I hiked up my 22nd 14er yesterday. I was hoping to have done number 23 as well, but we got a bit later start than I was hoping for, we moved a little slower than I thought we might and the weather started to look a little iffy, so we just got Mount Belford under our belts and will have to do Mount Oxford on another day.
Belford and Oxford are located in the Sawatch Range, within the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area. We started at the Missouri Gulch trailhead, and started the hike by starting downhill, although just for a very short distance, and then crossed a spring melt swollen Clear Creek on a substantial foot bridge.
From there it was up, up and more up. When the going get the steepest, the trail started switchbacking up. The first part of the hike was through a mixed conifer and aspen forest, with the roar of Clear Creek almost always in the background. Eventually the trail flatten out somewhat and here we had to cross Missouri Gulch, also swollen with melt water from the snow that still covered a lot of the upper slopes of the surrounding mountains. To cross Missouri Gulch one need cross over on three logs about 4 inches in diameter that had been laid across the creek. While these logs were strong enough to support someone, there was quite a bit of spring in them, making the crossing a bit interesting. Plus the logs are not touching one another, so if you suffer from vertigo, you can see the rushing water below you making it even more difficult. While I easily walked across this "bridge" with no real difficulty, Kelly inched her way across standing up, and Rich got on all fours to cross the logs.
The respite from the steepness was somewhat short lived, for we started climbing again, although at a less steep pinch than before. However now we ran until snow. The snow was easy to cross and we didn't posthole for the snow was hard packed. Right below treeline there was an old log cabin that now is just walls, and walls that don't look very substantial at that. When I was last up this trail about 4 or 5 years ago the cabin looked a little better back then.
Once we got to treeline we could now look south up the Missouri Gulch basin and see the path that we were going to take as well as Missouri Mountain and numerous other surrounding mountains. While Missouri was still pretty much snow covered, enough so that later we saw about 8 people skiing or snowboarding down it's rather steep slopes, the path up Belford was essentially snow free.
However we could see our route took us up a northern rib of Belford that looked to be even steeper than what we had already done. We could make out a relentless series of switch backs heading ever up. Over two thousand feet of vertical in less than two miles was what was ahead of us. While we had been making reasonably good time up till this point we slowed our pace considerably once we started up these switchbacks. We started our hike around 7:30, and got to Belford's 14,197 foot summit a little after noon. And up to this point we had hiked about 3.5 miles and climbed 4,560 feet.
The views from the summit were awesome. Surrounding us were thousands of snow covered peaks as far as the eye could see. To the northwest we could see LaPlata Peak which I hiked last September. To the west we could see Missouri Mountain and Mount Huron which I hiked back in 2003 and to the south we could see Mount Harvard which I hope to climb yet this year. At Belford's summit we ate lunch and debated on whether to continue the hike over to Oxford which we figured would take up anywhere from 2 to 3 hours to get there and back to where we were currently sitting. Kelly was pretty tired and clouds, while not all that threatening looking, were building so we decided that Oxford will have to wait another day and we started back down the path we came. As it turned out, the weather held, but when we got back to the car we were all fairly tired, so we made the right decision about foregoing Oxford.