[WARNING: lots of photos in this one, over 40. Epic adventures
= lots of pictures. They may take a while to download if you have a slow
dial-up connection. Just start reading and they will eventually appear]
After several days of no running, but working hard on our volunteer
jobs for the LT100 bike race, Jim and I were ready to hit the trail
again yesterday (Sunday). We didn't want to do too much because we got up late
and were tired from being on our feet all day at Columbine Mine on
We drove up into the mining district to about 12,000 feet on Ball
Mountain, then climbed to the top (about 12,300 feet) with the dogs and
walked around there for a while. We had great views of the Mosquito
Range, including Mt. Sherman (middle back of photo), to the east and
and the mining district, Leadville, Turquoise Lake, and the Sawatch
Range, including Hope Pass, to the west and south:
That satisfied our urge to get out and walk a little bit. We spent
the rest of the day, well, resting and doing laundry and planning
for new adventures on Monday.
My plan was to climb one or two of the 14ers near Winfield before
returning home. I'm in the best shape altitude-wise that I've ever been: I can climb
steadily and don't have nausea, headaches, or dizziness at 14,000+ feet.
though I should be training for a relatively flat, low-altitude 24-hour race in hot
and humid North Carolina at the end of September, I was determined to
climb another mountain if the weather was good today or Tuesday.
One last hurrah, so to speak.
It's a good little drive from Leadville to Winfield, so Jim's plan was
to do just one more hike up to Hope Pass from the south side while he
was in the vicinity. The race trail head is conveniently only a couple more miles up Clear Creek AKA Winfield
Road from the trail head where I'd be starting. He'd drop Cody and me off at the Missouri Gulch
trail head, then drive to the LT100 trail head at Sheep Gulch and
take Tater up the mountain at a leisurely pace. It'd be a good chance to acclimate on top if it
wasn't too cold or windy while he waited for me.
North side of Hope, looking down at the lake
(foreground) near the "Hopeless" aid station location
Since I was planning to run parts of the Continental Divide Trail
this summer and not climb several 14ers, I brought the Colorado CDT book
but NOT our Colorado Fourteeners book. The information about trail heads
that I obtained was from the
www.14ers.com website, which was fine because we could print out
directions that I could take with me on unfamiliar climbs.
On Sunday I researched the four 14ers that can be reached from
the Winfield area: Huron, Missouri, Belford, and Oxford.
Huron Peak (elev. 14,003 feet) appealed to me because our friend Jim
Ballard enjoyed the climb and the description sounded like there would be
great views. The trail gains 3,500 feet in less than three miles up,
which is fairly steep, but the Class 2 trail is pretty good. If I had
time, I'd also
be able to cross a ridge over to one or more of the Three
Apostles, 13ers that are just south of Huron.
Missouri Mountain (14,067 feet, shown below) didn't sound so good. The distance
and gain are OK, 4,500 feet in a little over five miles up,
but I was concerned about a rocky traverse through a talus slope above
tree line and a "difficult Class 2" rock climb near the summit. Photos
on the web site show a rock wall that might be difficult for me to climb
with arthritic hands and
maybe impossible to negotiate if I took Cody with me. He's too heavy for
me to lift.
Missouri Mountain, above, as seen
from the ascent to Mt. Belford
The Class 2 route to both Belford and
Oxford appealed to me the most. The only way up to Oxford is to climb
Belford first. If the weather turned bad or I was having any problems, I
could turn around on Belford and come back down without doing Oxford,
too. However, that would mean another climb up Belford in the future if
I ever wanted to "bag" Oxford.
As the quote said, doing both summits is no walk in the
park. There is a 4,600-foot gain from the Missouri Gulch trail head to
the summit of Belford at 14,197 feet. You drop down a steep, rough trail
to ~13,500 feet in the
saddle between the two mountains, climb back up to 14,153 feet to
reach Oxford's summit, go back down almost 700 feet to the saddle, then
scramble back up the ridge to Belford's summit -- a gain of about 6,000
feet for both summits, with the same descent on the way back.
That's 12,000 feet up and down in eleven
miles, no small feat.
To do both mountains in one day you
actually get THREE 14,000+ summits because you have to go back up to the
top of Belford on the return. Funny how I didn't fully realize that
until I was going back to the Belford summit the second time, trying to
beat the rain I could see in the distance!
