Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mount Belford and Mount Oxford 12/21/2011

Total Mileage: ~10 miles
Total Elevation gained: ~5800 feet
Party: myself, Eric W.
Starting Point: Missouri Gulch TH

I climbed Mount Belford back in April of this year. I didn't want to hike it again but getting on top of Mount Oxford basically necessitates going up and over Belford. I knew that the trailhead was accessible (rare in winter). I also had a willing partner so it made sense to make this happen. I have bad memories of climbing Belford last April. It was quite difficult, I was sick, and on top of that I had got my car stuck in the snow trying to get closer to the trailhead. So when I reached the summit of Belford last time I was tired and sick, and I knew there was a chance I would need to call someone to tow my car out of the snow before places closed for the day. So I turned around and left Oxford for another day. This day.

It was 4 degrees when we started off at 6:30 am. We started off a bit cold but it quickly dissipated as we started to climb the initial switchbacks. I try to hike slow enough not to sweat but fast enough to keep good time. As we climbed past the trees we decided to cache our snowshoes at an old abandoned log cabin. There was a good snow trench that outlined the trail very well and we felt that snowshoes just weren't going to be needed today. We made good time to treeline and to the base of the Belford shoulder. I hate the Belofrd shoulder. It is about a mile long and 2200 feet tall. It is the standard route to the top of Belford. Last time I hiked it it took me 2.5 hours to climb just the shoulder and I felt like I was eking through every step.This time it took us 4.5 hours to climb officially making it my alpine nemesis.

Approaching the base of the shoulder. Pictures just can't do justice sometimes.

Looking back. The day was full of flashes of blue sky and thin wispy dark clouds.

Eric climbing the shoulder. 

Spotted this little pervert spying on us.
The shoulder was carrying about 4-5 inches of sugary snow on top of a layer of hard packed snow that was more like ice in some places. We were both stopping frequently and had no idea it was taking us so long to progress forward. When it donned on us how we were making such awful time we were confused as to why. We weren't in the best shapes of our lives but we weren't in bad shape either. The cold may have had something to do with it. We also may have unknowingly entered some kind of alpine vortex that sucks all your energy. Who knows....

Anyways....we made it to the top.
Nice and foggy on top with no views of anything. It was quite chilly.

I told Eric that there was no way I'm not getting Oxford today. He agreed and off we went. We had only spent about 10 minutes on the summit. We couldn't even see Oxford until right when we started off. I could see Eric's will deflate a bit when he actually saw the route. I tried to console him by explaining "it's always closer than it looks. We'll be there in 45 minutes for sure." So 90 minutes later we would be standing on top of Oxford looking forward to climbing back over Belford for our final descent.

Sitting just above the saddle between Belford and Oxford.

Mount Belford is the tiny bump in the center. 14,197 feet.

The remaining route to Mount Oxford.

Summit of Oxford (14,153 feet) with Mount Harvard (14,420 feet) in the background.
 We knew we would be hiking home in the dark. We weren't terribly concerned about that because we were prepared for that. I think most people descend via Elkhead Pass which is a different route down than we took up. Neither of us were familiar with that route so we decided to go back over Belford and descend the exact way way we came up the mountain. It really didn't add much more elevation gain to our trip but it made us feel comfortable to know we wouldn't be doing any route finding in the dark. We didn't even stop on Mount Belford when we arrived the second time. It was cloudy and dark and we rolled over the summit like any other hill that day. By this time it was very, very cold. I thought that descending the shoulder would be a welcome respite from the non-stop climbing we had grown accustomed to. Turns out the shoulder sucked going down just as much as going up. It just didn't take as long.

The problem going down was that I didn't have trekking poles with me or an ice axe. So my ability to arrest myself was limited. I left my poles in the car because I felt like they make my hands colder. I didn't even bring my ice axe with me. So glissading was out of the question. It was too steep and too icy underneath. Plunge-stepping was a bad idea as well just because there wasn't enough snow for it. We just had to be careful and go slowly. Sometime while descending the shoulder I decided to pull out my headlamp. Eric had his on and I was sick of sharing the light. I had waited so long because I knew my headlamp was still in the packagin and I didn't want to mess with it. So when we stopped to drink I took off my gloves and scurried to get it my headlamp out. What I didn't know was that the batteries that came with the light were not pre-installed but were sitting in the packaging individually. In my haste to open the light all the contents burst into the air like a bag of chips. I sifted through the snow and found two of the three batteries required to operate the light. After 60 seconds of continued sifting I relented and told Eric I was glad he had brought his light because I would be sharing it with him. Once down the shoulder it was all pretty easy and a bit warmer as well. We found our snowshoes easily and strapped them back on and headed down the rest of the mountain. We made one quick stop in Buena Vista to get back some calories we had spent and we called it a day. A fourteen hour day...

Oh yeah...also, it's a good idea to clip toenails before hiking for 14 hours. Or this happens:

Apologies to my wife who told me not to post this photo.

1 comment:

  1. I love the caption of the mountain goat. "Little pervert."