I had a score to settle with Oxford as I was unable to reach its' rather benign summit last summer. I started out with Missouri, then on my way over to Belford, I wiped out on a boulder which slowed me down a good deal. The weather closed in and Oxford was out of the question. What better way to start out the 14'er season in '05 than Belford/Oxford.
I left C. Springs at 3:25 so I could get an early start with light rain falling. Heavy fog was a problem for the first hour. I arrived at the Missouri Gulch trailhead with only 3 cars there on Memorial Day! Maybe the clouds scared off the cottoneers! I left at 6:08 and my lungs quickly became familiar with the steep switchbacks. This trail is well constructed though, as elevation can be attained very quickly! Only one climber was ahead of me, as he was headed for Missouri. I broke above treeline and was rewarded with spectacular views of Missouri basin as the snow was aplenty on the west side. Belford had a dusting of fresh snow from the storm overnite, but the trail was mostly snow free. I encountered only a few patches, which were very hard in the morning and easy to traverse. The switchbacks up the steep n.w. shoulder of Belford are well constructed, so the steepness is easy to manage. Depending on which way I was going, the wind was either in my face or pushing me up the hill. The wind was manageable for most of the day, usually gusting to no more than 30mph. The clouds did not look threatening as I gained the summit ridge of Belford, so Oxford looked attainable. I topped out on Belford at 8:49, ate a quick snack, and headed over to Oxford while the weather held.
I found the traverse over to Oxford to be rather pleasant, as the final approach to it was pretty gradual. Once again, there were only minor patches of snow on the broad ridge and postholing was minimal. I skirted around the first false summit of Oxford and made it to the top at 10:12, happy to have completed the Sawatch range 14'ers! A spent a little more time on Oxford, soaking in the views of Harvard. Both registers were littered with entries from Sat and Sun, but I had only seen one person to this point. It now looked like snow showers were imminent, so I vistied the northern false summit and headed down to the saddle at 10:45, jogging as the terrain allowed. Once at the saddle, the final 700' climb back over Belford. The climb back over Belford is steeper, so the legs started getting a little wobbly from all the vertical. Just below the summit, a couple guys were heading over to Oxford. I met their other buddy on the summit of Belford at 11:40, and we decided to hike down together, leaving after 15 minutes of pics and story swapping.
Just a few hundred feet below the summit, I missed a switchback as the trail was covered by a snowfield, so we went too far to the left. We ended up finding a gully well to the left of the trail, which we conveniently glissaded over 1000' down to the basin. My knees thanked me. On the descent, occassional snow fell but nothing to be alarmed about. Once in the basin, we had to do a little willow bashing to get back to the trail, which we found about 1/4 mile above the Belford junction. My hiking partner decided to wait for his buddies at the old cabin, so we parted ways from there. My knees took the inevitable beating from the steep switchbacks much better this time, probably because of the glissade. I made it back down to the car at 2:10, happy to spend most of the holiday in solitude celebrating the dawn of summer!
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe