I have recently decided that every single person that fills out a 14ers.com trip report is lying. An actual excerpt from a Belford/Oxford ascent:
“If it is even possible, the ridge trail to Oxford manages to be about as good as the trail to Belford’s summit. Unlike many of the connecting ridges in the Sawatch which require boulder hopping and negotiating over towers, this one is a runner’s delight as it elegantly weaves thorough the scattered rocky sections en route to the saddle some 700 feet below.”
Another actual excerpt:
“The nice slopes of the ridge leading to Oxford give you a false sense of an easy hike. Although I would not call this section tough I do think it is much harder than it looks.”
Um okay sure. How did I feel about climbing Mt. Belford and Oxford? The picture below really captures the emotions that I and my hiking buddies Chrissy and Britt felt when we got our first glimpse of Mt. Belford, realizing just how much work lay ahead of us. I believe “FML” is the fitting colloquial term.
I don’t know who these superhumans writing the 14ers.com trip reports are but let me give you the straight talk on hiking Mt. Belford and Oxford: it’s hard. The hike to Mt. Belford alone involves a 4500 foot elevation gain in just four miles (one way). You’re basically doing nothing but hiking straight up a mountain the entire time. The hike to Mt. Oxford adds three miles and about a 1400 foot elevation gain, bringing the grand total of the hike to 11 miles with a 5800 foot elevation gain.
There are many benefits, arguably occupational hazards, that go along with being my friend, and sometimes that means I will tell you that we are leaving Denver at 4:30 a.m. for a hike and I’m completely serious. Britt, Chrissy and I pulled out of Denver at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, and I took one for the team and drove all the way to Buena Vista while Britt and Chrissy got some sleep. In what was either the best or worst idea ever, I had the new Mumford and Sons CD on repeat during the drive. The whole rest of the day as we were hiking I had a constant jumbled soundtrack of Mumford running through my mind. It’s a great CD but maybe not what I want going through my mind as I’m hating my life while hiking steep switchbacks!
I started dying early on in the hike since even the section below treeline is pretty steep. By the halfway point of the hike, I was not even sure I was going to make it to the summit of Mt. Belford, let alone Mt. Oxford! I definitely had a few of those “Why do I walk up mountains for fun?” moments. After some serious perseverance we finally made it to the summit of Belford.
I’ve never hiked 14ers so late in the season, and it was super cool to see the mountains at this time of year. The season change was definitely evident in the view, as we were treated to a golden brown mountainscape with a dusting of snow.
Even though I could have happily descended Mt. Belford and felt accomplished for the day we all decided to press forward to Mt. Oxford while we were in the neighborhood. My reasons were selfish – since I have a goal of climbing all 54 Colorado 14ers by age 30 I did not want to have to redo Mt. Belford and Oxford. The hike across the saddle began with a super steep descent of Mt. Belford that I knew was going to be brutal on the return.
We painfully made our way to Mt. Oxford where we were greeted by a toaster oven at the summit! I can’t explain that one. Who in the world carried a toaster up there in the first place?
We all gathered for a group pep talk at the bottom of the ridge back up to Belford, and then set out to conquer the mountain. I would say the mountain conquered me more than I conquered it but alas we made it back to the Belford summit. We then had the extreme pleasure of beginning the hike back to the trailhead. The trail was at least not full of boulders, which made the downclimb more tolerable. Overall I was just exhausted at this point and kind of wanted to be done. We all shifted into auto pilot, and made it back down to the parking lot a mere ten hours after we had started our day! That’s right, TEN HOURS. The 14er I hiked previous to Belford/Oxford was Longs Peak, which took 11 hours, and I would argue that Belford/Oxford was physically more challenging than Longs Peak. For real.
Here’s the craziest part about this “completely honest trip report”: I would do it again in a heartbeat. Even given the brutal switchbacks, 4:30 a.m. departure and steep ridge from Oxford to Belford I still had a blast. So maybe I’m just as crazy as the 14ers.com authors of the trip reports. I’ll cut them some slack.