Posts Tagged ‘belford’

Oxford Windstorm

April 17, 2010

I was trying to make some progress on my 14er list, and my wife, Susan, wanted to do 14ers as well. Earlier in the summer of 2000, we had collected two of the three that had gotten away from me during the big push made in the last few years:

  • July 1 – Massive (somehow went untried)
  • July 8 – Yale (Brian and I failed to summit in a Spring whiteout)

The only one left was Oxford, which had gotten away when I was too slow on trip to collect Belford and Oxford with Brian.  When Susan and I had a free weekend in early September, project Oxford was a go.

Rather than repeat the camping exercise, we just got up super early and left Boulder @ 2:45pm to drive back to the Missouri Gulch trailhead outside of Vicksburg (the non-existent town up county road 390).

Our route from Missouri Gulch trailhead to Belford and Oxford

Everything started well.  We got started at 6am and made a steady but moderate pace up the treed switch-backs.  When we stepped out of the trees around 11,500′, a powerful wind turned the experience into a cold Spring climb.  And we were wearing Summer clothes (position #1 on map).

The trail had been worked on since my last visit; it was a great trail.  But since it was covered with snow and ice, it made for adventurous hiking:  slipping and sliding everywhere.  We persevered to reach the start of the NW corner of Mt Belford (position #2), and then we started up.

We were freezing, but could continue as long as we kept burning calories.  The wind was brutally cold and strong enough to push us around.  Susan was worried about the possibility of being blown off the mountain.  I was able to demonstrate that was not possible by jumping into the air during a strong gust; it could only move me a few inches.  Still, we had to stay low and balanced to avoid being blown down (position #3).

We hit the summit at 9am (position #4) and were met by the strongest winds so far (I estimated it was up to 60 mph). We sought some shelter on the backside of the summit where we found a couple fellows planning to head back down to Missouri Gulch trailhead.

Susan said she needed to get out of the wind and would descend with our new friends.  We said our farewells and I headed SE from Belford.

As I looked down the ridge at the peak a few miles distant, I suddenly regretted not bringing a map.  I thought Oxford was so close as to be obvious, but I could only see a peak that looked several miles away. Resigned to a long trek, I started toward the peak (it was Harvard).

After a short distance (position #5), I decided that something was wrong.  I could see that I would have to descend too far to reach the peak I was aimed at.  I stopped to look around and found a big peak behind my left shoulder.  It didn’t look high enough to be a 14er, but it was the only thing that made sense.  I did a u-turn and worked across the saddle to the bland looking peak that I hoped was Oxford.

I stayed on the Oxford summit (position #6) for a minute to snap a photo and then headed back to Belford, where I arrived at 12:20pm.

Looking back toward Belford from the summit of Oxford

The trek back from Belford was made very easy by the brand new trail; I tried to go fast to catch up to Susan.  But, they were already at the trailhead when I left Belford’s summit; they had not lingered in the wind. I found Susan waiting at the truck when I arrived at 2:20pm.

It was a good day; my effort included 5800′ of elevation in 11 miles of hiking over 8.5 hours to bag my 28th 14er.  Susan’s day was a bit shorter, but she’s a beginner who hung when cold and afraid of the conditions; she’s a trooper with six 14ers to her credit.

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See all 14er trip reports

Sometimes two is one too many

April 17, 2010

With only 13 of 58 fourteeners done, I cherished any opportunity to bag more than one in a trip.  We were going to do a snow climb on Belford and then traverse over to Oxford.  I loved the plan; but, sometimes, two is one too many.

For these intermediate distant peaks, we generally prefer to camp at the trail head the night before to avoid having to get up at 1am.  But my travel plans ruined it.  I didn’t get home from a week in Detroit until 10pm on April 24, 1998; so, we couldn’t get to the Missouri Gulch until 3am.  With a wake up call coming at 5am, I wouldn’t get much sleep or acclimatization for my first 14er of 1998.

And then it snowed hard all night.  We awoke to a fluffy start, and a quick elevation gain.  The trail gets steep immediately as it switch-backs up through the trees (position #1 on map).

The mountain was ours.  No sign of humanity as far as the eye could see.  It was a spectacular setting; almost enough to make me forget how tired I was.  Almost.

Our route up from Missouri Gulch trailhead to Mt Belford

We took the northwest ridge route:  2000 feet straight up.  It was sort of boring, really.  And that was the last thing my sleep deprived mind could tolerate.  I felt terrible (position #2).

I was tired and dizzy, and the higher I climbed, the worse it got.  Brian moved ahead while I struggled up the slope.  Twice I nearly fell over backward and one time I fell asleep while taking a break.  It was my worst performance ever (I mean ‘ever’ as in before or since).

Since Brian wasn’t around, I couldn’t stop without telling him. So I kept plugging along, a few inches at a time.  By the time I reached the summit, Brian had been sleeping on the large boulder for an hour.

I felt badly about being so slow, but Brian’s first comment was “never give up, huh?”.  It was too late to push onto Oxford; hell, I was lucky to get Belford (position #3).

We started down, and I felt better immediately.  With all the snow, I was glissading down the entire mountain.  The first glissade was a real howler….snow flying up all around me as I flew down the slope.  I came to a stop just before a steep couloir (position #4).

Brian caught up to me and said he didn’t like the look of the snow.  I said, “let’s find out”, and push myself down the chute.  About 15 seconds in, the snow in the chute let go.

But rather than throw my stupid bones down the mountain, the snow just ran out from under me and dumped me on the crusty snow layer underneath. It was a strange feeling watching the snow crash down the mountain; it could have been me with it.  And with the good snow gone, the good glissades were over.

Three hours of postholing (position #5) got me to the trees, and a short time later we reached the truck.

We had taken 10 hours to climb 4,500′ of elevation in only 4 miles one-way (8 miles round trip).  My feet of elevation per hour of sleep was at the high end of the human potential scale, in my opinion.

Thank God that Brian drove.  I couldn’t stay awake to save my life.  We packed up our camp and piled into the truck.  I fell asleep immediately, and slept for 2 hours while Brian drove.

He woke me around Eisenhower Tunnel to help him navigate the whiteout he was driving in down I-70. The snow was falling so hard that we couldn’t see more than 10 feet, which is bad when driving at 30 miles per hour.  My job was to watch the guard rail to warn Brian when he was drifting too far to the side of the road; he couldn’t afford to take his attention from the faint lights in front of him. Every 15 minutes or so, he’d pull off the road so I could run out and wipe the snow off the headlights.  I don’t know how we avoided getting crushed by a blinded truck driver.

It was completely insane, but at least I had a nap before hand.  And with the success of this trip, Brian and I would go on a tear, bagging 5 14ers during the Spring of 1998.

Unfortunately, Oxford wouldn’t fall until September 2000 on a trip with my wife.  We didn’t have snow problems, but the wind was historic.

See all trip reports

See all 14er trip reports


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