| Belford-Oxford Combo
Getting there: Flew in from Illinois, so spent the first night (Sat) at the Vail-Eagle Holiday Inn (nice place) to acclimate and do some light hiking. A heavy thunderstorm blew in over Tennessee Pass on Sunday, dropping heavy precip and some snow/sleet above 11K.
Accommodations: Have stayed at the Columbine Inn at the north end of Leadville (next to the Pizza Hut) many times. Tried the Silver King across the street for a change of pace. Both are similar in price (~$75) and quality (pretty good). Fairly hard mattresses in both. Sleeping at 10K after coming in from no altitude will always be a challenge for many. The Safeway and hardware store are only about a half block away. Convenience/gas stations are adjacent.
Trailhead: Drive 20 miles south from Leadville on US 24 or 14.5 miles north of Buena Vista to CR 390. As you drive 7.5 miles in on this very good gravel road, you will pass immediately on your left beautiful Clear Creek Reservoir, then private Clear Creek Ranch further up. The road gets slightly rougher past the ranch, but is still compatible with 2WD vehicles. The Missouri Gulch TH will be on your left and is well-marked. Plenty of parking and there are toilet facilities.
The Hike: Starting altitude is 9,650 feet, making the combo hike a notable 5,800 feet of elevation gain and ~11 miles RT. As noted previously, this is not a walk in the park. Had planned to hike this alone on a quiet Monday but, fortuitously, met up with pastor Jim from Grand Junction, who grew up in Alaska. I greatly enjoyed his company and hearing of his multiple exploits on Denali.
We started an hour predawn with headlamps at about 40 degrees F. The trail is well-marked, starting at the right (west end of the parking area) so predawn starts are no big deal. Arrived in Missouri Basin as daylight was breaking. Once into the open, we would face considerable winds and low wind chill most of the day--even with 50 degree ambient temps later on. This is a long hike, so come prepared for changing temps, wind, and precip. Also, make sure you have plenty of fluid.
At about 11,600 you will reach a well-marked junction (left to Belford; right to Missouri). The pitch is modest at first, but then the 2,300 foot NW ridge ascent up the countless switchbacks gets much steeper. It is a good trail, but casual hikers might consider this tantamount to a Bataan death march. Regardless, it is the price of admission. We hit an inch or two of sleet/snow as we started up the switchbacks, but it was easily managed. The Belford summit block is easy to identify, well-marked, and easy to navigate. There is a nice overhang on the south side of the summit block where we got out of the gale force winds, warmed up a bit, and had lunch.
The traverse to Oxford and back is a bit deceiving. The distance is considerable (1.5 miles) and can be readily ascertained. The pitch up Oxford is modest and easy to navigate. The pitch down then back up Belford from the saddle, though, is fairly steep. Not technically hard at all, just steep. I remember saying to myself on the way down that this was not going to be fun to reascend on return--and it was not. Save some energy for this and make sure weather conditions are going to hold before you start out for Oxford. The only way back to the TH is directly over the summit of Belford and it will take you 2 hours+ RT.
The descent from Belford down the 2,300 feet of countless switchbacks was uninspiring from a hiking perspective, but the scenery was nice and the strong winds abated as we reached the basin.
Stats: We took this in a fairly leisurely 9 hours, TH to TH, though it could be done in 8 hours or less if you are in excellent physical condition, are acclimated, and take only short breaks. Our moving average for the day was just 1.6 MPH.
Summary/Caveats: This hike can be done by anyone in excellent physical condition and who is properly acclimated, though I would not recommend this for a first-timer. It is a long hike with significant commitment required. The chiefs caveats are: 1) Get an early start--predawn if possible. 2) Do not commit to Oxford if weather is brewing. You will not want to be in exposed terrain in an electrical storm. 3) Bring plenty of fluid and food. 4) Winter conditions will make the traverse on the Belford side of the saddle more challenging. Take your time to get it right. 5) Trying to add in Missouri in a single day will be a major commitment and beyond the ability of most. The easiest way to do all three would be to pack into Missouri Basin near the junction, do Belford-Oxford first, then do Missouri the next day and pack out.
Plenty of pics already posted, so I will leave it at that.
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