Mount Belford and Mount Oxford
I completed the hike of Mount Belford and Mount Oxford with my buddy Greg. A few weeks earlier he and I climbed Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia, which was the hardest day of hiking I have completed thus far. There was a third peak, Missouri Mountain, that we also had the option of climbing. Greg and I were ambitious as we planned for this trip and were contemplating climbing all three. Instead of setting out to climb all three, we decided to assess how we felt after climbing Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford prior to deciding whether we would ascend towards Missouri Mountain. Climbing Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford is an 11.0 mile hike roundtrip with over 5,900 vertical feet of elevation gain. Adding Missouri Mountain to the hike increased the distance to 14.5 miles roundtrip and over 7,400 feet total in vertical elevation. I felt making the decision on the mountain would be better since climbing all three in one day can be difficult.
Greg and I headed up to the mountains the night before. We stayed at the Cutty Cabin in Alma to break up the long day and to get an early start. Thanks Ken for once again letting me utilize your cabin as a base camp so I can break up the long drive from Parker. We woke up early the next morning, made some coffee and left the cabin around 4:00 a.m.
We arrived at the Missouri Gulch trailhead around 5:30 in the morning to find the last spot in the designated parking lot. It was dark, cold and several hikers were getting ready to head up the mountain. I forgot my headlamp, which was going to make the hike before sunrise a little more complicated. Dang it…I hate forgetting necessary gear. Luckily Greg had his headlamp. I knew I had to hike closely to him to utilize the light his headlamp produced until enough natural light would guide my way. It reminded me to be better prepared in the future.
I wasn’t feeling good when we arrived at the trailhead. I felt nauseous and had the cold sweats. My stomach was a mess. This was the first time I hadn’t felt 100% when getting ready to begin hiking. I had a nervous feeling as we began this hike because I was suffering. I think the creamer I put into my coffee was bad. I wasn’t 100% sure that it was the creamer but it was the only thing I consumed that Greg didn’t. I figured I would try to fight through the pain but I had some doubts from the beginning about making it on this hike. I hated that feeling.
The initial ¾ of a mile was miserable because of how I felt. There were numerous switchbacks with some good elevation gain. Greg led the way and I matched his quick pace because I had to. I utilized the little bit of extra light his headlamp produced while walking behind him. The swift pace of Greg was a speed that I normally would have little difficulty meeting. However, I struggled. I know this sounds gross but I was sweating profusely and it was only 30 degrees outside. It was like having cold sweats when you’re sick during the summer; however, this was opposite. I was having hot sweats while it was freezing. It was awful but I forged forward. I took a short break about a quarter mile into the hike where I drank some water and caught my breath. The break wasn’t long enough. We then moved forward to where the trail began to flatten out. At that point, about half a mile into the hike, I had to stop again. Here, I rested a little longer. I ate a protein bar and drank a half of liter of water. I removed some clothing and rested so I could begin to feel better. This paid dividends. I basically sweated out whatever was making me feel so horrible on the way up. I now felt replenished. I apologize for the unpleasant description but how the climb initially began was unbearable.
Greg and I proceeded forward. The sun was beginning to provide a little light and his headlamp was no longer needed. It was nice to not be tripping over little rocks or tree roots along the path. The hike from here continued along Missouri Gulch and we remained under tree line for the next mile before it opened up into a large meadow. Here is where we obtained our first glimpse of Mt. Belford. It was more of a silhouette because the sun was rising behind it but it was great perspective of the mountain. It also provided us a view of approximately 20 people hiking in front of us.
From the meadow, you could see the route up the mountain. This was a standard climb up a fourteener. It was a Class II route that consisted of multiple switchbacks up the mountain. What was unique about this climb was how it overlooked the horseshoe-shaped basin below what was surrounded by a high ridgeline, Mount Belford and Missouri Mountain. Although we couldn’t see the sun as of yet, it casted its glory on the mountain range to the west of us. It was a beautiful red and the top of the adjoining mountains appeared to glow. I really enjoyed the view along the way up.
Greg and I moved forward quickly. We ended up passing the majority of people we could see in front of us. Now that I was feeling better, I was moving. Prior to arriving at the summit, there were two people standing on the summit ahead of us. I took a picture of their silhouette. I really like the picture for there is just something about that picture that speaks to me.
We arrived at the summit of Mount Belford, which is at an elevation of 14,197 feet, around 8:15 in the morning. It was cold and windy on the summit of Mt. Belford but it was beautiful. The sun made the tan boulders appear to it be glowing. The boulders were bright and vivid. I think this was the earliest I have ever been on a summit. It makes me really want to be on top of a summit to capture the sunrise. I will add watch the sunrise on one of the summits to my “must do” list during my quest to climb Colorado’s 14ers. I like adding these sub-goals….new experiences lead to new unforgettable memories.
Greg and I enjoyed our time on the summit. I cracked open my Fat Tire. With this being my earliest summit, this was also the earliest I had consumed my Fat Tire. It tasted great at 8:15 in the morning. Greg also completed his normal summit tradition, which is eating an oatmeal cream pie. Little Debbie would be proud! We spent about 30 minutes on the summit while I finished my Fat Tire, took pictures, and observed the panoramic view surrounding us.
