My son and I wanted to tackle another 14er this past August before he left for a study abroad semester in Morocco. Colorado has 54 14ers (peaks over 14,000 feet high) and we have been climbing them together over the past several years.
I suppose I am somewhat of a “peak-bagger”. Peak-baggers are people who have a goal to summit all of the 14ers. While I do not plan to summit all of the 14ers in Colorado (some have too much exposure for me or are a little too technical for my abilities), I do have the drive or motivation to summit as many as I can. For me, I love the challenge and do get a great amount of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment from checking another peak off my list.
Our plan was to go down to the San Juan range in southern Colorado August 23-24 and try to knock off two more. However, after checking the weather forecast for those days, it didn’t look like favorable 14er climbing weather.
I checked back over our list of unclimbed 14ers to see if there was one we could climb the following week closer to home and just make a day trip out of it. We’ve already climbed 28 of the 14ers and have already done all of the ones closest to home. There was one, however, that we could do – Mt. Oxford. I had been putting this one off for a couple of years now because I grew weary of the thought of climbing it. There are several 14er combos in Colorado where you have to climb two of them in conjunction with one another. In other words, the standard trail takes you up to the top of the first and then you must continue on and down to a saddle between the two and up to the summit of the second. Once summiting the second, the only way back is the way you came. This means descending the second one back down to the saddle and re-climbing the first one and then back down the trail to the trailhead. So, essentially, your summiting three 14ers (the first one actually twice).
Josh and I had attempted the Mt. Belford-Mt. Oxford combo several years ago. We were able to summit Mt. Belford, but, because of bad weather conditions, we weren’t able to continue on to Mt. Oxford. I was disappointed because I knew that this meant that in order for us to check Mt. Oxford off of our list, we would have to come back someday and re-climb Mt. Belford again. The Belford-Oxford combo trek is a tough one (not technically but in terms of the amount of elevation gain necessary). You gain 5,800 feet of elevation during the 11-mile round trip trek!
I decided there was no putting off Mt. Oxford any longer – we needed to get it checked off our 14er list!
The alarm was set for 3:30am on Tuesday morning, August 28th (yes, you read that correctly – 3:30AM!). We were on the road by 4:00am heading down to the Collegiate Peaks and the Missouri Gulch trailhead. We arrived in the trailhead parking lot at around 5:45am. As we were getting our gear together, a woman with two young girls (probably around 10) parked next to us. In chatting with her, I found out that she was taking her daughter and daughter’s friend on their first 14er climb. Their goal was to climb only the first peak, Mt. Belford. I was surprised she had chosen this one as the girls’ first 14er. There were many other easier 14ers to climb and, personally, I would have picked something easier for their first one. Climbing Mt. Belford alone still involved 4,500 feet of elevation gain in 4 miles – no small feat! We didn’t see the mother and girls again after we left the parking lot so I’m not sure if they made the summit or not.
We were on the trail by 6:00am. It’s important to get an early start when climbing 14ers so that you can get up and down before any afternoon thunderstorms move in as you do not want to be above tree line during a storm!
So, we slowly began our ascent. Climbing 14ers is just as much or more of a mental challenge as a physical challenge. On many of my 14er treks, I usually reach a certain point near the summit where I am tired and feel I can’t take another step and ask myself the questions “Why am I doing this?” and “Why do I find this fun?”. For me, I just need to take one step at a time and stay mentally focused on my goal and not become overwhelmed with thoughts of doubt. Once reaching the summit it definitely all becomes well worth it. To take in the magnificent 360-degree view and having the feeling that I am on top of the world is indescribable! Also, that sense of accomplishment that, “yes, I did it!” is another great feeling.
We trudged along and summited Mt. Belford (14,197 feet) at 10:00am. We had just gained 4,500 feet of elevation in 4 miles!
The weather looked good so we had no hesitation about continuing on to Mt. Oxford – our next destination – 1.5 miles away.
We headed down the ridge from Belford to the saddle between Belford and Oxford. Once we got down to the bottom of the saddle, we knew we were committed to climbing Oxford. There was no turning around now!
We summited Mt. Oxford (14,153 feet) around 11:15am. Here’s a picture of me signing the official register on top and a picture of the official US Geological Survey marker.
View from the summit of Oxford
We hung out on top of Oxford for a while to relax and have a bite to eat. However, we saw clouds moving in and knew it was time to get moving again. We had a long ways to go and we still had to re-summit Belford before descending to our car. A look back to where we had come from and where we needed to go.
As we moved back down to the Belford-Oxford saddle, the clouds continued to darken and we heard some thunder.
Although we wanted to hurry, our tired bodies would only let us go so fast (and fast is a relative term)! Look closely and you can see Josh heading back up the steep ridge to Belford.
Finally back on the Belford summit ridge. You can see the steep ridge to the left that we had just come up.
We arrived back on the summit of Belford around 12:45pm and snapped a couple of summit photos.
We took one more look back over the route we had just come from Oxford and then began our descent.
We lucked out with the weather and only received a few drops of rain. We made it back to the car around 3:00pm – another successful summit of two 14ers!