Mt. Belford - 14,202 feet
Mt. Oxford - 14,158 feet
Mt. Belford - 14,202 feet
Mt. Oxford - 14,158 feet
|Final Peaks of Summer - Belford and Oxford|
Back in 2021 I successfully hiked the Harvard - Columbia traverse on my fourth day of a trip to Colorado. However, I was beyond tired when I finished the route and I knew that I needed to spend more time acclimatizing to the altitude, as well as getting my body in better shape if I was going to have more fun on long hikes with lots of elevation gain. The big positive I took from that hike was that I just might have the stamina to do hikes with lots of mileage and elevation gain like Longs Peak, Belford - Oxford, and others.
On my second trip to Colorado last year I wanted to knock out some more of the Sawatch range 14ers, including the Belford - Oxford hike, but an unfortunate intersection of a deer and my truck while driving across Kansas cut my trip a bit short. I arrived a couple of days later in a rented Nissan Rogue AWD with a broken left hand and climbed Mount Elbert and Mount Massive but that was all the time I had. So the Belford - Oxford hike and others were pushed to this year.
My plans for September 3rd - 10th, 2023, were to complete the following hikes: Monday - Mount Antero, Tuesday - Missouri Mountain, Wednesday - La Plata Peak, Thursday - do an easy hike with family, Friday - Huron Peak, and Saturday after six days at altitude - Mount Belford and Mount Oxford. My week had gone according to plan with great weather and hiking through Friday. I was somewhat concerned about the difficulty of walking up the 2300 feet of gain in Belford's last mile or so, going down to the saddle and summiting Oxford, and then coming back to the saddle and climbing back to the ridge. My tentative plan was to take the Elkhead Pass route from there because I thought my knees would be shot at that point. It turned out that none of my concerns were valid.
Hiking to the Summit of Mt. Belford
I awakened around 3:30 - 3:45 AM on Saturday, September 9th, at my AirBnB in Leadville. By the time I arrived at the Missouri Gulch trailhead to begin the hike it was just a bit past 5:00 AM. I gathered my gear, started the hike function on my Garmin Instinct, and proceeded down the trail at 5:11. I had hiked the initial miles four days earlier when I had hiked Missouri Mountain from the same trailhead. I felt a bit lethargic in the first 1000 feet of gain or so which hits you right out of the gate. I hoped that it would pass. My concerns were not to be realized as I eventually reached a very good pace for me and time seemed to pass quickly.
After the first creek crossing, I entered what I would call the lower basin and I was feeling really good and keeping a consistent pace. It had not escaped my notice during my weeks in Colorado this summer that my cardiovascular workouts for the past year had made a much more noticeable difference in my aerobic capacity than in previous years, and I stopped much less on the routes. On this day, it seemed that six days of acclimatizing in Colorado was making a difference as well. I eventually passed the remnants of the old cabin and noticed a number of campers had pitched tents for the weekend. What a perfect way to experience the back country! I continued onward out of the trees into a slightly higher part of the basin and I found myself not wanting to stop for water and a snack which I usually do in the first couple of miles. In due time I reached the sign indicating the split in direction between Missouri Mountain and Mount Belford and I took the left path toward Belford. Earlier when I had climbed Missouri I enjoyed the views immensely and today was no different. Mount Belford looked like a beast up ahead and the sun was just beginning to kiss the top of Missouri's summit ridge. Approximately one hundred fifty yards past the sign I stopped for fluids and sustenance.
After my break I continued onward. Mount Belford was looming large now and I was fascinated with its size and the number of switchbacks visible on the steep grade leading up to the summit. I eventually came to a rocky area that dropped down and crossed a small stream. Immediately thereafter, the route ascends through rock at the bottom of Mount Belford's long, arduous grade. This was a pretty steep area but the rock path was built with switchbacks here and there and it didn't take long to reach the top of the rock where the grade relented just a bit and more grass was intermingled with the rock.
The grind had just begun. I was keeping a consistent pace and stopping very little, but as I ascended further and reached higher altitude the number of switchbacks I could complete before stopping became somewhat less. The amount of elevation gain in this area was quite astounding to me, though this is just a walk-up. I discovered that looking back often and noticing people gaining on me, or looking forward often and noticing how much further I had to go seemed to have a deleterious effect on my attitude and made things seem tougher and longer. I decided to concentrate on the task at hand placing one foot in front of the other and looking just far enough ahead to be ready for what was coming. This really made a difference. My pace continued to stay consistent and stops were few. No one passed me on the way to Belford and I eventually reached the final path to the summit ridge.
