| Belfox: Of course it`s a good idea!
pioletski, solo, 4/22/2010
~12 miles RT, 6550' climbed, 6100' skied
"Arthur, King of the Britons! You and your knights shall have a Quest, to make you an example in these dark times!"
"Good idea, O Lord!"
"OF COURSE it's a good idea!"
- from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Arriving at the Missouri Gulch trailhead at 6:30 am, I was not sure this was a Good Idea. I had already bragged to my friends that, since my usual partners were not available, I was going to do Belford and Oxford solo. But the weather was solidly socked in and snowing, and I was unsure about the quality of the snow I would encounter along the way. I knew that, at low elevations at least, there had been rain as well as snow in the last 24 hours, and I suspected that the wind might have been playing tricks as well.
While turning these things over in my mind, over about 20 minutes, I noticed a definite clearing trend in the sky. It looked like this would become on of those dramatic, spectacular days, when you see every kind of weather in the book. I decided to go at least to timberline and check out the snow.
As expected, the snow below 11000' was soft, wet and rotten, and made for heavy going. Missouri Gulch, however, is not a place that lets you stay stressed or angry for long. The new-fallen snow had all the beauty of midwinter:
By the time I reached treeline, the sky was completely clear and had attained a gorgeous royal blue shade. The snow had firmed up well. Here was Mt Belford, shining in the sun...
... and Missouri Mountain:
The northwest gully of Belford had caught my eye last spring as a line I wanted to ski. Being an obvious avalanche track, though, I approached it with some trepidation. I was delighted with what I found when I saw it up close: about 4 inches of windblown powder, not deeply loaded, well bonded to a bulletproof base. Safe to climb, sweet to descend. Yesss! Of course it's a good idea! All doubts were forgotten, and I addressed myself to the task of getting up the hill.
Coming over the shoulder of Belford at almost exactly 14 grand, I was greeted with the view of Oxford's west face. I thought it looked a little bare at first, but looking closer I noticed the line of snow that drops diagonally from upper right to lower left. That was to become my descent route, including the little tail at the bottom that curls back toward the center of the picture:
Not wishing to summit Belford twice, I skied down one of the chutes on the east side and then traversed to my right, ending up just below the Belford/Oxford saddle:
A brief hike put me at the saddle, where I paused to reapply my skins. One unique aspect of this particular trip was that virtually all of the climbing was done on skins; I hiked less than 1000' vertical.
Summit of Oxford: boot, benchmark and register:
Looking down from the summit, there was a little bridge of snow that connected my ascent route to the gully on the other (right) side of the ridge. This would prove crucial to linking up a continuous summit descent.
Skis in launching position, at the spot where I clicked in:
I didn't pause long at the Oxford summit; it was chilly and breezy and the weather was closing in again. I skied about 10 feet, billygoated a ski length or so, then started down to the east, curled around to the south, and finally crossed the ridge onto my chosen descent route. All of this took place above 14000' - once into the gully, navigation became simple. On the northerly aspect of the skier's left wall of the gully, the snow was among the best that I have experienced on any fourteener. Anything that faced east or west, however, had been stripped by the wind, exposing the dirt layer in the snow. I was pleasantly surprised to find this nice slope to ski:
Looking ahead, my next task was to cross Belford Gulch and reascend to the Belford-Oxford ridge. (Edit - I dropped down to 12,800' before starting up toward the connecting ridge.)
By this time it was snowing solidly. I paused for a self-portrait when I took off my skins for the last few feet onto the ridge:
By the time I attained the ridge, the clouds had broken up again, creating some spectacular scenery. I live for days like this. Looking east toward East and West Buffalo Mountain:
south toward Yale:
and here is Mighty Mo, moments before she disappeared completely:
I hiked up to the summit block of Belford:
This benchmark looks a bit more solidly attached than the one on Oxford:
Here's the road home...
... and skis on the launching pad. Once again I clicked in on a spot where I could easily touch the highest pebble with my ski pole. I count that...
... clicking in...
... pushing off...
... and here is an attempt to capture my tracks. The descent was so delightful that I hardly minded the rotten slop that lurked between timberline and home.
Thanks for reading!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):