Peak(s):  Missouri Mountain  -  14,067 feet
Mt. Belford  -  14,197 feet
Mt. Oxford  -  14,153 feet
Date Posted:  01/22/2012
Date Climbed:   01/05/2012
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise
 Favorite Winter Deathmarch: Mo/Bel/Ox  

Favorite Winter Deathmarch:

Peaks: Missouri, Belford, Oxford
Approach: Vicksburg/Missouri Gulch off 390
Date: 1-5-12
Length: 15.7 miles RT
Vertical: 8400 feet
Travel Time: 10.5 hours
Total Time: 12 hours
Ascent Party:
Missouri: Dehrlich101 (Danny,) jgallo11 (Justin,) frobert_55 (Robert) Mo/Bel/Ox: Dancesatmoonrise (Jim)

Mt. Harvard is seen from the Belford/Oxford saddle at sundown.

As Bobby and I slog back down the Moon Lake approach for Capitol Peak Monday night, January 2, he mentions it's supposed to be 67 degrees in Denver on Thursday. Unfortunately, he can't miss school that day. Whimsical thoughts of summery peaks on a January day becon...

I'd been thinking about Missouri and Belford/Oxford as separate winter trips, but so far this year, the Winfield Road is open due to low snow. Might be able to get all three. I post for partners. Danny, Justin, and Rob are headed up for Missouri and might give Belford and Oxford a shot. They're going in earlier than I'd planned; calculations put us meeting somewhere on the rib to the summit ridge.

The plan is Mo first, then Bel/Ox. The latter two are easier, and should not be much issue coming down by moonlight. A late start would allow some shut-eye and the added advantage of watching the sunset from the one of the summits.

This section of the ridge is usually dry in winter. The completely dry part is loose, but the two ribs to the left may afford reasonable winter travel.

The proposed start deteriorates a little; I'm on the trail around 8am. No matter, it's a perfect weather day, and there's a nice moon in the sky tonight. The trail is well packed. Thanks to geojed and furthermore for their info, I'm able to go light, leaving snowshoes behind. I'm at the old cabin ruins in about 0:46 - just a little off the summer pace. Things are looking good for all three.

Above treeline in the gulch, the snow gets interesting. While there's not a lot of snow, the snow underfoot is ample evidence that serious slab action may lurk on steeper terrain.

Phone books.

Snowpit optional.

There is often a section further north to access Missouri's northwest summit ridge in winter. One looks west from the gulch, where the dry face to the right (north) is evident. (Image #2, above.) This face is too loose to be of much help, but to the left of it are two ribs - a smaller one interposed between two shallow gullies, and a larger one to its left. Either is usually a decent bet in winter. This year, one wants to be particularly careful with the terrain underfoot.

Missouri's summit ridge. The summit is at far left.

I find Danny's crew working their way up the large rib - this looks like a good choice. Soon Danny joins me, with tentative plans to attempt all three peaks, while Robert and Justin are going to attempt Missouri.

Danny's crew ascends the large rib at left.

Middle and left ribs to the summit ridge.

Mt. Harvard beyond Elkhead Pass. Missouri's summit at right.

Danny and the crew, with Mt. Belford in the backdrop.

We join the summit ridge south of Point 13,695.

Beautiful Huron Peak, east aspect.

From here it's easy to survey the best route across the gulch to the NW ridge of Mt. Belford.

Mt. Belford.

The "Dreaded Sketchy Spot" - not looking so bad this January at all.

The summit ridge is long, but enjoyable. There's a section near the summit that can be interesting in certain winter conditions. It's a pussycat today. At the summit, it's around 11:45 am, so I know I'll need to get hustling if Belford and Oxford are going in the bag today. Soon Danny joins me on the summit. He decides to hang back with his partners, wishing me well on the journey. We break till about Noon, then part ways. I tip my hat to Robert and Justin as they make way up the ridge, and scope out a line across the willowy gulch, far below.

Mt. Belford and the Missouri Gulch are seen from the summit of Missouri Mountain.

The Missouri Ridge and the horse we rode in on.

Iowa and Emerald. I need to get over there one of these days...

