Poster pins 19 & 20. Climbing 14ers is one of my favorite outdoor activities, and to date, I have summitted 25 of Colorado’s 58 fourteen-thousand-foot peaks. Each peak provides a unique and challenging experience with a diverse set of scenery, elevation, distance, routes, and technical challenges. I have said, “there are no easy 14ers,” and the Belford/Oxford double summit reinforced that belief.
My outdoor soulmate (Stephanie Lauerman) and I planned to knock out the Belford Group (Mt. Belford, Mt. Oxford & Mt. Missouri) on the last weekend of June 2018. The Belford Group is located in the Sawatch Range just outside Buena Vista, CO. We found a great disbursed campsite about a mile from the trailhead and set up camp late Thursday evening. Our original plan was to backpack on Friday morning and set up basecamp, complete a double summit of Belford/Oxford on Saturday and Summit Mt. Missouri on Sunday.
We packed up all our gear and headed out early Friday morning. The research we conducted in preparation for our weekend summit indicated that the Missouri Gulch trailhead’s initial ascent would be physically challenging, and that certainly played out to be true. The total mileage for the Belford/Oxford double summit was 11+ with 5,800 ft of elevation gain. Within the first mile and half, we knocked out almost 2,000 ft. Once we arrived at the Missouri Gulch Basin, we began looking for a camp spot and found a gem located a short distance off the main trailhead. Unfortunately, we had some severe weather our first evening, which made for a difficult night of rest. Going on less than 3 hours of sleep, we arose at 6:00am, cooked a warm breakfast, and headed out. The rain and high winds from the night before had passed, and we were met with sunshine and light winds—a welcome change of events for sure. From our basecamp, it was 7 miles to complete the double summit of Belford/Oxford. The hike up Belford was moderate, and the traffic was light. We reached the Belford summit just shy of 9:00am and were treated with some breathtaking views.
The winds had picked back up, but the skies were clear, so we continued our adventure. Oxford’s summit is deceiving because visually, it looks short, but from a milage and elevation standpoint, it is more difficult than the ascent of Belford. It is important to note that you are making a commitment here. The only route up Oxford is via Belford, so there is no quick return should the weather or your circumstances change.
The descent of Belford was steep, and the trail quickly turned to loose rocks and boulders. Our legs and lungs were starting to note our lack of sleep, and by the time we reached the Oxford summit at 11:00am, we were both feeling pretty spent. Additionally, the winds had continued to increase, and the temperature had dropped slightly. While the weather had shifted slightly, the views were stunning.
We had hoped to reach the Oxford summit by 10:00am, so our time at the summit was short since we were behind schedule. We had a quick lunch, snapped a proof picture, and headed out for our second ascent of Belford. By the time we reached the Belford summit, both Steph and I were exhausted. With just a pass-through at the summit, we started the descent back to basecamp.
The plan was to stay Saturday night and summit Mt. Missouri on Sunday. However, by the time we reached camp, we had both decided to break camp and return later to complete a summit of Mt. Missouri. We did return and complete that summit in October of 2018.
While the Missouri Group proved to be a difficult summit and one we had to ultimately cut short, it did provide one of our all-time favorite mountain campsites and some magnificent scenery. We stand by our original plan to summit all three peaks in one weekend. Still, for those who are considering executing the same initiative, it is important to note that completing the 18+ miles with over 10,000 ft of elevation gain is no easy task. In retrospect, our biggest mistake was taking one of the Missouri group as our first 14er of the season. This group is by no means a warmup, and having your hiking legs beneath you is imperative.
Keep climbing and be safe.
– Robert Schueler & Stephanie Lauerman