Peak(s):  Mt. Oxford  -  14,153 feet
Mt. Belford  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  09/23/2015
Modified:  09/24/2015
Date Climbed:   09/19/2015
Author:  HarknessHooligans
Additional Members:   stacibaker
 What a Breeze!   

It wasn't a breeze because it was easy but because it was one of the breeziest peaks I've been on with wind gusts literally knocking us off our feet.

Total time: 11 hours (including breaks)
Start time: 4:10am
1st Belford summit: 8:20am
Oxford summit: 9:55am (20 minute summit break)
2nd Belford summit: 11:35am
back to TH: 3:00pm

I have to start this trip report saying I feel bad for Belford and Oxford. They really don't get a lot of love. So I am here to help them gain more respect for their reputation and will be focusing on the positive parts of these two beautiful peaks! Im not saying that it wasn't super steep and long or that these peaks were easy because they were very difficult. After reading so much about these peaks, I have to say I was not looking forward to tackling them. Poor Belford only gets mentioned for its steep switchbacks and having to summit it twice. Poor Oxford cant be done without doing Belford first and without good weather since there really isn't a way to bail off that peak. If I was going to attempt this combo, it HAD to be on a great weather day cuz I did not want to have to come back. So I have waited for the right opportunity and last Saturday was it! Even though this combo is incredibly challenging, there were so many things that surprised me about this hike and I can say that I had a very enjoyable experience!!! Shocker right? Someone actually enjoyed hiking Belford/Oxford?? It was a different kind of enjoyment. No it wasn't a breeze and yes my body totally ached afterwards, ...but I knew to expect that so it didn't come as a surprise. I enjoyed it because I prepared for it. I conquered a combo I wasn't sure I could do and I gained a greater respect for these two peaks. We also hiked on a day that had ZERO precipitation!

I strongly believe in mental preparation. Lets compare this combo to Bierstadt. I have hiked Bierstadt 3 times now and every time I go into the hike with this attitude of saying "Its JUST Bierstadt. Its one of the easiest 14ers and I have done WAY more difficult peaks". Because of this attitude, it ends up totally kicking my butt and I feel completely defeated by this peak. For the Bel/Ox combo hike, I went into this hike very mentally prepared for a long, tough day. I also physically prepared with hikes/runs and also made sure I was hydrating myself with water and Gatorade weeks prior. This made all the difference and I can say that I felt strong on this hike (even though I was totally out of breath and it really did kick my butt). I was mentally stronger and was prepared for this challenge.

On to the trip!

Me and my husband Matt drove down the morning of the hike. Crazy right? Our alarm went off at 12:45am and by the time we left our house is was 1:30am. It takes 2 1/2hours to get to the TH from where we live. So by the time we arrived and got on our gear, we were hitting the trail at 4:10am. We have 3 little kiddos and our sitter wasn't available until late Friday night. We were just grateful that we could still get out even if it meant driving down the morning of.

Keep an eye on your mileage getting to the TH because it is easy to miss in the dark. It is also worth noting that there are bathrooms at the parking lot. We pulled up next to another group of two (plus a dog) who were gearing up. YES! I was hoping there would be someone else we could join forces with. Although I actually love headlamp hiking, going in the dark through a forest makes me more nervous strictly because of wildlife. So I immediately jumped out of my car and asked them if we could hike together! Luckily they weren't too freaked out by a random stranger inviting themselves to hike with them. I told them they were welcome to leave us after the forest, but we ended up becoming a great hiking group and did the whole thing together. And now we have two new friends! Yay!

The switchbacks through the forest are soooooo steep. Like everyone describes, they start right away and never end until you pop out into the valley. So even though it was about 35 degrees, we were overheating and within 10 minutes having to shed layers. Keep in mind there is no wind in the forest. This was the only time we were hot. The trail is good to follow in the dark. The only confusing part was turning left to cross the stream. I knew about the part, but it was still not very noticeable. Thanks to someone who made an arrow out of rocks, we didn't have any trouble at all!

You will reach a cabin that will be on your left as you hike up passed it and then eventually pop out of the forest. We got to the junction within 2 hours. It is now close to 6:00am and it is still pitch black. We took an opportunity to turn off all our lights and gaze at the stars. It was so dark and boy did that make you feel so small.

Turn left at the junction to head up Belford or left to go up Elkhead Pass where you can go to hike Mt. Missouri. We went left and started up the infamous Belford switchbacks, starting the 2,300 foot gain ahead.

