Mountains: Mt. Belford (14,197’) and Mt. Oxford (14,153’)
Route: Started skinning from ¾ mile below the Missouri Gulch TH (~9600’ on the Chaffee County 390 Road). Camped near the ruins of the cabin at timber line. Climbed the Belford NW Ridge and traversed to Oxford.
Elevation Gain - Backpack – 1700’, Climb - 4200’
Total Distance ~12.5 miles
Road ConditionsThe road is drivable all the way up to the MO Gulch TH with a good 4WD vehicle or even a good FWD vehicle and a steady hand on the wheel IMO. The last ~3 miles up to the TH are snow covered. Snow in the last mile or so is a couple feet deep off to the sides and there is a good chance of getting stuck if you lose speed and / or concentration and swerve off the mid-line… as I did 1/2 mile before the TH. I spent some time digging myself out and then backtracked to a dry spot 1/4 mile lower. Being by myself I felt it wasn’t worth the risk of getting stuck again and wasting more time digging. On the drive up remember to think about how the drive down will be with the warmer snow and mud later in the day and whether your car can make it.
ApproachHeretofore I’d found no beta as to how far up the CR390 I could drive since Kevin Baker’s trip in late Jan. There was also no beta on how much trail had to be broken on route up to the cabin ruins. These two unknowns made me decide to pack in. I called Steve Gladbach (Life’s 42 for all questions pertaining to the ascent of 14ers in winter) for beta on Missouri and he recommended caution getting up on the ridge and staying right on the crest to avoid moseying onto the britches of white death. Either way it sounded like something to attempt with solid partners who had gear. I decided to skip that part of the trip. I planned instead to camp on Friday night, climb Belford and Oxford and pack out to call my friend by 10PM on Saturday night so he didn’t set SAR on my tail. I didn’t anticipate cell coverage and the ability to communicate changes to this plan. That left little room for scope creep if I per-chance found partners up there who were willing to attempt Missouri. Corporate toolology - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scope_creep.
I began skinning up the rest of the road at about 2:30PM on Friday afternoon. The road was mellow and went quick. I found bear scat on the road…
A little later I found two sets of tracks that converged… one rabbit and one bear… and then I saw signs of a kill. The scene made me think about hanging my food up far from my tent. I didn’t think bears would be out this early but it is warming up quickly.
The trail was packed and went pretty quickly until about 10,800’…
A little past the cross over to the East side of the creek the snowshoe tracks I’d been following, stopped abruptly.
I was on my own from here and dragged the skis through thick bushes and heavy knee deep powder for the next 500 feet to tree line. The last 500 feet took an hour and 15 minutes punctuated by moments of “WTF?” and finally ecstasy when I saw the ruins of the cabin at about 5:30PM.
I found a dry spot, set up camp, hung my food up high and was watching the brilliant stars by 7:30PM. I curled into my warm sleeping bag a ½ hour later dreaming of bear and sleeping very little.
The ClimbI woke up, glad to see my bag of food untouched. I ate and began hiking at about 6:50AM. I’d left my skis at camp and my ski boots post-holed deep when I set down the trail. I decided to move higher onto the rocks and grass and avoid the trail altogether which went through willows that were covered with patchy drifts of deep snow.
I picked a dry route that would put me on the ridge with least resistance –
Missouri looks loaded for bear…
With sketchy access…
Looking at the Missouri gulch trail from the NW ridge of Belford…
I summitted Belford at 10:15 and lounged around for a ½ hour or so, eating and checking out the surrounding 14ers of which I saw many. Oxford for a start…
And Missouri via Elkhead Pass
The TraverseSoon, I decided to get moving so I could ski out before dark. The traverse was pretty dry and straight forward. Looking back at Belford from a point on the connecting ridge –
And looking forward to Oxford –
and Harvard again –
I summitted Oxford a little before noon and found a nice ski line descending Belford.
The valley from Oxford –
I re-climbed the Belford summit block on the way back down – It is a rather queer looking summit.
The lines off the Mizzou ridge were getting warmed. I saw ski lines descending it and heard voices in the willows below. Someone must have followed my tracks I thought.
I was back at camp by 2:30PM. I took my time drying out my socks and removing layers since it was now very warm. I started off down the forest at about 3:45PM after a brief chat with the snowboarders whose lines I saw on Mizzou as I was descending Belford.
The DescentSkiing through the trees with the giant pack was far more time-consuming than I thought. I felt like a snail that packed heavy and kept falling on my face and smashing into trees.
It’s a miracle I only have a couple bruises and a broken pole. I finally gave up, shouldered the skis and booted the remaining 300 feet on mostly packed trail with the occasional posthole. That part of the descent took 8 minutes albeit with close to 70 lbs on my back. The previous 1400 on skis since camp had taken 1.5 hours and had looked like a sequence of clips from Jackass 3D. It is important to remember that one cain’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd unless one is Johnny Knoxville - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SIADtYPAHA&feature=related.
I was back at the car a little before 5:30PM and texted news of my safe descent. With the benefit of hindsight I could’ve done this in one push from the bottom if I’d had this beta on the road / trail breaking difficulties. The day-pack would’ve been a little less than ½ the weight of my backpack so the ski out may have been less comical… but then where’s the fun in that?