| Favorite Winter Deathmarch: Mo/Bel/Ox
Favorite Winter Deathmarch:
Peaks: Missouri, Belford, Oxford
Approach: Vicksburg/Missouri Gulch off 390
Length: 15.7 miles RT
Vertical: 8400 feet
Travel Time: 10.5 hours
Total Time: 12 hours
Missouri: Dehrlich101 (Danny,) jgallo11 (Justin,) frobert_55 (Robert) Mo/Bel/Ox: Dancesatmoonrise (Jim)
Mt. Harvard is seen from the Belford/Oxford saddle at sundown.
As Bobby and I slog back down the Moon Lake approach for Capitol Peak Monday night, January 2, he mentions itís supposed to be 67 degrees in Denver on Thursday. Unfortunately, he canít miss school that day. Whimsical thoughts of summery peaks on a January day becon...
Iíd been thinking about Missouri and Belford/Oxford as separate winter trips, but so far this year, the Winfield Road is open due to low snow. Might be able to get all three. I post for partners. Danny, Justin, and Rob are headed up for Missouri and might give Belford and Oxford a shot. Theyíre going in earlier than Iíd planned; calculations put us meeting somewhere on the rib to the summit ridge.
The plan is Mo first, then Bel/Ox. The latter two are easier, and should not be much issue coming down by moonlight. A late start would allow some shut-eye and the added advantage of watching the sunset from the one of the summits.
This section of the ridge is usually dry in winter. The completely dry part is loose, but the two ribs to the left may afford reasonable winter travel.
The proposed start deteriorates a little; I'm on the trail around 8am. No matter, itís a perfect weather day, and thereís a nice moon in the sky tonight. The trail is well packed. Thanks to geojed and furthermore for their info, Iím able to go light, leaving snowshoes behind. Iím at the old cabin ruins in about 0:46 Ė just a little off the summer pace. Things are looking good for all three.
Above treeline in the gulch, the snow gets interesting. While thereís not a lot of snow, the snow underfoot is ample evidence that serious slab action may lurk on steeper terrain.
There is often a section further north to access Missouriís northwest summit ridge in winter. One looks west from the gulch, where the dry face to the right (north) is evident. (Image #2, above.) This face is too loose to be of much help, but to the left of it are two ribs Ė a smaller one interposed between two shallow gullies, and a larger one to its left. Either is usually a decent bet in winter. This year, one wants to be particularly careful with the terrain underfoot.
Missouri's summit ridge. The summit is at far left.
I find Dannyís crew working their way up the large rib Ė this looks like a good choice. Soon Danny joins me, with tentative plans to attempt all three peaks, while Robert and Justin are going to attempt Missouri.
Danny's crew ascends the large rib at left.
Middle and left ribs to the summit ridge.
Mt. Harvard beyond Elkhead Pass. Missouri's summit at right.
Danny and the crew, with Mt. Belford in the backdrop.
We join the summit ridge south of Point 13,695.
Beautiful Huron Peak, east aspect.
From here it's easy to survey the best route across the gulch to the NW ridge of Mt. Belford.
The "Dreaded Sketchy Spot" - not looking so bad this January at all.
The summit ridge is long, but enjoyable. Thereís a section near the summit that can be interesting in certain winter conditions. Itís a pussycat today. At the summit, itís around 11:45 am, so I know Iíll need to get hustling if Belford and Oxford are going in the bag today. Soon Danny joins me on the summit. He decides to hang back with his partners, wishing me well on the journey. We break till about Noon, then part ways. I tip my hat to Robert and Justin as they make way up the ridge, and scope out a line across the willowy gulch, far below.
Mt. Belford and the Missouri Gulch are seen from the summit of Missouri Mountain.
The Missouri Ridge and the horse we rode in on.
Iowa and Emerald. I need to get over there one of these days...
Danny's 21st. Big congrats, Danny!!
Leaving Missouri's summit, I wave back to Danny.
The long and winding ridge...
Capitol Peak lingers on my mind. We didnít make the summit. I wish Bobby were here with me for this trip; this is his kind of sufferfest. Iím thinking the metabolic turnover of total body glycogen will be of benefit to sooth the psyche on that last missed summit. We know well that failed attempts can be among the sweetest, once success comes Ė itís the time in between that often haunts us. I wake from mental reverie to find myself traversing the gulch on the long, flat, grassy trail Iíd been watching from above, and gaze across the gulch to Belford's wind-blown NW ridge.
Pushing against daylight: Belford's NW ridge. The clock seems to be winning.
Looking back over toward Missouri. The left and middle ribs to the summit ridge stand out in relief against the late day sun (top center.)
