Mts Belford and Oxford
Colorado 14er
14,205 feet and 14,160 feet, 4330, 4316 meters
Rocky Mountain National Park |
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Belford and Missouri seen from Missouri GulchPatrick and I set out about 6:00 AM on Sunday May 29 with the goal of climbing Missouri Mountain then Mts. Belford and Oxford - a long day to be sure. We got two of three and felt good we did!

2005 had been a good snow year in the Rocky Mountains but the previous few weeks had record high temperatures and little precipitation so we were not sure what to expect.

With snowshoes on our packs we left the trailhead just as the sun was rising over our left shoulders. The very nice trail crossed a roaring Clear Creek and began a series of switchbacks to about 10,300' in the pine forest. The quick ascent left no time to warm up! The aspens were just starting to leaf out with small green foliage all around. There were short patches of snow that were more of a nuisance than a problem.

After another creek crossing on some pencil thin tree trunks, we passed the old miner's cabin just below tree line at 11,300' and entered Missouri Gulch proper. This revealed our first views of Belford and Missouri. The crisp air was starting to warm as the sun broke above the top of a random 13'er to our east. We saw little snow on Belford but Missouri looked challenging with her steep snow-covered ridge line. A little while later we stood at the signpost making the junction to Belford or Elkhead Pass to the right.

Our choice was fairly clear in that we had not brought crampons or ice axes. While our snowshoes could give us some traction on the climb to Missouri, we felt it was not a good risk so we cached the 'shoes and took the ridge up Belford. In addition we saw a large area of avalanche debris off the ridge but had no idea when it had occurred. It was about 9:00. With newfound focus we started up the ridge. It became steep quickly but the switchbacks were easy to follow and avoided most of the snow areas on the north side of the ridge. There were perhaps 15 other climbers ahead of us so route finding was no problem whatsoever.

Patrick was going strong but as we neared 14,000' I suddenly felt weak. My stomach had sharp pains and a slight headache began. While I had plenty of food and water in me, I became slightly concerned since I usually do very well on my 14'ers. We pressed on and arrived at the summit of Belford about 11:00 AM. It was great view of the Collegiate Peaks as well as Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado. I took a video and had a bite to eat. But I didn't feel much better.

Even though the clouds were building we both felt thunderstorms were not in the future. The cumulus clouds were white with wisps flowing away yet no dark buildup that often foretells lightning. Also there was no obvious convection nor the heat that normally generates the towering dark clouds. However we were less certain about snow squalls since we saw some rain sheets coming down from the low clouds in the valleys below.

So without a lot of discussion we left for the saddle that would take us to Mount Oxford. We took the hard route, not on purpose, directly down the scree to the saddle. After dropping about 700' we traversed the ridge and began the climb up to Oxford. Patrick was well ahead. About an hour later we arrived only to find another party of 15 climbers sharing our summit! They had come up the 8 miles from Pine Creek the trailhead.

The clouds started to build a little faster than we had hoped for so we quickly left to return to Belford. It is somewhat amazing at how well worn the trail is atop the saddle and soon we were near the Belford summit for the second time in two hours! I was not feeling well at all by this time and was going at a snail's pace. Patrick, being very helpful and patient, nursed me along as we descended the summit. Sporadic corn snow squalls peppered us for the next couple of hours. While it was a little chilly, it was not serious weather.

With my aches quieting down, we soon arrived back at the trail junction and gathered our snowshoes. After a couple of hours we crossed Clear Creek and found our cars. I was glad to be down.

It was an eleven hour day and we covered 11 miles with an gain of 5,900'. The weather held for us all day except for the squalls. Our luck was good because the summits were blurred by clouds and rain as we saw our cars!

So, another two fourteeners. I am always amazed at the books that rate any 14'er as "easy" yet so many do including for these two. While the route was clear, well-marked and void of any real "climbing", the altitude and weather are always wildcards in the Colorado high-country.