Here is a pic of the junction sign taken on the descent.
The Junction

Lets discuss these switchbacks everyone talks about. Best description, STEEP! But what does that really mean??? I still didn't know what to expect. What do the switchbacks really look like??? What was the terrain like? Using the term steep is relative. Let me break this down. When I think of the word steep I immediately think of grade. But I have to say, these switchbacks weren't nearly as bad as I was expecting. The switchbacks on La Plata and the steep loose trail up Challenger Point are much worse. Yes, you gain ALOT of elevation during this ascent. BUT, they aren't too terrible. There is an excellent trail. I felt because the length of each switchback wasn't too short, it made for an easier ascent. Make sense? These are longer zigzags than La Plata which has short little zigzags. Short little zigzags I think are more difficult than longer ones. The grade of the switchbacks are not nearly as steep as I had expected. Compare this to Elbert. Elbert doesn't really have switchbacks. So your achilles tendon is killing you on the ascent because you are always on your toes. I hated the Elbert ascent. I will take Belford's "steep" switchbacks any day!! So, were they steep?? The trail itself wasn't really that steep to me as far as the grade of each switchback. It's not like you are slipping and sliding as you trek on these. So they weren't too steep in that sense. Was there a ton of elevation gain?? YES most definitely! Its a lot of work! But because of this, I was actually grateful for the switchbacks!! It really could be so much worse. Its all in perspective!! I have to say though, the switchbacks are way harder going down. So take all that for what its worth. They are not easy by any means and should not be taken lightly. BUT, remember the switchbacks are there to help you!
The start up Belford looking at Missouri

switchbacks looking up

Approaching false summit

We did not encounter any sun until right before the Belford summit. It was soooooooo cold! Best thing I ever brought were my snowboarding gloves! I don't think I could have made it without them. At one point my whole body was numb. I started having a hard time trying to talk because my lips and face were numb. It was more funny to me though when I kept tripping over my words. I just had to laugh at myself. At this point is when I decided that Belford was not my goal. Let me explain....Since I was going to be resummiting Belford on the way back, Oxford was really my first goal and Belford was just the false summit on the way there! (of course this only works if you have no threat of storms) I was trying to trick my mind and it worked. This was KEY to my success! Like I said before, perspective and mental preparation has power. I knew if I sat on Belford, I might not get up again, lol. So we didn't give Belford the time of day the first go around. And really, it was soooo windy on top that you couldn't really spend time on it anyways. When we were walking across Belford summit the winds literally kept knocking me off my feet. We estimated about 50mph gusts. It was crazy! So that helped my decision to keep trekking over to Oxford even easier.
Im freezing! Couldn't have made it without my huge gloves!

Belford summit comes into view along with the Sun!!

final push to the summit

Oxford - My first Goal!

Once leaving Belford, the wind died down only a little bit. Still incredibly breezy, but more bearable. We continued across Belford and followed the trail to the left to begin the steep descent down to the saddle. It is a bit loose but we just took it slow until we hit the mellow flat section. The trek up to Oxford isn't bad at all. But we knew all too well that the worst part of the traverse would be going back up Belford on our descent!
Here is a video of the wind...But this was taken after we left the summit and the wind was not as strong. I wish I would have taken a video on the summit...But it was so windy I just wanted to get off!

Route across Belford heading towards the saddle

Matt standing against the wind in the distance with Mt. Harvard in the distance

Oxford Saddle

partway through the traverse

Closing in on Oxford

looking back

We finally reached our "first" 14er of the day, Mt. Oxford! Hooray! 9:55 am! It was almost just as windy as Belford but at least it had a small wind barrier that we huddled into. This was literally the first time I actually sat down since starting at the TH. Roughly 6 hours of hiking so far. It was a well needed break for sure. We knew it was still a long way back so we only spent 20 minutes on top to eat our "lunch" and taking summit pics.
group summit photo at the wind barrier

Mt. Harvard in my background

Me and my awesome husband Matt

Time to head back. It was a pretty quick hike across the saddle before you begin your ascent back up Belford. Honestly, the ascent wasn't as bad as I expected. Its never fun to have to gain elevation on a descent, but it really wasn't too bad. We just took our time and kept a slow and steady pace. Soon enough we were over the hard part and on our way to resummit Belford.
Heading back - Belford summit is the tiny yellow bump to the right


Ascent back up to Belford

back on top (leg pop pose = leg cramp!)

on our way back to the Summit

At 11:35am we got our "2nd" 14er of the day, Mt. Belford! We celebrated by actually taking pictures this time. Now that the sun was in full force, the wind was a little easier to deal with. I actually loved the Belford summit (minus the wind). The yellow rock is so cool and random to me. If I had the energy I would have explored more. I did try to find the Belford toaster which I had heard about years a...but it was no where to be found. I guess some brave soul decided to pack that sucker out. Glad they did so I didn't have to, lol. Im sure the mountain appreciated that!! We spent about 15 minutes on top and then started our descent.

Group summit pic on Belford

Matts getting hungry!