Looking back down toward the way home: This will be critical in moonlight.
Missouri and gorgeous Emerald Peak.
The proposed route from the grassy trail to the base of Belfordís classic NW ridge works out surprisingly well, dodging willows and mitigating post holes in the snow. The lower ridge is grassy and mostly dry. After 4500 verts earlier today, Iím not surprised to find the legs and lungs unwilling to gain altitude again. I decide to give it 100 or 200 verts and see if thereís any gas in the tank, and if so, see how it goes to maybe 500. The ridge is about 2400 verts of mostly sustained elevation gain. Itís fun in summer as the only peak Ė but tough today after Missouri.
Iím pleased to find a second wind coming on, though the pace is decidedly slower. I recall how the NW ridge gets a little rough in places about halfway up. The clock is not cooperating.
Missouri's east ridge. Elkhead Pass is at far left. Emerald rises to the south.
Approaching Belford's summit.
Emerald Peak seen from near the summit of Mt. Belford.
Where do I want to be at sundown? Iíd like to be on this ridge, on the way down, preferably on the lower half of the ridge. This may not be possible at the current pace. I arrive on Belfordís lofty summit around 3:30. Iíd like to be back here no later than last light. Gazing over to Mt. Oxford, the route looks way too long for this to work. I decide to get as far as I can in 45 minutes, then turn back. That will put me back here at Belford, on the descent, at 5pm Ė right about sundown.
Looking down from Mt. Belford's summit, at the first section of the drop into the Bel/Ox saddle.
Mt. Oxford, the saddle, and the trail ahead, glowing in late day sun, as the shadow of Mt. Belford gradually overtakes its eastern peer.
Balancing desire and reality can sometimes be difficult. Given the weather, the moon in the sky, and the non-technical nature of the route, perhaps I can stretch the two to meet. Iím pleased to find the descent into the Bel/Ox saddle free of the usual snowfield on the upper east aspect.
I watch, as Belfordís shadow gains ground, moving ever upward on Mt. Oxfordís western flank, me scurrying along, alternately watching my step, and watching the clock. I know I canít make the 45 minute deadline. I know this. I know I am going to push for it anyway.
Not being one of those guys to ditch the pack on a traverse, especially solo, I hustle along, without running. The late day wind starts to howl mercilessly. I seem to recall Ken mentioning that this area is always windy. Amazing how things and places in the mountains retain a sameness, a consistency, year in and year out. The wind adds a sense of urgency to the receding afternoon light. An eternity passes, one ďoh yeah, the false summitĒ moment, and I'm at the summit register. Time to jet.
Late afternoon on Mt. Oxford's summit.
The wind is really getting aggressive on the way back. Iím nearly knocked down on one section of the ridge climbing back out of the saddle. The wind and approaching darkness evoke a sense of urgency. Quickening the pace, I really start to feel it near the top, but stuff it in the back pocket and keep pushing.
The last rays of daylight on Missouri's summit. Will it not be the same for all of us, one day? Yet to witness...
...the glory of His hand.
Mt. Harvard, to the south, keeps distracting progress with its gorgeous late-afternoon views.
Sunset over the Missouri ridge, as seen from Mt. Belford's summit.
Belfordís summit again - itís twilight time. The wind dies down to nothing as alpenglow rises in the east. The acute sense of urgency washes away like water color on canvas. Itís a gorgeous, warm, moony night. Seems the trail had disappeared under snowfields in a lot of places on the upper half during the ascent, causing some consternation for the future trip down. It turns out not to be an issue. Iím able to clearly see the base of the gulch, above the area of the old cabin, in the moonlight, and so as long as I shoot for that area, I donít need to mess with getting out map and compass. As darkness comes on, eyes adjust to moonlight, and itís nearly like daylight out here. Most pleasant. I stop to play with the camera for a while, and see if I can capture some of this on the SD card. The little point and shoot serves well.
Mt. Belford's summit, bathed in alpenglow.
The only real slog on the trip is the way down through the trees. I stop at the cabin ruins for a moonlight break, get some late lunch, pick up some stashed water, repack, and prepare for the slog to the car.
The Missouri ridge in moonlight.
8pm. The trailhead is deserted. I think about that battery I should have replaced, and hope the car will start. If it wonít, I donít have another seven miles left in me to get to the highway. Itíd be the Honda Hotel tonight, and no kitchenette. Fortunately, the motor whirs into action. Good car. Good car.
Once again, I revel in the modern convenience of sitting down as the car does all the work, speedily whisking along the many miles home. An old Steve Miller tune comes on the radio Ė ďLiving in the USA.Ē About now Iím thinking how fortunate we all are to be free.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed the images.