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Our third day in Colorado's Sawatch Range had us tackling Mts. Belford and Oxford. We were fortunate to have used the same campsite in Winfield for three nights, a most enjoyable place to spend the afternoon and evening next to Clear Creek with incredibly steep slopes rising up on both sides, making for an idyllic scene with fine sunsets. Today's starting point at the Missouri Gulch TH was about 4mi downstream from our campsite, so we had only about 15 minutes of driving to get us to the start. Today's effort was going to be harder than the last two, so we started a bit early, around 5:45a (not quite as early as Eric had hoped, but it worked out nicely). I was feeling so good after reaching Belford that I decided to add Missouri Mtn to the mix on the fly. Can never have too much fun in the mountains.
After crossing Clear Creek on a good bridge, the rocky trail begins climbing in a hurry, about 1,500ft in the first mile and a half through forest. We used headlamps for about 20min before ditching them with the coming dawn. Halfway up this section the trail has been detoured where an avalanche last winter wreaked havoc in the gulch. The power of the racing snow is starkly evident with thousands of aspens and even some good-sized pine trees taken out in its wake. Near the upper edge of the forest there is an old mining cabin without a roof, then one pops out into the more open middle reaches of Missouri Gulch. The gradient relents and we enjoyed the sunrise on the surrounding mountain tops. In about half a mile a trail junction is reached where we turned left, and after about a quarter mile we reached the base of the NW Ridge. The trail now climbs steeply with only small switchbacks. As usual, Leroy charged ahead, covering more than twice the ground we did because he made detours off the trail at regular intervals to investigate smells in one direction or another.
Near the top of the ridge, the trail turns south and reaches a false summit with a spectacular view of Missouri Mtn to the west. I could see the trail climbing steeply out of Missouri Gulch to Missouri Mtn's NW Ridge, with the first inklings that I might consider that for a bigger adventure. I turned east to follow Leroy the remaining short distance to the true summit of Belford, arriving by 8:40a, our earliest time yet to reach a 14er's summit. Eric joined us soon enough and we spent about 20min at the summit relaxing in the warm sunshine without the strong wind we'd had the previous two days. Mt. Oxford is another 1.5mi beyond Belford with a 600-foot drop between them. The descent off Belford is a little steep and loose, but most of the way to Oxford is on good, easy trail. As we were about to start down, I told Eric I wanted to add Missouri, knowing of course that Oxford would be plenty enough for Eric and Leroy. It didn't surprise Eric, but he had some hesitation about descending the steep part off Belford alone. So we descended that section together, after which Eric put Leroy on his leash to keep him from following me, and I took off at a pretty strong pace. About five minutes later, as I was passing through the saddle, I looked back to see Eric only about 60yds behind me. Hmmm, he seemed to have picked up his pace as well. Another five minutes go by and Leroy comes running past me, eager to take his usual pole position. Eric had let him off the leash when I had gotten out of sight, but Leroy wasn't fooled and took off after me. This wasn't a real problem since I would have to go past Eric on my way back from Oxford's summit and he could take him from there. But it would present a bit of a dilemma for Leroy. He likes to keep his herd together and gets nervous when he can't see the two of us. Ahead of me, he would pause to look back, and not seeing Eric (the alpha human, in this case), he would stop. I kept going right past him, and this caused additional consternation. Leroy would run ahead again, then stop in the middle of the trail to intentionally block me, hoping to get me to wait for Eric as well. No such luck. I would simply step past him or over him and then Leroy would get flustered all over. At one point he couldn't see me ahead or Eric behind and I could hear him bark out. Still I didn't stop. Given the choice between alpha human and lead human, Leroy chose me and came racing to catch up. We eventually summited Mt. Oxford together, Leroy still looking back and pining for Eric. I took a few quick photos and headed back so as to lessen Leroy's dismay. When we crossed paths again about five minutes below Oxford's summit, Eric put Leroy back on his leash for a much longer time and that was the last I saw of them on this hike.
I headed back to Belford's Southeast Shoulder and took the trail descending to Elkhead Pass. I considered only briefly climbing Missouri's East Ridge directly from the pass. In Roach's Colorado Fourteeners, he describes this loose route in nightmarish terms. It certainly didn't look so good while I was staring at it. Another option would have been to traverse southwest into Missouri Basin and then climb Missouri up class 2 slopes on the SE side. An even better outing would have been to climb Emerald Peak and Iowa Peak before climbing Missouri, but this seemed to wear me out mentally thinking about it. Of course Scott would have done it, since, "They're right there!" In the end I nixt the traverse which though shorter seemed tedious, and instead took the longer trail northwest into Missouri Gulch and picked up the trail that would lead up to Missouri's NW Ridge. The various trails were in decent shape, save for one sketchy section on the NW Ridge, and I got to Missouri's summit by 12:15p. I passed by a pair of trail runners walking down the NW Ridge in the opposite direction. The guy in front didn't respond to my greeting, not even a smile or even looking at me. His GF behind him with sleeve tatoos at least smiled and said "Hi!" as she went by. Another couple were at the summit when I got there, enjoying the views and each other. Again, I took a few photos, rested up for a few minutes, and then started back down.
The return back down Missouri Gulch was not tedious nor tiring as I had been expecting. Despite the 7,000ft+ of gain, I was feeling pretty good and in fine spirits. I enjoyed the upper half of the gulch especially, with a cool breeze an open views and seemingly having the place to myself. I got back to the TH just after 2:30p, a full but rewarding day. Eric and Leroy had arrived half an hour earlier but had already headed out. I would meet up with them later in the afternoon in the town of Buena Vista in the Arkansas River Valley. Eric reported that Leroy had had a rough day, protesting at the end of the hike when he would lay down in the trail to rest several times. He went downhill from there and refused to get out of the car once he was inside. So we let him rest while we went off in search of dinner. We had a delicious and filling meal at the House Rock Kitchen, and brought back a side of brisket for Leroy to console himself with. He seemed to appreciate that. We would have to wait until the next morning to see if Leroy had adequately recovered...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Belford - Mt. Oxford - Missouri Mountain
This page last updated: Fri Aug 30 17:32:06 2019
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