Monday, June 4, 2012

Mount Belford and Mount Oxford

After getting out on Mount Democrat last week I knew I wanted to get out on something bigger and better.  I may have jumped into the deep end on this one, but I figured what the hell.  I found a climbing partner on DurangoJenn and we planned to meet at the trailhead to start our climb of Mount Belford and Mount Oxford at 5am on Sunday June 3rd.

I got off work at 7pm in Littleton and was to the trailhead by 9:30pm.  Not a bad drive till reaching the wash board dirt road for the last 7.5miles.  I had my bed laid out in the Blazer already so after arriving I crashed for the night.  Didn’t get much sleep though, the wind was blowing and people seemed to be driving in at all hours of the night.  The traffic was at its peak around 3am so not much sleep was attained after that.  I drug myself out of my warm sleeping bag at 4am and got ready for the day.  Jenn came over and introduced herself, then right at 5am we were off on the trail.

It was a warm morning so I didn’t need gloves or a ski cap for the first time this year.  I don’t know about everyone else but I need a little time to get my body moving in the morning, and starting up 1,000ft of switchbacks was asking for a heart attack.  I’m glad the first 45minutes of it was in the dark.  As my Dad always says if you do the climb in the dark it doesn’t seem so bad.  Soon, I took off my fleece and was in a long sleeve long underwear and t-shirt combo for the rest of the day.  The climb up the switchbacks was pretty grueling, but eventually we made it up to where an old cabin was.  From here the grade lessened and the gulch opened so we could see some great views of the mountains before us.

At 2.15miles from the start there is a split in the trail.  Go to the left and you will climb the daunting switchbacks up Mount Belford, go to the right and you’re headed up Elkhead Pass or Missouri Mountain.  Now I haven’t climbed Missouri yet, but I can see it becoming Misery Mountain rather easily.  I cached a bottle of water for the return which turned out to be very useful had a snack and we were off.  From this point on I was in the dust trail of Jenn.  She’s a hell of a hiker and as I told her she rolled up the mountain like she was storming Normandy on D-Day.

The switchbacks were very nice; it just took lots of time.  At times it seemed as if you were going no where, then you look down and it was a couple hundred feet gained.  That at least made me feel like I was gaining elevation, slowly but surely.  We could see 4-6 other climbers were above us on the trail.  I certainly was never gaining on them; I was just focused on breathing.  I thought I would try one of those GU shots, bad idea.  It took me some recovery time and I’m not sure if it helped anyway.  I did keep fueling all day and I think that’s the only way I was able to climb all 6,000ft.  I think Jenn said I was on Belford’s summit around 9:45am, but am not positive.  We met up with a guy we saw steamroll past up early on the switch backs.  He had already been to Oxford and back and it wasn’t even 10am!  Amazing speed that made me so tired just thinking of it.  Ideally we wanted to be back Belford from Oxford by noon.  There were thunderstorms predicted and we could see clouds starting to form.  I took a few minute breather then we set off for Oxford.
This was the hard part.  We had to descend about 700ft and then climb up to Oxfords summit.  It actually didn’t take as long as I thought it would to summit Oxford, I want to say about 1hr 20minutes.  The guy we met on Belford did it in 50 minutes, so I wasn’t feeling like a complete looser now.  The views were amazing from the summit.  The clouds were forming and starting to storm in the south so we spent maybe 20 minutes up there.  I had my PB&J of Wonderbread and Skippy to power me back up Belford.  There was an army of Marmots and Pikas looking for scraps and checking us out.  I took a birthday shot for my nephew and we were shortly on the way down and up again to the Belford ridge.

I had been dreading this part, but was able to put in the back of my mind for most of the day.  Until today the most elevation I had on a climb this year was only about 3,000ft and today I was doubling it.  Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?  No, not really but that’s life.  I made it down to the saddle splitting the two giants and rested for a minute taking some pictures of the surrounding mountains.  Then I felt like Gimli in Lord of The Rings…just keep breathing.  I was basically doing a rest step leg by leg up the last 700ft.  I’m not sure how long it took me to get up the steep rock, but it seemed like an eternity.  However painful it was I’m glad I made it over to Oxford and back, because I have no desire to suffer like this a second time.  Just before topping out two other climbers were on their way down.  They asked me how I was doing and if I needed water, sun block or medical attention.  Really?  Do I look that bad?  Too many years in the Boy Scouts I think.  Sure, I’ll take a air evac, you got one of those in your bag? Hahaha.  It was tough getting up that last 700ft, and nothing like someone making you feel like shit right before you gain the last ridge.  Secretly in my mind I said enjoy the thunderstorms.  About 30 vertical feet later I was back up on the Belford ridge and met up Jenn.  We decided to take the easy trail down to Elkhead Pass continuing on down Missouri Gulch.

This trail added another mile but saved our knees.  It was nice having better views on this route, and the close shots of Missouri Mountain were amazing.  We got down to the trail split that lead up Missouri and Jenn starts walking up it.  She says are you ready?  Have fun..hahaha.  Just joking with me I see.  Some people do that, getting all three in one day, not this guy and not today.  It was hard enough descending 6,000ft on my knees and feet.  The trail was good and it was a trudge out, but eventually we made it to the Belford trail split where I had a bottle of water waiting.  I ran out of water in my platypus bladder about 30 minutes prior.  I did have half a bottle in my bag but had no desire to stop and dig it out.  My knees and feet were screaming and I just wanted to fall to the ground.  When I got to the break spot I took some vitamin I as my friend Mike calls it, and I think it helped quite a bit.  We had 2 miles and 2,000ft to descend back to the car and I felt a bit better.  Probably more of the fact that I would get to put sandals on and sit down for a bit.
I remembered Nate on our trip out of the Hyndman basin a few years back and took his advice.  Just deal with it and get down.  So I found some stored energy and found myself moving a lot better down the trail.  The tricky parts were the really rocky sections.  Doing my best to maintain balance and not break or twist something that was so valuable right now.  I’m not sure how long it took to get to the car, but the goal was to be there by 4:30 and I arrived around 4:20.

I was satisfied to be back down the mountain in one piece.  To be honest I was surprised I was still moving at this point.  In total we covered over 12 miles and gained around 6,000ft of elevation.  I think this can be counted as an epic climb.  Even though at times painful and in my mind looking for a happy place to run away from the pain, it was an awesome day in the mountains.  I had a great hiking partner that was patient with my slow pace and I’m glad we were able to do this together.  A very challenging climb, but if you never challenge yourself you will never know what you are capable of.  I find that I am never going to be in great climbing shape, but apparently I like to punish myself for it.  The funny thing is I still love it and will always climb mountains.  If it were easy everyone would do it, and we don’t want that do we?

Date: 6/3/2012
Starting Elevation: 9,700ft
Mount Belford summit: 14,196ft  Mount Oxford summit: 14,153ft
Total Gained Elevation: 6,000ft
Distance: 12.1miles
Time: 8:39 moving, 2:45 stopped.  Start at 5am, finish at 4:20pm
Climbing Partner: DurangoJenn

No comments:

Post a Comment