Now it was off to Mt. Oxford. Mt. Oxford was 1.2 miles west of Mt. Belford and once again along a Class II route. We dropped down in the saddle connecting Mt. Belford to Mt. Oxford to an elevation of approximately 13,500 feet prior to ascending. The descent was quick and somewhat steep, which made the ascent to the summit of Mt. Oxford more gradual. Along the hike, we could see various routes to Missouri Mountain. We were still contemplating whether or not to climb all three. It was tempting.
We arrived at the summit of Mount Oxford around 9:30 a.m. The top of Mount Oxford is at an elevation of 14,153 feet and was a nice peak. The summit had low lying vegetation on top and granite boulders. The boulders were of a different color when compared to Mt. Belford. Mt. Oxford was completely different from Mt. Belford. It is amazing how two peaks so close together can be so different.
From Mt. Oxford I really enjoyed the view of Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia. Mt. Harvard is a big mountain and when I climbed it with Greg and Bobby we came from the south side of it where its true size was hidden. Now, I was able to see its north side and it was big. I also had a greater appreciation of those two mountains after climbing them. There is something majestic about standing on top of a summit and looking at the other peaks you’ve been on top of.
We stayed on this summit for over an hour. The view was superb, the people were friendly, and the weather was comfortable. We were not in any hurry so we relaxed and did the usual stuff we do on peaks. We also discussed Missouri Mountain and decided to save it for another day.
We left the summit around 10:30 and headed back towards Mt. Belford. We had to summit Mt. Belford on our way back to the trailhead. The climb back up Mt. Belford was steep. Going down that portion was so much easier when we traversed to Mt. Oxford. When we arrived back at Mt. Belford I ran into my friend Libby. She was climbing with four of her girlfriends while on a girl’s weekend away. She mentioned to her friends, “This is the guy I was telling you about”. Her friend asked “Are you the Fat Tire guy?” I have never been referred to like that before so I didn’t exactly know how to respond. I guess it was fitting though. She jokingly asked “You have been climbing a lot and I imagine you are in great shape. Can I see your abs?” Unfortunately, I like Fat Tire more than I like my abs!
Greg and I descended quickly. We arrived back at the trailhead around 1:30 p.m. It was another successful hike and I look forward to coming back to Missouri Gulch to climb Missouri Mountain.
Normally I only write about my climbs but I figured that I would add details about the drive back to the cabin in Alma. Since we were only a few miles south of Leadville, my buddy Ken mentioned that I could take Mosquito Pass, which connects Leadville to Alma. Supposedly, it was going to be a nice alternative to the normal drive through Buena Vista. He stated “It is a 4-Wheel Trail but nothing too bad!” I have never been 4-wheeling so I thought it would be fun to try something new. I was in for a nice surprise.
Greg and I headed east from Leadville towards Mosquito Pass. From a distance, it looked like a nice road. We thought that isn’t too bad. As with most mountains, looks can be deceiving. Once we started up Mosquito Pass it was rocky and slow moving. Exposed culverts were uncovered obstacles. Rocks were hazards. I have never been 4-wheeling and I wasn’t sure I knew what I was getting myself into.
The road was narrow and vehicles coming down pulled off to let us through. I guess 4-wheeling etiquette is for the vehicle moving downhill to pull off and allow the vehicle going uphill to pass. I assumed this since all the vehicles coming down were pulling off for me. Or maybe they knew I didn’t know what I was doing and wanted to get the heck out of my way. Actually, I am pretty sure it is easier to start descending than ascending but I like my later idea better. We stopped and talked to a few people coming down since most were driving modified Jeeps. I asked one vehicle “On a rating of 1 to 10, how difficult is this pass?” The gentleman stated it was a 4-5. I then asked “How about for someone who has never 4-wheeled before?” He smiled and said moderately difficult. He said the shelf on the other side of the pass can be a little technical. I passed another Jeep with a husband and wife. The wife’s eyes were wide and big and she said the other side is rough. Sweet…what the heck was I getting myself, Greg, and my truck into! We contemplated going back but slowly pushed forward instead.
We were following an Xterra up the pass. This was a benefit to me because I could then see how he was ascending and managing the technical components. He then backed his vehicle up a small side road, which I assumed he was turning around to head back down. After I passed him, he proceeded to pull behind me. I thought, Not a smart move on his part, he must think I know what I am doing…I didn’t.
We arrived at the top of Mosquito Pass and took a break. We were at an elevation of 13,185 feet. This pass goes fairly high. I was still nervous. I told Greg “This is intense. Give me a 14er and I will climb it. Just get me off this mountain.” I also cursed Ken’s name for suggesting this route to me.
Going along the east side of Mosquito Pass was more intense. It required more technical driving and careful selection of our route. There was a decent drop-off on one side of the trail…I figured this was The Shelf that the people we passed were referring to. At one point my truck was tilted to a really uncomfortable position as we maneuvered through a difficult section. I looked over at that moment and Greg was praying. I laugh as I write this now, but in hindsight, I knew how he was feeling.
We made it over Mosquito Pass but not unscathed. A piece of plastic on the front of my truck was ripped off. Oh well. I was glad that was over. I called Ken once I got cell phone coverage to talk with him. I told him I cursed his name on the mountain and he said that his ears were burning. I also thanked him.
In retrospect, the 4-wheeling was actually quite fun. The road probably wasn’t as horrible as I thought. It was intense and I was not thoroughly enjoying it while I was on the mountain. But, I think that was because it was a new experience for me. I enjoyed the challenge and I love the technical aspects to it. I will definitely go 4-wheeling again….I just want it to be on the way to a 14er trailhead.
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