Intro/StatsMt Belford (14197')
Mt Oxford (14153')
11 miles RT, 5800' gain
January 28-29, 2012
Participants: Caroline, Shawn, and Kevin
The winter of shorter than usual approaches to 14ers continues, although the window is beginning to close up. This weekend was a perfect opportunity to hit Belford and Oxford while the summer trailhead was still accessible. Did we cheat and poach the road? You take what you can get in winter, and so far this winter has been very unusual. The avy danger was high in most parts of the state for the weekend, but the standard route on these 14ers is usually pretty safe. Caroline and Shawn were up to the task, and it would be my first time to hike with them. We decided to pack in leisurely on Saturday, but this hike can still be reasonably done as a dayhike. We were able to carefully drive all the way to the summer trailhead in Caroline's XTerra, although the next big storm may change that.
We didn’t get going Sat until about 3:30pm, but the approach to the cabin at treeline is less than 2 miles, and we knew there would most likely be a track in place most of the way. A lone hiker came down and told us we wouldn’ t need snowshoes, so we ditched them about 10 minutes into the hike! We were surprised at how little snow there was on a north facing aspect in late January. As expected, we had a track all the way to treeline. We setup camp just before it got dark right next to the cabin and rushed through our chores with the short amount of time we had. Not much in the way of firewood here, but we collected enough for a little one. We enjoyed the luxuries of Shawn’s nice 4 season tent, which is a lot warmer than my little summer one man that I usually bring on bluebird winter weekends!
Where's the Snow?
We woke up fairly late and didn’t get going until a bit after 8. No worries, as this was going to be a straightforward day. This was probably one of the warmest winter camp I've experienced, but maybe that was just the tent! I was shocked to see a balmy reading of 20 as we set out. The winds blew pretty good off and on through the night, but they died off as expected, probably no more than 20 mph gusts on a bluebird day. We stayed high above the willows of Missouri Gulch on the east side and contoured over to the trail near the base of Belford’s northwest ridge. On the return, I made the mistake of following the trail too low, thinking it would be easier than sidehilling on slick grass. No such luck!
The approach to Belford's nw ridge with Missouri to right:
I don’t have fond memories of the grunt up Belford’s northwest ridge with it’s endless switchbacks, but at least it is efficient. We were able to follow the trail most of the way, going straight up in sections where it zigged across hard snow. The ridge was scoured as expected, but there were sections of hard snow to cut steps across. We made pretty good time with a mellow wind at our back, and topped out around 11:45. Nice views over to Missouri and beyond. Go Mizzou!
Slogging up Belford's nw ridge:
Shawn nearing the summit of Belford:
We took a long break on the leeward side of Belford’s interesting little summit block and the trek to Oxford looked like it was more than 1.2 miles away direct distance! I remember it going very quick in summer though, and the mellow traverse gets pretty scoured.
Oxford from Belford summit:
The descent off Belford’s east ridge had some sections of hard snow, but is pretty straightforward. The slog up Oxford is gentle, and we were able to make it over in an hour. Oxford is probably one of my least favorite 14ers, but it was a little milestone for me as it was my Sawatch finisher the first time around back in '05 and my winter Sawatch finisher the 2nd time around nearly 7 years later!
On Belford, I discovered that my 2nd liter of Gatorade had totally leaked in my pack. We were all running low on fluids, but Caroline was nice enough to share some of hers for the grunt back up Oxford. We were all feeling pretty good today, but the reclimb of Belford was stiff as the wind picked up. Still not enough to break out the goggles though, and Belford provided us a nice wind shadow when it got steep.
The re-slog up Belford's s.e. ridge:
Back over Belford we go as it would be too time consuming sidehilling below it.
Enjoying a sea of Sawatch peaks from the summit ridge:
We were not looking forward to the steep descent of the ridge, but it’s a lot better option than descending to Elkhead Pass and wallowing in the willows. Traction is not necessary for the ridge, but we could have make quicker work of the descent with microspikes. After my mistake of chancing following the trail all the way down to camp, we had to regain 100 feet or so to sidehill back to camp. We wallowed enough to remember it is winter! We tore down camp quick and were able to pack out in about 50 minutes, which was my quickest winter pack out by far! Wish there were a few more of those! We made it back to the car at 5:30. Thanks for the good times, Shawn and Caroline!