My Belford Summit shot! I liked this background the best showing Missouri behind me

We started our descent off Belford and soon enough were greeted with its steep side. Here are a few pictures of the Belford Switchbacks. I tried taking a couple so you could see what the terrain of the switchback looks like and what the elevation loss looks like. You can visually make out at least 3 switchbacks in this next picture. Follow the line all the way down to the yellow forest and then you can fully understand its steepness! It was rough getting down.
Descending the steep swithcbacks

more switchbacks

Finally off of Belford's shoulder

Looking at whats ahead

We met back up with the junction to Elkhead Pass. It was so cool to see what everything looked like! What a fun surprise!! Remember, all of this hike done in the dark when we came up. The colors were beautiful!! If you have been waiting for the leaves to change, now is the time to come! This is one of the reasons I love September hikes. That and no afternoons storms

We made our way back to the forest and started its steep switchbacks down. I honestly thought this was harder than descending Belford. Of course by this point my knees were done. On the way down we came across a tiny grave of a one month old baby from the 1800's. It was so sad but the small cemetery was beautiful.
Mt. Missouri up Elkhead pass

Mt. Belford (left) Mt. Missouri (right) - My best scenic photo!

Staci on the descent

Aspen forest

Fall leaves

Raging stream crossing

small cemetery

We got back to the car at 3pm. So glad to finally be done and have these two 14ers checked off my list! Mt. Oxford and Mt. Belford make #31 and #32 for me. Woo hoo!

In summary, these peaks are hard and make for a long day. It was freezing and blustery on top. Great weather is a must to add Oxford to the list. I will take freezing cold winds over storms any day! This makes for a great fall hike. The Missouri Gulch was even more beautiful than I remembered. Of course the fall colors really made a difference. There are many 14ers in the area so the top makes for a great view. Mt. Harvard sits right next door to these two and it was so fun to have that as eye candy while trekking up Oxford. I really did enjoy our time out there! It was a huge accomplishment and very rewarding

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
09/23/2015 15:45
I’ve done this combo twice. The second time, I took Elkhead Pass down when coming back from Oxford. SO MUCH BETTER and highly recommended over the steep switchbacks of Belford. If I remember right, the toaster was on Oxford, not Belford, but I could be wrong.

Ditto what Vicki wrote
09/23/2015 16:15
The Elkhead pass route is WAY better. Nice report! Autumn is definitely going on in the high country. Looks like you caught it at the perfect time.

Awesome pics!
09/23/2015 17:55
I’m loving the aspens.

I did this route a few years ago only a day removed from sea level. I got massive leg cramps on the saddle between Bel–Ox and had to turn around; the slog back up Belford was something else.

Great Report
09/23/2015 18:34
We can all learn a lesson about mental preparation from your example.

09/24/2015 11:49
Enjoyed your ’analysis’ of the climb and agree that your mental attitude in a climb is a big and important factor. Is one reason I love to do repeats. I know what to expect and they always seem easier and more enjoyable the second (or third) time around.

I just did a Missouri and Belford duo last Sept and ascended Belford from Elkhead Pass after first climbing MO. If I’d ever repeat Belford again, I would make a loop of either going up or down the Elkhead route. While it is a little longer, it really does make for a nice variation rather than hitting the Belford switches two times.

I also had severe wind to deal with as well as a sleet storm when I reached Belford. Was kind of exciting in a way, but definitely COLD! I was even thinking about bagging Oxford too, but when I got to the junction, I just wanted to get lower and warm up.

I had hopes of seeing some fall foliage last year in the gulch too, but as it was Sept 3, it was only starting to show. You got some really lovely shots of it in its prime. Thanks for sharing!

Nice Report!
09/24/2015 11:19
I would agree that the Belford switchbacks were steep but not terrible. I don’t remember the switchbacks you mention on Challenger, I just remember trying to climb straight up the rubble. The toaster was on Oxford in Spring 2013. I thought it was funny at the time, but am glad that it isn’t there anymore.

09/24/2015 12:00
Nice trip report with some good photos of all the main sections of the hike. Nice to get those done. I did enjoy going to Oxford, found the path was most enjoyable. Good job to all of you.

09/24/2015 13:12
Thanks everyone! If I had known more about Elkhead Pass as an option we totally would have done it. I knew it was more miles but really didn’t know much else. Maybe next time ;)

Tornadoman – you are totally right about Challenger... That route is more of a slippery slog than switchbacks. I just remember squating and kinda ’skiing’ down on my feet. It was steep and loose. Bedford switchbacks route is much better maintained than Challengers slope. I guess that was more the point I was trying to make. There are definitely worse routes out there for sure

Great Report!!
09/24/2015 14:22
I couldn’t agree with you more – these 2 summits are so deserving of some love! Great detail in the route description, they are mountains to be respected and just so so beautiful too! I did these 2 last year while I was looking for combo hikes, and they were just so stunning and rewarding, not sure why they don’t get as much love as the rest of them. Thank you for the great post and awesome pictures! Happy to see some leave changing in the Sawatch!!

Something’s missing
09/28/2015 10:45
What......NO DANCE? I am SO disappointed

Lady McClimbsalot
Aren’t you just the cutest!?
10/14/2015 02:09
You are such a happy hiker I’m going for these in 2 hours hoping my sea–level sister can conquer the combo!! Thanks for the TR. I’ll just keep emphasizing the fact that there’s a good trail the entire way... and not emphasize the steepness and length of the trek, haha! Wish us luck!

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