We both got our packs and clothing ready
to go on Sunday night so we could head out in the morning if the weather
looked good. We'd had about five days without rain. We knew we were
"due" for the monsoons to return and neither one of us wanted to
be above tree line if it was a
CAN YOU SEE ME NOW??
We woke up to clear weather this morning at 6 AM so it was a "go."
Today was the day for Jim's last climb up Mount Hope and probably my
last 14er of the season.
Cody and I started at the Missouri Gulch trail head at 7:45
AM, which was late enough to be risking running into a storm. I should have started
earlier and recommend that for anyone else trying to do both summits in
I passed three attractive information boards (one is above) and a
sign for the San Isabel National Forest at the trail head. The trail
immediately goes down a little bank to boisterous Clear Creek and
crosses on a nice bridge. After signing the trail register, Cody and I
began climbing steep switchbacks through the forest until we came out
above the trees at around 11,300 feet.
The current trail to Belford and Oxford was built in cooperation
between Colorado Fourteeners Initiative volunteers and the US Forest
Service. It is easy to follow and well-maintained, although very rocky
most of the way.
Near tree line is this old log
Coming out of the trees I began seeing Belford's unusual summit
"crown" in the distance. It didn't look like too hard of a climb from
Looks can be deceiving.
As I climbed higher and higher through a less steep part of the trail
through willows (generic name for sub-alpine shrubs in Colorado) I got better and
better views of Quail and Hope mountains to the north and Missouri to
the southwest. Here are two more views of the Belford summit from the
willows and at the trail junction for Belford
(left turn) and Missouri (right turn):
Then came the REAL work to summit Belford -- a 2,300-foot gain
through rocky terrain on a gazillion switchbacks that are scarier
the top than from the bottom. From the top you can see the whole
picture to the valley below, even if you can't see all of the trail.
From the bottom, it looks like a long way up, but part of the time you
can't even see the summit.
Soon after starting up from this point, Max Welker came up from
behind with his Australian shepherd mix, Skeeter. Max is running LT100
in five days, so I was surprised to see him climbing a 14er. He hasn't
been up this one and was in for a surprise, I think. He said he'd stay
behind me and "go slowly" so as not to wear himself out for the race. I
encouraged him several times to go around, but he didn't. It was nice
having company on the way up the mountain and helped me forget how hard
We'd reached about 12,800 feet and had a great view of Hope Pass and
other mountains to the north and west (below) when
Jim called me on the phone.
The wonders of technology! He'd already gone
over Hope Pass and dropped down the north side where the "Hopeless" aid station
is located during the race. We both had good Verizon signals and could
talk for a couple minutes. Max and I could see the trail above tree line
on the south side of the pass and I swear we might have even been able
to see Jim if he had been on our side of the mountain right then (well,
maybe with binoculars!).
In the photo below, three fellows are descending the trail Max and I
just came up. You can see some of the switchbacks down to Missouri
Gulch. Mount Hope is the peak on the left in the distance and Quail Mountain is
in the middle. Hope Pass is the saddle between them.
I was glad I could let Jim know I was probably NOT going to be done
with my trek in five or six hours, as I'd guessed from reading the
course description. I based that on the time it took me to get up and
down Elbert and Massive.
CHALLENGING CLIMBS AND DESCENTS
Let me tell you, Belford and Oxford are a different story!
First is that climb up to Belford. It's rocky and it's steep even
with about a hundred switchbacks. I knew it would be tough coming down
and I wouldn't be running much. There are numerous large "steps" on and
off rocks, which is trickier for my Granny Knees than a continuous
I felt like I was climbing up pretty steadily, and I was able to
gain on the [much younger] folks ahead of me, but it still took me until
11 AM (3:15 hours) to go only four miles to the Belford summit.
This is one of the views to the southwest near Belford's summit:
The summit is an interesting "block" of yellowish rocks.
I found a round metal summit marker embedded in the rock, but no
register. A young woman named Jennifer that I met on the summit said both Belford and
Oxford have had registers previously, but neither did today. Oxford has
a similar metal marker on its summit, although another point about a
hundred feet away looks a tiny bit higher.
