Sunday, June 10, 2012

22 down, 32 to go

If I've known you for more than 10 minutes you probably know that I like to hike 14ers. For those of you who don't know what a 14er is, it's a mountain over 14,000 feet and Colorado is home to 54 official ones. My love for hiking these mountains began about 2 years ago when I decided to make it my goal to hike at least one. 22 peaks and 2 years later I am determined to finish the list. As a flight attendant I do quite a lot of flights to the mountains and back and so I knew conditions were looking good to begin hiking even earlier this season. I do not have the gear for snow climbing so I have to pick a window of time when I can hike with minimal ice and snow to contend with. Memorial Day weekend was looking like the perfect opportunity to begin my hiking season. I began a group on facebook called the 14er hike club for friends like myself that enjoy hiking so I put it out there that the Sunday of the holiday weekend I wanted to hike Belford and Oxford. My friend Kate replied that she was interested in going and she ended up bringing a friend along as well who had never climbed a 14er before. I knew Belford and Oxford wouldn't be easy for someone's first summit but when it's your first hike you don't really know what to expect so I figured anything might be a challenge.Luckily all parties involved were up for the adventure. So per our usual summer routine, we packed up the car and headed out after my noon yoga class.

Belford and Oxford are located in the Sawatch Range and stand approximately 14,197 feet and 14,153 respectively. I had gotten a glimpse of Belford before when Stephanie and I hiked Missouri mountain last year which was, ironically, my season closer. I just ran out of time last year before the snow hit. What drew me to these mountains was the opportunity to hike two in one day as well as the fact I knew the trailhead and camping area well. Kate and her friend Dennis were driving separately so we needed an easy trailhead for them to get to. Hiking both meant an 11 mile roundtrip journey with 5,800 feet in elevation gain. No easy feat but unfortunately I have checked most of the shorter easier climbs off my list already!

We camped at the same spot Stephanie and I camped at last year prior to hiking Missouri Mtn. The water levels were extremely low and as we drove through Buena Vista the winds started to pick up. It was looking like we wouldn't be able to have a campfire with the high winds so it was lucky we brought our propane camping stove to cook dinner. Lesson learned last year when camping out before Shavano, always bring a propane stove in case of wind or fire bans because you can't always have a camp fire in Colorado. Kate and Dennis arrived after we had set up camp and we all hung out until it started to get dark in which point we headed to bed to prepare for our early morning. I was not smart and forgot my phone charger so my phone was dead and I had to rely on my watch to wake us up. Well the alarm never went off so it was fortunate my internal clock was working. Another lesson: buy a battery operated alarm clock for camping.

We started out at about 5:30 am. I always set my alarm for a little earlier than necessary accounting for the fact we have to break down camp and pack the car before the hike. We forgot head lamps (another oops on this trip - I swear first trip of the season and I was so scattered) but Kate had brought hers which we ended up not needing. The sun started to peak out a little past 5:30 and the temps began to warm up just slightly allowing for layers to be shed as we began our hike.

Everyone was doing great except for Chad as we started out. He just didn't feel well from the get go. Usually he is in front of me on the mountain and he ended up holding up the back of the line. The wind never really let up and temps never really got that high so we didn't do a lot of stopping to enjoy on this trip. I was annoyed my camera battery was dead as well (ugh what was with me seriously?!) So I relied on Dennis to document the trip. There was no snow on the trail and the approach to Belford was straight forward. We ended up summiting around 10:30. There were very few people on the trail and due to the wind and cold a few trail runners that past us wearing shorts ended up turning around and calling it quits. Missouri mountain trail is the exact same until it splits above treeline so I knew what to expect until then. Missouri trail further in the valley was covered in snow and I would imagine that would have made for an even more difficult climb than we had the previous year.

Chad decided he did not want to hike to Oxford and I was having my doubts as well. The view from the trail at Belford made it look so far away and the wind was starting to pick up. Dennis and Kate were down to hike with me though and I knew it was the right decision because I was not going to hike this mountain again just so I could hit up Oxford and knock it off my list. So Chad headed down to the car with Bebe and we headed on over to the other mountain. The down climb over looked worse than it actually was but it is a little steep coming off Belford. There were some muddy patches from snow melt which made this section of the hike a little tricky but Kate and Dennis managed even in tennis shoes. Somewhere along the ridge Dennis decided he had rolled his ankle one too many times so he said he'd wait for us below Oxford. Kate and I were now the only ones left and we pushed all the way through to the summit. The views are much the same of course but it is fantastic to see Belford from Oxford. We didn't spend too long on the summit and before we knew it were were headed back up Belford. Like Shavano and Tabeguash we unfortunately had to retrace our steps back up and over Belford before heading back down. We basically summitted 3 peaks in one day :)

Our total trip time took us around 10 hours which is about what I expected. It usually takes me an hour less than the total mileage give or take on either end. The wind really slowed us down at points and there was a period where I was a little afraid of being blown off the mountain when we re-summited Belford. The top of a mountain is no place to be when the winds pick up and that day was no exception! We were just lucky to have no rain or snow. We made it back to the car to find Chad sleeping in the back and then enjoyed a celebratory beer before heading to Tommy Knockers. I am such a fan of eating while hiking but not much stopping and resting occurred on this trip so Tommy Knockers was a well deserved meal. At the end of the day it was a wonderful hike despite the winds and I am so glad I was able to bring new friends up the mountain with me. It's always a joy to find other people who love to hike as much as I do and can handle the journey. It's only the second week of June and I already have two more hikes this month planned. I hope to be finishing these 14ers soon but, like a good book I am savoring each one. Knowing that it's not about finishing a list but about the journey and memories each one creates for me.

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