I reached the summit ridge which allowed the wind to finally reach me in all its force. It wasn't too bad with predicted gusts of approximately 38 mph but it was noticeable for sure. I turned to the left and followed the path toward the summit block. The sun was just coming over the horizon and I was still feeling good. The grade up on the ridge was negligible compared to the hike up the mountain, and it didn't take long before I reached the summit of Mount Belford. It had been approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes since I had started the hike which I thought was quite acceptable for an older fellow like me. After three quick photos and a small chat with a couple who ascended behind me I was ready to move on. They were headed to Oxford as well. I descended the summit block to the south and headed down the path leading to the ridge that would take me to Mount Oxford.
Hiking to the Summit of Mt. Oxford
The fact that I was not tiring and felt really good had me wired to complete this journey. The views of Oxford from the path down to the ridge were spectacular and I was going downhill so I was going to make the best of it. I hiked as quickly as I could and made the left turn to head down the ridge. The path became more loose and rocky as I descended requiring careful foot placement in a number of areas. As mentioned in my last trip report for Kelso Ridge, I needed more practice on very loose class 2 and that is what I had been doing all week on this September trip. I was more nimble on this stuff now than I had been on the Kelso Ridge hike. I eventually reached the saddle and began the trek up Mount Oxford. At times, the wind was quite gusty but it was still manageable. The couple I had met on Mount Belford passed me about a half to a quarter mile from the second summit and I followed along all the way to the top. The time was about 4 hours 40 minutes since the hike began.
Re-ascending Mount Belford and the Trek to the Trailhead
On the summit of Oxford, I replenished myself with food and water. I also took some photos and enjoyed conversation with the couple who had passed me on the way to the summit. (Their names escape me now.) But this mission wasn't finished. There was still one more summit to complete and the long trek back on loose footing. After hanging out for about 25 - 30 minutes I began the descent to the saddle between Oxford and Belford. It was a mild, gentle descent and there were a few hikers I met along the way who had chosen this beautiful Saturday to do the same as I. Then the trek up the ridge began. It was loose and many of the rocks didn't want to stay in place. I made every effort to find rocks that were somewhat embedded in the dirt for the placement of my feet but there were some places where there was nothing but loose dirt, pebbles, and rock. Once again, I concentrated on the task at hand, looking ahead just far enough to prepare for what was to come. The climb back up to the intersection with the path for Elkhead Pass was a slog but it was relatively short. I came out on top of the ridge that turned right to go to Mount Belford and I was still feeling good. My knees were feeling fine, so I decided to take the short way down over Belford and re-ascended its summit where I took another break.
I had another hiker take my pic on my second time on Mount Belford and sat down for some water, a Clif Bar, and peanuts. I had called my wife on Oxford and called her again now to let her know I would be descending from this point on. The time was slightly past noon. After some chit-chat with a number of people on the mountain, I gathered my things and started my descent. A hiker coming up the trail warned me that I should take Elkhead Pass on the descent and I responded that I would normally agree, but I was ready for this and needed the practice of descending on loose surfaces. He continued to suggest that I rethink this choice. I wished him well and continued on. Going down the trail required more work dealing with the loose stuff than going up, but as I stated earlier in this report I had been doing loose stuff all week and I really wanted the practice. My concentration was good and I made good time descending the 2300 feet back down to the little stream. From here I felt the worst was behind me. None of my concerns about my knees and the elevation gain had come to fruition. I continued to move through the basin at a consistently quick pace for me and it wasn't long before I reached the remnants of the cabin.
From here, I felt I was home free, but you are never home free until you reach the trailhead. I finished the path in the basin, navigated the creek crossing, and continued down the initial sections of switchbacks. In the last mile of the hike my knees and my right hip finally started to bark at me and I allowed myself to slow down significantly. The quick pace I had held before was no more. The last mile seemed longer because of this but I trudged on, eventually reaching the bridge and the end of the hike. As an added bonus, on the way back to Leadville an elk crossed the road in front of me, giving me one last photo for the day.
I enjoyed the hike up Mount Belford and Mount Oxford. It was a challenge to complete the three climbs and I definitely got a high from it. It is a good route to find out if you have the stamina for other routes with lots of elevation gain. And I always love the views on any of these mountains. It was a great ending to an awesome week with six peaks completed in six days, a family hike, a ride and barbecue with family on the Leadville train, and I also took my Granddaughter's Fiance up Huron Peak for his first 14er. Unfortunately, my granddaughter stopped just beyond 13,000 feet and waited for us to summit and return. The weather could not have been better with no rain and mountaintop temperatures in the high 30s to low 40s. The only time rain threatened was at the end of the Belford - Oxford hike but I had already left the trailhead. And now, the melancholy of missing the Rockies begins. I hate to wait until next summer to touch these mountains again but that will probably be my situation this year.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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