Max wisely chose to turn around on the Belford summit. He didn't have
adequate water and that was a LOT of climb and descent so close to the
race. In retrospect, I probably should have turned around, too, but I
was determined after all that work to keep going another mile and a half
to Oxford. After that tough climb, I was darned if I was going to come
up here again to "bag" Oxford!
At that point, some billowing white cumulus clouds were forming to the south and west
but the sun was still shining brightly. There was virtually no wind on
the top of Belford. If I wasn't pressed for time, I would have enjoyed
sitting up there for a while.
There was a bit of a drop down through green tundra to a rocky
outcrop on the east side of Belford (photo above). Jennifer and her friend Diane and I
determined that Oxford was the peak to the left, not the right. We could
clearly see the trail on the saddle and up to the summit, but not the
trail down from Belford to the saddle:
Jennifer and Diane kept going up through the rocks while I followed a
trail around to the right. Both trails met at the top of the VERY STEEP, ROCKY
trail down to the summit. Oh, my gosh! Photos just don't do justice to
that steep drop!
Diane (shown above) and I both had problems negotiating the loose
grit and rocks on the way down but we made it OK and neither of us fell.
I passed Diane when she stopped to talk to some guys on their way
back up, and didn't see her for another couple hours. At some point near
the saddle she turned around. Jennifer kept going to the Oxford summit
with her tiny pug named, ahem, "Pug." That's one tough little doggie
to climb two 14ers! So is Cody, who did just fine today. He's well
On the way up to the summit of Oxford my old nemesis, my adductors,
decided to cramp up, probably from dehydration and the stress of the
climb. I've had no problems with cramping since the Big Horn race in
June, and this was NOT a good time for it to recur. Usually it starts
with the calves, then the hamstrings, then sometimes the adductors. This
time it was sudden cramping in my right adductor. BAM!
I quickly took two Endurolytes, massaged the sore muscle, and stretched it. Then it was OK
the rest of the hike/run. Whew!
It took me exactly an hour to hike that mile and a half to Oxford's
summit. The only possible running was on the saddle, and that wasn't
long lived because the trail was soon going back uphill. What looked like nice
smooth trail from a distance was deceiving. There were rocks to
climb through on that ascent, too (above).
I had great views of Mt. Harvard and Pine Creek to the south. I know
the Colorado Trail goes through that area, but couldn't see it in the
trees at the bottom of the gulch:
By now the pretty white cumulus clouds were turning gray and I
could see a storm south of Belford and Oxford. Gosh, that was fast!
I had about half a mile
to the summit of Oxford. If I didn't do it now, I'd have to come
back some day to finish the job. I wasn't so sure I EVER wanted to do that
descent from Belford's east side again, so I did what any
adventure-seeker would do -- I kept going up to the summit of Oxford! I
figured if the weather got really bad I could drop down into Belford
Gulch north of the saddle and eventually find my way back to Missouri
Gulch and the truck. The two gulches are parallel and drop down to Clear
Jennifer, our two dogs, and I were the only hikers on the summit of
Oxford. The metal marker is shown in the photo below, looking toward the
northwest. The panoramic views were just awesome from here:
I met six hikers going back to Belford on my way to the Oxford summit, and there were two
behind me going my direction. I spent only six minutes on the Oxford
summit taking photos and giving Cody
water before I turned around. It was 12:06 PM and the sky was
looking more and more menacing to the south and west (above), although I was still in sunshine until
reaching the other side of Belford.
OUT-RUNNING THE STORMS
With that kind of incentive, I made the one and a half mile return to the summit of Belford (you can see the summit block
in the photo below, center back) ten minutes faster than
I could run down part of Oxford's trail to the saddle, but it was
slow going with many stops back up the steep, steep rocky ridge to
I was hustling as fast as I could, not wanting to get caught in a
storm on top. Although I could still see blue sky to the west in the
photos above, it was already raining to the south:
On the way up, my left adductor decided to cramp. I did the same
routine again: two Endurolytes, massage, stretching for a minute,
and then it was OK the rest of the trek. Good thing.