Elks... *sigh*

Danny's 21st. Big congrats, Danny!!

Leaving Missouri's summit, I wave back to Danny.

The long and winding ridge...

Capitol Peak lingers on my mind. We didn't make the summit. I wish Bobby were here with me for this trip; this is his kind of sufferfest. I'm thinking the metabolic turnover of total body glycogen will be of benefit to sooth the psyche on that last missed summit. We know well that failed attempts can be among the sweetest, once success comes - it's the time in between that often haunts us. I wake from mental reverie to find myself traversing the gulch on the long, flat, grassy trail I'd been watching from above, and gaze across the gulch to Belford's wind-blown NW ridge.

Pushing against daylight: Belford's NW ridge. The clock seems to be winning.

Looking back over toward Missouri. The left and middle ribs to the summit ridge stand out in relief against the late day sun (top center.)

Looking back down toward the way home: This will be critical in moonlight.

Missouri and gorgeous Emerald Peak.

The proposed route from the grassy trail to the base of Belford's classic NW ridge works out surprisingly well, dodging willows and mitigating post holes in the snow. The lower ridge is grassy and mostly dry. After 4500 verts earlier today, I'm not surprised to find the legs and lungs unwilling to gain altitude again. I decide to give it 100 or 200 verts and see if there's any gas in the tank, and if so, see how it goes to maybe 500. The ridge is about 2400 verts of mostly sustained elevation gain. It's fun in summer as the only peak - but tough today after Missouri.

I'm pleased to find a second wind coming on, though the pace is decidedly slower. I recall how the NW ridge gets a little rough in places about halfway up. The clock is not cooperating.

Missouri's east ridge. Elkhead Pass is at far left. Emerald rises to the south.

Approaching Belford's summit.

Emerald Peak seen from near the summit of Mt. Belford.

Where do I want to be at sundown? I'd like to be on this ridge, on the way down, preferably on the lower half of the ridge. This may not be possible at the current pace. I arrive on Belford's lofty summit around 3:30. I'd like to be back here no later than last light. Gazing over to Mt. Oxford, the route looks way too long for this to work. I decide to get as far as I can in 45 minutes, then turn back. That will put me back here at Belford, on the descent, at 5pm - right about sundown.

Looking down from Mt. Belford's summit, at the first section of the drop into the Bel/Ox saddle.

Mt. Oxford, the saddle, and the trail ahead, glowing in late day sun, as the shadow of Mt. Belford gradually overtakes its eastern peer.

Balancing desire and reality can sometimes be difficult. Given the weather, the moon in the sky, and the non-technical nature of the route, perhaps I can stretch the two to meet. I'm pleased to find the descent into the Bel/Ox saddle free of the usual snowfield on the upper east aspect.

I watch, as Belford's shadow gains ground, moving ever upward on Mt. Oxford's western flank, me scurrying along, alternately watching my step, and watching the clock. I know I can't make the 45 minute deadline. I know this. I know I am going to push for it anyway.

Not being one of those guys to ditch the pack on a traverse, especially solo, I hustle along, without running. The late day wind starts to howl mercilessly. I seem to recall Ken mentioning that this area is always windy. Amazing how things and places in the mountains retain a sameness, a consistency, year in and year out. The wind adds a sense of urgency to the receding afternoon light. An eternity passes, one "oh yeah, the false summit" moment, and I'm at the summit register. Time to jet.

Late afternoon on Mt. Oxford's summit.

The wind is really getting aggressive on the way back. I'm nearly knocked down on one section of the ridge climbing back out of the saddle. The wind and approaching darkness evoke a sense of urgency. Quickening the pace, I really start to feel it near the top, but stuff it in the back pocket and keep pushing.

The last rays of daylight on Missouri's summit. Will it not be the same for all of us, one day? Yet to witness...

...the glory of His hand.

Mt. Harvard, to the south, keeps distracting progress with its gorgeous late-afternoon views.

Sunset over the Missouri ridge, as seen from Mt. Belford's summit.

