Missouri Gulch to BelOx
Missouri Gulch to BelOx
It’s 1:40am. My alarm goes off on a Friday, July 3rd, the first day of a three-day Independence Day holiday weekend. The weather reports are not particularly favorable for spending most of the day above timber line, planting reasons in my head for not putting my feet on the floor at this ungodly hour especially after only a few hours’ sleep. To no avail, these are weak persuasions for keeping a mountaineer from the mountains.
The Jeep is packed already. I’ll have breakfast at the trailhead. Off I go.
At 5am when I arrive at a full Missouri Gulch trailhead parking lot, those who slept in their cars the night before are already stirring. Most are on their way to Missouri Mountain, Mount Belford, Mount Oxford, Elkhead Pass, or any combination of the above. Some are backpacking to spend the night in the basin below Missouri Mountain; beautiful choice!
By 5:30 I’m on the trail to Mounts Belford and Oxford. The hope is to summit both peaks before the weather moves in. Last weekend 16 people were injured by a lightning strike on Mount Bierstadt on the Front Range west of Denver, not far from Georgetown. Watching the weather is in the front of everyone's mind today.
I met Jeffery along the way. He has come to Colorado from Minnesota often over the past years to do some climbing and to visit his daughter in the western part of the state. Both solo today, we decided to climb and enjoy the day together.
Two weeks earlier reports of the trail being washed out along the creeks on this trail due to the heavy snow melt had me curious about the condition of the trail today. It turned out that the creeks were passible along partially submerged log bridges created by hikers who haphazardly layered deadfall logs across the creek aided by nature-placed rocks and trees.
True to the weather predictions, not long after we rise above timber line and onto the ridge climb to Belford, the skies darken and the threat of bad weather is not very far west of us. We stop as one hiker is already descending with reports of thunder. Weather moves fast in these hills, and so feeling relatively safe in a somewhat lower elevation we decided to hold our ground for a few minutes to see how this would develop. The clouds moved out within 15 minutes allowing the morning sun to bless our continued journey upward.
We were on the summit of Belford by 10am and Oxford by 11. We didn’t spend a lot of time on either summit as the sky was playing games with us, rapidly alternating between dark and threatening clouds and then clear blue sky. There is a certain instinct that develops over time in the course of experiencing these mountains. We knew at any time the situation could turn bad on us, so we didn’t linger very long. We spent just enough time to snap a few pictures and enjoy the experience of summiting one of Colorado’s spectacular 14ers before taking on the next leg of our journey.
The ridge from Belford to Oxford is steep with some loose scree to challenge our footing. One hiker summed it up by describing this short segment as “a bitch”. Since we would be coming back to the same place in an hour or so, we left our packs near the summit of Belford to reduce our load. I’m sure it helped, but with or without the extra weight it was the most grueling part of the day.
Upon our return to retrieve our packs we decided to take a longer but gentler route from the saddle just below Belford to connect up with the Elkhead Pass trail. Hiking the whole distance of Missouri Gulch from just below Elkhead Pass to the trailhead was splendid!
One noteworthy item is that the alpine tundra flowers this time of year are out in full bloom and put off an arresting fragrance. It's refreshing and wild, accompanied by song birds and a cool mountain breeze.
It’s 4pm. The day has left me physically spent but incredibly satisfied after 11 miles of trail and over 5400 feet in elevation gain. It’s quite possibly the best way to invest in the first day of a three-day Independence Day holiday weekend.
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