Sometimes you plan the smallest detail and other times beautiful moments simply fall into your life like so many autumn leaves. This past weekend, which involved minimal planning, was 48 hours punctuated by alpine beauty and laughter amongst friends, both old and new, all with one goal: to climb Belford and Oxford.
Belford and Oxford are two 14ers located in the Sawatch Range. Like most Sawatch14ers these are not technical peaks, but do leap off the valley floor, punctuating the western skyline of the South Park valley with their snow streaked mass. Requiring 11 miles and 5,800 vertical feet, Belford and Oxford command endurance, if not respect.
We camped the night before with multiple alarms going off at 4:30. Upon waking I immediately boiled water for oatmeal and coffee, with an emphasis on coffee. In the meantime Alan and Jennifer were breaking down camp so we were quickly at the trailhead, with caffeine and excitement fighting for prominence.
The trail gains 4,500 vertical feet in 8 miles so it steep from the get go. Jennifer and I were holding our own, but Alan has a way of making it look easy. It could be gentle chatter while pounding uphill, a casual hand in the pocket or a walking along with a water bottle in hand and not a care in the world. Sometimes it is all the above.
If I took his picture he stopped hiking and we got a rest!
Truth be told we made short work of both summits. With few breaks, a tolerance for thirst and the comfort of an elevated heart rate from running, these mountains were not the suffer-fest they would have been in the past. Below is Jennifer and Alan cruising 1,000 feet above the valley floor.
Summit shot of the team. The haze, present in many of the photos is the smoke from the Arizona wildfire.
Per the norm, Alan and I left dignity and shame at the trailhead and threw down some flexshots, Texan style. Jen tried to suppress her laughter, unsuccessfully, while taking pictures.
Pictured below is the ridge between Belford and Oxford. This traverse entails losing 600 feet of elevation and climbing to the summit of Oxford. This process is then reversed on the return trip. To say this effort was laden with expletives would be an understatement as I dropped the f-bomb in such quantity so as to fill the valleys below.
The descent was nothing less than a disruption in the space-time continuum as we hiked for hours but seemingly never got closer to the trailhead. The lure of beer kept us riding gravity’s pull back to the truck, a bit worse for wear, but basking in the glow of a good day in the alpine.
Next stop, Vail! A 4-star hotel room had been booked compliments of Hotwire. There were serious decisions to be made though, decisions that nearly tore apart multiple friendships on this day. Shower first and then get pizza? Hot tub first? A six pack of pale ale or lager? Alliances were formed and sacred bonds fell apart, but in the end it was determined that a hot tub, pizza, beer and a heated pool should be compulsory 14er completion amenities.
Sunday dawned with a realization that more mountain time was far superior than the heat of the Front Range. Sit poolside and read? Lounge on the shady shore of Lake Dillon? Climb a centennial 13er with little preparation, knowledge of the route, a dash of dehydration and muscular fatigue? This time there was no debate, the hike was a go.
Provender was acquired at a gas station. The route purloined off a few online sources. The rank and somewhat damp hiking clothes from the day before donned. Laughter once again pealing.
This truck was packed and unpacked a minimum of 6 times. Minus a strong work ethic we could still be out climbing!
This feels familiar.
Square Top Mountain is 6.5 miles round trip, starts off mostly flat and then sucker punches you with a steep climb along it summit ridge. To add insult to injury, the wind was screaming. Admittedly I am no anemometer but I am saying it was at least gale force as I struggled standing.
Want to experience the joy of childhood? Stand atop a 1,000 feet of unbroken snow and know that a glissade is imminent. How much fun was it? With nearly 15 miles on our legs we happily kicked steps back up and did it again.
Looking down the glissade path.
This climb proved more difficult than anticipated. Between the pitch and wind we were a bit surprised, but handled it with aplomb. Total mileage on the weekend was ~17 miles with over 8,200 feet of vertical gain. This is a personal record, one I hope to top later this summer, ideally with the same group. We hit the truck four hours after we began and celebrated a successful climb and a successful weekend.
One of us failed to jump