gloves – I was so glad - that was so nice of them, I'm not sure how long I would have lasted without them. My fingers immediately warmed up and I was able to get moving faster than before. I continued on my way, there were a few snowfields along the way, but I didn't need snowshoes or microspikes, nothing deep, nothing too steep. I made it to the top of Belford, saw the group of guys that gave me the gloves, they were stowing their skis so they could summit Oxford and then ski down Belford. I asked them the route to Oxford and quickly headed out after scarfing down some trail mix. I looked up at the sky to check for storm clouds but there was not a cloud in sight! I had the go ahead to climb Oxford – woo hoo!
I followed the trail down Belford and then easily found the eastern heading trail down to another ridge toward Oxford. The trail was easy to follow though I was starting to lose energy. I spent some time on Oxford eating lunch and relaxing a little (out of the wind). Weather check – still beautiful – not a cloud, just blue skies and a 360 view of the mountains. It was gorgeous. I soaked up the scenery, took a few pictures, then I headed back the way I came.
I loved the descent down Oxford but the trail back up Belford was steep and I was really starting to get tired at that point. I was so glad I had the gloves, it was still cold despite the noon sun and cloudless sky.
I get to the top of Belford and sat down to rest a bit. A marmot comes up to me within inches and won't go away. I start to get nervous that it was going to bite me so I start yelling at it but it's not moving! It's coming closer and closer. Then it starts chewing on my Camelback! I managed to get it away from my Camelback but then it looked like it was about to bite my leg. Yikes. I decide it was time to go but first I snapped a few pictures of it.
I head back down, the wind blew me into rocks a couple times, it was still really strong. I was happy to get to tree line to get some cover from the wind. As I continued my descent it started to get hot - I started peeling down the layers and applying sunscreen. During one of the sunscreen applications I took off the gloves and set them by the trail. I later realized that I had forgotten the gloves and had to head back up the trail to retrieve them – doh! Some extra climbing as a bonus! And I was proud that I managed to make it across the 3 log bridge across the river without falling in. The trip across was shaky with my tired muscles but I made it. I was happy to get back down to the car. And I met up with the generous glove lenders in the parking lot so the gloves got returned to their rightful owner.
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