Peak(s):  Mt. Oxford  -  14,158 feet
Mt. Belford  -  14,202 feet
Date Posted:  07/09/2010
Date Climbed:   07/04/2010
Author:  KeithK
 Wisdom and Will-Power   

Mt. Oxford (14,153') and Mt. Belford (14,197')
July 4, 2010
Ascent: Elkhead Pass trail from Missouri Gulch to Oxford
Descent: Belford standard northwest ridge
Elevation gain: 5,900'
Mileage: ~12

My third annual Fourth of July Fourteener adventure was less than auspicious. I was tired. I was sluggish. I was uninspired. I summitted two Fourteeners, climbing almost six thousand vertical feet and over twelve miles, and that made me more tired. And all in the name of the checklist, that beast of burden that grips the Colorado climber and tightens its stifling grip with each and every successive summit. There are 58 Fourteeners, and I think all of them are fun. Well, okay, most of them are fun. But there's no denying that sometimes this ideal becomes a bit of a grind, and I find myself thinking "is this really fun?" This was definitely one of those days.

Setting out an hour late for the second straight day, I mustered my courage and dedication, leaving the already over capacity Missouri Gulch Trailhead at 6:24 a.m., my newly discovered favorite hiking partner queued up and providing me with rhythmic courage. Music was definitely mandatory on this morning. My third foray along this trail, I did not spend much time with pictures, or gawking at scenery, I simply hiked. And hiked. And hiked. The first two miles are some of the most relentless, exhausting and seemingly meaningless miles on any Fourteener that I've ever climbed. Until breaking beyond the trees and into the Missouri Basin, it's a steep, tiring grunt. I had decided almost two years ago, after crawling up Mt. Belford the first time, that I would attack Oxford from the backside, ascending all the way through the basin and from Elkhead Pass. Staring at that enormous behemoth again on this morning, I maintained my intention, and continued beyond the trail split and up the Missouri Gulch trail.

Big dumb mountain...

Ho hum, I've been here before...

Everybody and their mother passed me on my way up, and I didn't care. I was moving in what felt to be slow motion, but moving nonetheless. Once beyond the trail split, only one hiker passed me on the Missouri trail, and I simply focused on maintaining a steady pace, albeit strikingly similar to a tortoise in a snowstorm. Fortunately, the hiking is gradual, easy and devoid of mental engagement. I plodded along, setting a goal in my head that I'd be at Elkhead Pass by 9:30. Once 9:30 arrived, I decided I'd be at Elkhead Pass at 10:30. I may have made that goal, but I can't recall actually looking at my watch at that point. I did stop for a nice ten minute break to inhale a large chunk of the best banana bread I've ever had and chug Gatorade. Otherwise, this was a mission, and there was little time for enjoyment. I came up here for the third (and last!) time to chase down that check mark, and I was not going to be denied. Fortunately, the weather was agreeing with me, and I did not see a cloud until after 9 a.m. As I continued along, I knew that I would not stop before the summit of Mt. Oxford, short of a complete deluge or electrical assault.

Sorta looks like progress...

That ridge is "Pissed Off and Mad About It..."

Mt. Yale hangs out to the south...

My banana bread break proved to be exactly what I needed, and I steadily continued my quest. Arriving at Elkhead Pass, I did little more than take a picture or two and continued along, sensing that I could get this thing done. Hikers were starting to descend from Belford, and it seems that word has gotten around that the Elkhead alternative to the normal Belford descent is much gentler, as a couple of large groups passed me. Ironically enough, I had already made the decision to descend Belford's standard route, reasoning that the shortest distance is a straight line. Topping the ridge at 11:45, I received my first view of the day's objective.

The route ahead from Elkhead Pass...

Summit of Mt. Belford, left, with hikers beginning to descend on the far right...

Is it really necessary for that thing to be so far away?

Without hesitation, I was beginning the traverse, dropping down the steep ridge as quickly as I could muster. Steep is a good word for it, and loose, dirty and genuinely unpleasant. A single hiker was struggling her way back up from Oxford, and I thought to myself "this is going to suck." As it turned out, yep, it did. But that's later. I would make good time down the ridge, and even enjoyed the middle part, where the trail weaves back and forth along the narrow spine. The Oxford side of this endeavor did not look bad at all, and proved to be quite tame. With solemn determination, I found the summit at 12:45, completely satisfied that I could get there in just over six hours. It took me that long just to climb Belford the first time!

That doesn't look nearly as bad as it is...

Look Bill, Snow!!!

Easy stuff by Sawatch standards...

Other than a relentless wind, it was a perfect day. I was pleased with my decision to press on to the summit, guessing that the very high clouds were not going to pose a threat. Normally, the thought of reaching a summit at 1:00 would wave red flags, but not on this day. A little American flag greeted me on the summit, and I took 10 minutes or so to enjoy this Independence Day. For the third straight year, I was solo on a 14er, enjoying the Colorado backcountry as it's meant to be. Warm and free!

Mt. Harvard and other Sawatch mountains...

The Buffalo Peaks and South Park to the east...

Missouri and Belford...

Mounts Elbert, Massive and Holy Cross...

At five to one, I began the dreaded repeat of the ridge. Descending from Oxford was super easy, and within twenty minutes I was grunting my way up the other side, pointed at Mt. Belford. One other hiker had passed me just below Oxford's summit, on his way up, and I set a goal to not let him pass me before getting back to the Belford ridge. I beat him by about thirty seconds! Surprisingly, or not, another group was cresting the ridge, on their way over from Missouri. We discussed the prospects of the weather, and I encouraged them to go for Oxford. It's so rare to get a day like this, and so exciting to take advantage of it when it happens. I left them to their decision and proceeded for the mushroom cap that is Mt. Belford's summit. From there, it was all downhill. Lousy, steep downhill, but downhill nonetheless.

Mmm, mushrooms...

After eleven hours nearly to the minute, I arrived back at my truck, more relieved than fulfilled. My third foray into Missouri Gulch was utilitarian on this day, but I can't say I didn't enjoy it. For some reason, the most miserable day in the wilderness is still better than most normal days. It's just that sometimes the hiking is a lot more work than you'd like. I think I'm okay with that.

Comments or Questions
Doctor No
Nice work!
07/10/2010 00:46
Always enjoy your reports, Keith.

07/10/2010 01:21
Hi Keith, I climbed Mt Oxford via the same route and thoroughly enjoyed it, maybe more so because I returned via Elkhead pass. I hadn‘t heard this expression back then but it certainly applies:
Happiness is not experienced, it is remembered.

I am with you
07/10/2010 02:01
Ok, last year Belford was my first of the year but I turned back when I wasn‘t feeling well, on July 3rd, 2010 the day before you I made it up Belford in 3 hours but my friend had to turn back due to AMS symptoms so I returned without getting Oxford. Looks like I will be right there doing the same thing you had to do on the 3rd time.

I really enjoyed reading your report because you captured so well the sometimes trudgery that exists on some 14ers. I felt the same on Antero a month or so ago when we did the full 15mile RT.

Well Done
07/12/2010 17:52
Good job Keith! These two, not exactly my favorite summits, but I was fortunate enough to have them by myself as well. Nice write up!

Nice job on another solo!
07/14/2010 22:25
Way to get after it ”uninspired”! Those climbs always feel great when they‘re done.

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