Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mount Oxford and Mount Belford

Every fourteener hike has its own character. For the ultimate climb I recommend Long's Peak. For pure fun you can't beat the Crestone Needle. But here's a new one. For a quintessential Colorado mountain climb, I would recommend Mount Belford and Mount Oxford. You get it all, steep hiking, beautiful views both panoramic and nature settings, wild flowers, wild life, exposure, and just the right number of fellow hikers. You can even add in some scrambling and bushwhacking as Dalton and I did.

I was surprised and pleased that Dalton agreed to go hiking with me on this late July weekend in 2008. The plan was to climb both Saturday and Sunday with a car camp in between. We decided to tackle the Belford to Oxford traverse on Saturday, then head over to Sherman on Sunday if we had enough steam.

From the Belford trailhead, you head up a steep slope for about a mile. Dalton's back was hurting, so I wasn't optimistic we were going to make it far. Steep slopes from the road are typical on Colorado hikes, and I had burned Dalton before with promises that "it will get easier up ahead."

This time it was true. Once you break over the initial slope, you are treated to a pleasant hike through a beautiful valley with majestic pine trees, columbines and other wild flowers, plus a bubbling creek (photo 1). Enjoy this part of the hike because you are in for more steep climbing once you get to the slopes of Belford (photo 2).

The long steep climb to the top of Belford is right there in front of you. The seemingly endless switchbacks will try your patience, but won't send you over the edge. At the base Dalton and I tried to make the most of it by straying off trail and engaging the rocks to the left. A little forced scrambling whetted my climbing appetite, but just barely (photo 3). There isn't much to work with, although I might recommend continuing left to some steeper stuff.

Once you summit Belford (photo 4) there is a big traverse over to Oxford. On our descent to the saddle, we seen many weary travellers returning from Oxford. Dalton's back was feeling reasonably good, so we pressed on. As we ascended Mount Oxford, we crossed the last vestigases of a snow field. On top of Oxford we enjoyed the great view of Mount Harvard, Columbia, and Missouri. From here you can see the great expanses of valleys that divide these high peaks.

On the return the faces of those weary travellers making their way back to the summit of Belford were haunting us. Dalton wanted to descend the valley that separates the two peaks rather than stay on the trail to Belford. I warned him that it could involve quite a bit of bushwacking, but secretly I wanted to get off trail myself. The initial slope into the valley is covered in scree that will test your balance. Once the steep stuff is over, it is an easier hike down the grassy slopes (photo 5).

Eventually the valley curves right and the downslope's angle increases dramatically. Rather than lose too much altitude and risk heading away from the parking lot, we decided to skirt the ridge that surrounds Peck's Peak. Plus we found some nice cliffs to scramble on our left. We made our way traversing and scrambling for a more extended time than before (photo 6). I think you could add to the climb by continuing up Peck's, but I couldn't convince Dalton to give it a try so we continued on a more level course.

After topping out on the ridge we could see the road and the parking lot. The way there didn't look easy though. The slopes are steep and the forest is thick (photo 7). Bushwhacking the bottom portion was no joy. The downed logs, loose dirt, and thick foliage was pissing Dalton off. I'm used to a fair amount of bushwacking but was ready for the hike to be over myself.

In the end, what a great day. Dalton bagged his first two fourteeners! I have now climbed mountains with both my boys and it is a memory I will always cherise. We headed down to South Park to find a place to camp and ponder a climb of Sherman.

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