Belford's summit again - it's twilight time. The wind dies down to nothing as alpenglow rises in the east. The acute sense of urgency washes away like water color on canvas. It's a gorgeous, warm, moony night. Seems the trail had disappeared under snowfields in a lot of places on the upper half during the ascent, causing some consternation for the future trip down. It turns out not to be an issue. I'm able to clearly see the base of the gulch, above the area of the old cabin, in the moonlight, and so as long as I shoot for that area, I don't need to mess with getting out map and compass. As darkness comes on, eyes adjust to moonlight, and it's nearly like daylight out here. Most pleasant. I stop to play with the camera for a while, and see if I can capture some of this on the SD card. The little point and shoot serves well.

Mt. Belford's summit, bathed in alpenglow.

The only real slog on the trip is the way down through the trees. I stop at the cabin ruins for a moonlight break, get some late lunch, pick up some stashed water, repack, and prepare for the slog to the car.

The Missouri ridge in moonlight.

8pm. The trailhead is deserted. I think about that battery I should have replaced, and hope the car will start. If it won't, I don't have another seven miles left in me to get to the highway. It'd be the Honda Hotel tonight, and no kitchenette. Fortunately, the motor whirs into action. Good car. Good car.

Once again, I revel in the modern convenience of sitting down as the car does all the work, speedily whisking along the many miles home. An old Steve Miller tune comes on the radio - "Living in the USA." About now I'm thinking how fortunate we all are to be free.

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed the images.



 Comments or Questions

Wow....Really nice.
01/22/2012 19:17
Those are some impressive pics....really enjoyed the report.


”itís the time in between that often haunts
01/22/2012 21:04
great job on another 3 winter summits!


Way to go Jim!
01/23/2012 00:01
Your persevering attitude yet attention to detail I admire.

When I did Huron, somehow I got all mixed up and did the east ridge (thought Rockdale was the standard ). It was a great, non-walk up route and I loved it. Anyways, your pic of it from MO (which I have not done) is truly fantastic!!


Hot damn that's a long day!!!!
03/04/2012 18:31
Congrats Jim and crew on three more in Winter!


Death March..
01/23/2012 01:39
Great way to imply the effort, Missouri was exhausting by itself.

Awesome pictures as always. Congrats on all three mountains!


Emerald Peak is worth the hike!
01/23/2012 17:31

It's an enjoyable traverse from MO a short climb to the summit and you get very, very unique views of Ice Mtn and North Apostle that take your breath away. Here's a pic from my TR of MO/IA/Emerald done a couple days prior to yours for example:


04/02/2015 19:45
in photo #22 look so familiar Glad you had an outstanding day capturing all 3.


Thank you!
01/24/2012 03:32
Here I am stuck at work, but thanks to you I'm feeling pretty good! Your wonderful pics are always worth the look, but today your story brought me into the Missouri he going to make it to Oxford, your daydreaming about Capitol, etc.


Late lunch...
01/24/2012 22:11
Nice understatement. Still laughing at that one.

Great report as usual.

I really like the last shot.


01/26/2012 08:03
Great pics and write-up as usual. I was wondering what point and shoot you have or recommend. Mine is getting pretty banged up and I'm thinking about a new one. Beautiful Harvard shot. I still remember the distraction when I did my trio death march.


Thanks everyone.
01/26/2012 15:12
Teeboy - thank you.
Lynn - you know it as well as I. Future congrats on a winter finisher!
Abe - thanks, man. That was one of my favorites too.
Eric - good seeing you on Ellingwood.
Danny - great meeting you guys. You're really racking them up. Congrats!
geojed - thanks for the image.
Nat - they weren't too bad at all.
Rainier - glad it helped!
Alpine - Thanks. : )
Gary - this was a Canon SX110, an older camera that has had its share of abuse but still works most of the time. I'm thinking about getting a Canon S100. I also sometimes use an old Canon 1200-IS, great photos, ultra-compact, and still works since dropping it on Wilson Peak last August, though all controls have died.


Great TR!
02/01/2012 15:33
Getting all 3 done in a day - I can't even fathom that! Nicely done Jim!


05/09/2014 12:27
Great story telling and photos are amazing. You need to write a book!

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2017®, 14ers Inc.