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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Breezy night on Mt. Belford

Date:   December 1st & 2nd, 2012
Mission:  To finish what I started a year ago and summit Mt. Oxford (elevation 14,153 ft.).  Another summit of Mt. Belford (elevation 14,197 ft.) was needed to get to Oxford.
Who:  My friend and climbing buddy Joel Snow, and myself.
Length:  11 miles
Elevation gain: 5800 ft.

Over a year ago, I had only hiked a few 14ers, Mt Belford was in a group of a bunch of mountains I hiked when I suddenly found myself with a lot of time off in the fall of 2011 thanks to the company I was working for at the time shutting their doors and laying off everyone in the office.  

Joel getting his gear ready at the trailhead.

October 15th, 2011, I made my way to the summit of Mt. Belford with the intention of going to Oxford.   On this day in 2011, it was incredibly windy and I didn't have nearly the good gear that I have now, and didn't even own a "shell".  So, that day I skipped Oxford and told myself I would be back.  Well, on December 1st 2012, Joel and I made our way to a nearly empty Missouri Gulch trailhead.  There was only 1 other car there on a Saturday afternoon, which is strange even in the winter.  We began our hike to a camp in the early afternoon.

The forecast, as fate would have it, was calling for high temps in the teens with 35 - 50 mph winds with gusts up to 60 mph on both Saturday and Sunday.  Our intention on day 1 was to hike up in elevation about 1700 ft. to a camping spot near the reminants of an old shack at 11,250 ft. 

Our campsite near the old shack at 11,200 ft.

The hike up to camp was quiet and uneventful.  By 4pm, we had camp set up, water filtered from the nearby creek, and we built a small fire to keep us warm while we ate dinner.

After our dinner, we put out the fire and crawled into our tents and listened to the wind howl and shake the walls of the tent for the next 8 hours while we tried to sleep.  Sleep was intermittent at best.  We were up and hitting the trail in the dark on Sunday morning at about 5:45am.

Daylight dawns on the Sawatch range.

It was a cold morning, the wind certainly wasn't helping either.  Joel stopped to put some toe warmers in his boots and I kept plugging away üp the steep trail to the ridge.  As far as I could tell, Joel was either battling a cold or maybe mild altitude sickness, and was clearly having a physical and mental battle with himself on this day.  I understand how those days are, so I just offered encouragement, and tried to give him the space he needed for his battle. 

Twice, the wind gusted so hard that it knocked both Joel and I off our feet causing us to fall off the trail.  Regardless of the wind and the cold, as long as I was still moving, I was feeling great.  My eyes were still solely set on Mt. Oxford.

The views improved with each step we took.

By 9:30am I had reached the summit of Mt. Belford and was taking in the views and fueling up for my attack on Mt. Oxford.

On the summit of Mt. Belford.  Did I mention it was windy?

Joel making his way to the summit of Mt. Belford.

By 10am, Joel joined me on the summit long enough for me to tell him I was heading to Mt. Oxford.  He still was not feeling a 100% and decided to leave Mt. Oxford for another day.  We agreed to meet at the campsite no later than 4pm.  This means at my normal pace, I would have to waste little time.  It's 3 miles and 1300 ft. in elevation gain round trip just to get to Oxford and back to the summit of Belford. 

I made my way quickly down the ridgeline to the saddle between Oxford and Belford.  It was along this saddle that I experienced the strongest winds of the day.  I was wearing a black REI Spruce Run insulating layer over my Montbell softshell because I got tired of switching layers rather than just removing one from time to time.  This would prove to be a mistake when a wind gust caught a hole created by the zipper in the armpit of the REI layer. 

The wind literally ripped the sleeve off my jacket by breaking the zipper.  I was now wearing an insulating layer that had one sleeve and one side as a vest.  Half of me was cold, pissed that my jacket failed in the conditions it is needed for, and the other half of me was just laughing.  It was sort of humorous to be walking a ridge with only one sleeve on the jacket. 

WTF - On the summit of Mt. Oxford is a Bible in a tupperware container and a toaster.

The climb up Oxford was tiring, but I eventually made it.  The views from the summit proved worth it. 

Views from Mt. Oxford looking east.

Looking back at Mt. Belford from Mt. Oxford.  If you look closely, you can see the trail on the ridge.

The climb back up to the summit of Mt. Belford was exhausting for me.  I was very happy to be back on the summit of Belford by 1:15pm.  I descended as fast as my old knees would take me knowing that Joel was likely just sitting around waiting for me.  Plus I had a couple of cold beers in a cooler in the Jeep.  :)

Victory beers!
I made it back to camp by 3:30pm and Joel had already packed my sleeping bag and tent up so I just needed to throw some stuff into my backpack and we were off.

We made it back to the trailhead with a few minutes of daylight to spare.  Another memorable adventure in the Colorado mountains was in the books.  For those that are wondering, I did replace my jacket with a jacket with two sleeves. 

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