I finally made it up the ridge, climbed the rocky eastern side of the
"summit block" (below, back left, the only place I had to use my hands to climb
started running down the NE side to the switchbacks. I was in such a
hurry that I passed seven [much younger] hikers on the way down! Now it
was finally getting windy and the skies were more menacing to the west,
I had to be very careful, though. It's a miracle I didn't trip or
fall on all the rocks. Although some parts of the trail are fairly
smooth, in general it's not very runnable for a klutz going back
down, even in the woods. I got back to the truck at 2:45 PM,
exactly seven hours after I began. It took me 4:15 hours to reach
the summit of Oxford (only 5½ miles), plus
six minutes at the turn-around, and 2:39 hours to get back down
(that includes the ~700-foot climb back up to Belford after Oxford).
It's still a long way down there
I could hear thunder and see several storms to the south, east, and west but
I never felt even one raindrop. Jim didn't get wet either. He got done
well before I did and had time to drive down to Buena Vista to get lunch
and gas (much cheaper than in Leadville) AND sit waiting for me at
Missouri Gulch before I got back. I was extremely fortunate because it
started raining just a few minutes after I got done. By the time we
reached Hwy. 24 around 3 PM we could see heavy rain back toward Hope and
Belford/Oxford. I was lucky.
Look what I found! A marmot! (Cody
doesn't chase them, but he's interested in their squeaking.)
We had fun telling each other about our respective run/hikes on the
way home. It was too windy for Jim to sit on Hope Pass very long, so he and
Tater spent an hour acclimating on the north side down near the aid station
and little alpine lake until they couldn't stand the bugs any more. They
got in about six miles of trail today.
Jim felt like he could have gone faster up the steep south side of
Hope. Tater went up pretty slowly and held him back, which was probably a good thing. He made it
up in the same time it usually takes him, ninety minutes. If he'd gone
faster, he might have worn himself out too much this close to the race.
They got back down much faster after Tater was rejuvenated in the lake.
Jim saw several LT runners on the trail, including Grand Slammer Don Halke
and a family from Albuquerque who "knows" us through this journal.
Although I saw about twenty hikers on my trek, the only one I knew was
I was like Chatty Cathy on the way back home with all the endorphins
and adrenaline still coursing through my veins! I was excited about my
climb and wishing I could do more 14ers in the few remaining days we
have in Colorado. I was
tired but happy.
Still dropping down into Missouri Gulch, probably
miles from the trail head
However, I may pay a heavy price for my enthusiasm today -- this
evening my left knee was swollen and so sore I could hardly bend it. I
iced it and wore a stretchy "brace" on it until bedtime, which came very
early because I was so tired. By then the endorphins and adrenaline had
worn off, and acetaminophen wasn't taking their place very well! I've
been having a strange problem with my left knee for several months, but
it's never, ever bothered me during a run or hike, only when walking
making a right turn. Now I'll definitely have to get it checked out when
we get back home. I won't be climbing any more 14ers while we're here.
I've completed six 14ers now: in order, Pikes Peak, Mt.
Elbert, Mt. Massive, Mt. Sherman, Mt. Belford, and Mt. Oxford. All were
more than 3,000 feet except Sherman, which I suppose I'll have to do
over to officially count (supposed to be at least 3,000 feet of gain for
a single summit, and 500 feet or more for two together like Oxford and
Belford). Only forty-eight summits to go!
Back in the "willows" in Missouri Gulch below Mt.
Belford; Quail Mountain is in the distance, above.
In summary re: climbing Mts. Belford and Oxford:
- Don't believe the profile on the web site; it's steeper
than it looks and it will probably take you longer to get up and down
than you expect.
- Don't believe the "easy trail" description, either. It's clearly
defined, but not so easy to negotiate in many places, especially on
the ridge east of Belford down to the saddle to Oxford.
- Take plenty of water. There are two water crossings and you're
close to the stream coming down through the gulch for a little while
in the willows, but above that you're on your own.
- Start early. The trail up Missouri Gulch is easy to follow even in
the dark if you take a light. You're above tree line a lot and there's
no place to hide in a storm after you leave the trees.
- The trail is rocky and steep most of the way above tree line.
Don't expect to run much on the way back down.
- You WILL get to the top of Belford eventually.
- The views are fantastic all the way up and on top.
- There are more flowers than on Elbert but many fewer than on
Massive. The views compensate for any lack of flora.
I saw this unusual thistle or cactus blooming very high on Belford (between 13,750 and
14,000 feet). It's the first time I've seen it. Some plants had five or six
flower balls in bloom:
Next up: probably pre-race activities for the LT100 run. Packet-stuffing
is Wednesday . . .
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil