Hiking Mount Belford and Mount Oxford in the rain

  • Date: 7/7/12
  • Route:  Northwest Ridge
  • Distance:  11 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,500 feet
  • Summit Elevation: 14,197 feet (Belford) 14,153 feet (Oxford)
  • Start: 7:15 a.m.
  • Summit: 9:30 a.m. (Belford) 10:30 a.m. (Oxford)
  • Out:  Northwest Ridge
  • Difficulty: Class 2
  • Conditions: Poor (Rain)

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This past weekend I headed for the Collegiate Peaks with my wife to do a bit of backpacking and hike a couple 14ers.

Friday we drove through Leadville and headed south on U.S. 24 to Chaffee County 390 road where we headed west to the trailhead for Mount Belford.

We loaded up the packs and headed in, the plan was to camp near treeline and then summit Belford and Oxford on Saturday.

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While it was only about a mile and a half hike to treeline, it was really steep and the packs didn’t make it any easier. On top of that it rained much of the way in.

The trail starts with steep switchbacks up the mountain until it levels off slightly heading up the valley. The trail crosses the river in Missouri Gulch and climbs again on a rocky trail towards treeline.

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Eventually we came up on an old broken down log cabin where Belford comes into clear  view. It was here we pitched camp for the night. We had a brief window of clear sunny skies where we filtered water in the stream and cooked dinner before the rain clouds moved in.

We retreated to the tent where is rained non-stop all night long. We had planned to start climbing at 5 a.m., but when the alarm when off and it was still raining we went back to sleep.

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Around 7 a.m. the rain let up and we started hiking. Since we had backpacked in it was only a couple miles to Belford’s summit, but there was nearly 3,000 feet in elevation gain in that distance.

The trail meandered through an alpine meadow before coming to a fork in the trail. To the right is Missouri and the left Belford. I headed left, crossed a stream and started the climb.

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After a steep rocky section, the trail switchbacks up the ridge and includes two false summits. The first one I saw coming, but the second one fooled me. As I climbed, clouds rolled up the valley and by the time I reached the summit I was in the clouds.

I paused on the summit and snapped a photo of me in the soup and then headed on towards Oxford. As I descended Belford I knew it was going to hurt to hike back over.

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The saddle between the two peaks was shrouded in clouds and was pretty mellow. I got a few clear glimpses of the valley floor below. The climb up Oxford was fairly easy minus one false summit.

Again, the summit of Oxford was covered in clouds and the wind picked up a bit. I paused to sign the trail register and grab a snack before heading back towards Belford. The climb back up Belford was really steep and slick from the rains.

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When I rested the ridge I could see my wife waiting on the summit of Belford for me. I scrambled back up to the top of Belford where the first clap of thunder struck. Until now it had just been cloudy and rainy, but as we started back down the skies opened up.

It started hailing, thundering and lightning. We picked up the pace, but it was tough to go too fast because the rocks were slick.

Soon we made it back to camp and jumped in the tent to warm up. Everything was soaking wet at this point.

Originally I had planned to stay the night and hike Missouri the next day, but being cold wet and hungry we opted to pack it on out and save the third 14er for a dry day.

Mount Belford Summit

Mount Oxford Summit

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Backpacking to Bowen Lake

Destination: Bowen Lake
Location: Never Summer Wilderness
Distance: Around 20 miles
Elevation Gain: Around 2,000 feet
Map

This week I got Monday off, so given a long weekend I decided to head to the mountains for my first backpacking trip of the season.

This early in the year a lot of places in the high country are off limits due to snow, so I opted to head to the Never Summer Wilderness to Bowen Lake, a remote lake about five miles outside Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sunday afternoon, my wife and I loaded up the packs and headed out from the Baker/Bowen Trailhead just off U.S. 34 on the west side of RMNP. The trailhead is actually in the park.

We started hiking west until we hit the park’s border and entered the Never Summer Range. The trail cut up a ridge and headed south for about two miles before we ran into a register box.

We signed in and looked at the map on the box. While we had anticipated five miles to the lake, the map read 7.5 miles and we had already gone 2.5 miles. With the sun beating down on us we headed west up the valley towards the lake.

The trail started out very wide and gradual, a nice easy walk through the woods. The trail was clearly marked and lined by lodgepoles. Soon the trail dropped down next to a stream that we would follow up the valley.

After a couple hour we paused for lunch in what was once an old campsite. After the break the trail started to get steeper and more rocky. We climbed for a bit as mall waterfalls tricked down the hill to the north into the stream on our left. There was a huge grassy marshy area through here were I imagine moose love to hang out.

Eventually the trail hit a few steep switchbacks before hitting a fork in the trail. To the right was Blue Lake and straight ahead Bowen. We continued on towards the Bowen turnoff as the late afternoon sun lowered.

The trail goes through an open meadow with great views before dropping down to the turnoff for Bowen. The trail was clearly marked with a signpost and my GPS read 1 mile to the lake. It was about 6 p.m. and we thought that we were in perfect shape.

However, we were wrong. This is where things went bad. As we ventured down the trail towards the lake we started to climb in elevation and immediately ran into a bunch of down trees.


At first we were able to maneuver through the downed trees, but soon we started to hit patches of snow. Between the snow and fallen trees we lost the trail. With the GPS, I tried to aim towards the lake, but the snow and trees proved too much to penetrate. With the sun setting we turned back to try to find a place for camp.

We retraced our steps to the fork and headed back down the trail. Around 7:30 p.m. as the sun was setting we lost the trail again crossing a stream. With darkness descending on us I scrambled to orient myself in the forest of fallen trees.

While the map only showed one river, with the runoff there were about a dozen tributaries that made things confusing. Finally I was able to find the trail, after we both fell in a stream trying to cross it.

Fortunately there was an open meadow next to the trail that made for an ideal campsite. We got camp up and ate a quick meal of mac & cheese as the sun set in a pink blaze and a full moon came up.

I got a fantastic nights sleep next to the stream. We awoke sore after the prior days hike that devolved into about 10 miles. We had some bread and coffee while we broke down camp and filtered some water in the stream.

We jumped on the trail and made sure not to loose it. The hike back down took about four hours, and we were both relieved to get back to the car and get our packs and shoes off.

While it was a sketchy trip at times, it was fun and will give me good fodder for a trip later this summer.

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Good Riddance Ski Season

For regular followers of the Backcountry blog you surly noticed the lack of ski posts this winter. That is because the skiing was miserable.

The 2011-2012 ski season came to a bitter battered end for me last weekend as I finished my fourth day at Winter Park for their closing weekend.

I enjoy spring skiing, but even this was depressing. Temperatures reached at least the 50s as the thin rocky strips called ski runs were fading fast. There was much more grass and rock on the mountain than snow.

My buddy Noah and I tinkered around the mountain just doing laps on laps on laps blazing the short runs. He in a jean jacket and me with my rock skis, we made the most of the clear sunny day.

Early in the afternoon the snow changed over the corse of one or two runs from soft to slushy and in that time I was smoking down a run at mach 10.

I came over a ridge and seeing the sketchy conditions I tried to pull up, but alas it was too late.

Mt left ski caught an edge and for a brief moment I was doing about 20 mph on one ski before everything went bonkers.

All I remember is flipping around backwards and feeling the back of my head bounce off the ground and an explosion of bright lights going off in my brain. It was a complete yard sale as I left my gear in my wake. I slid about 50 feet down the hill and came to a stop.

Noah retrieved my gear and found that I had managed to snap a binding complealty inside out and backwards. I snapped it back into place and gingerly skied down the hill where we took in the Red Bull DJ on the patio for a bit before heading home.

Seems like a fitting end to a poor ski season.

For regular followers of the Backcountry blog you surly noticed the lack of ski posts this winter. That is because the skiing was miserable.

The 2011-2012 ski season came to a bitter battered end for me last weekend as I finished my fourth day at Winter Park for their closing weekend.

I enjoy spring skiing, but even this was depressing. Temperatures reached at least the 50s as the thin rocky strips called ski runs were fading fast. There was much more grass and rock on the mountain than snow.

My buddy Noah and I tinkered around the mountain just doing laps on laps on laps blazing the short runs. He in a jean jacket and me with my rock skis, we made the most of the clear sunny day.

Early in the afternoon the snow changed over the corse of one or two runs from soft to slushy and in that time I was smoking down a run at mach 10.

I came over a ridge and seeing the sketchy conditions I tried to pull up, but alas it was too late.

Mt left ski caught an edge and for a brief moment I was doing about 20 mph on one ski before everything went bonkers.

All I remember is flipping around backwards and feeling the back of my head bounce off the ground and an explosion of bright lights going off in my brain. It was a complete yard sale as I left my gear in my wake. I slid about 50 feet down the hill and came to a stop.

Noah retrieved my gear and found that I had managed to snap a binding completely inside out and backwards. I snapped it back into place and gingerly skied down the hill where we took in the Red Bull DJ on the patio for a bit before heading home.

Seems like a fitting end to a poor ski season.

Here is a look back at one of the few powder days I did get this season:

 

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Filed under Injury, Skiing

Jackson Hole 2012

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Every year a group of guys from college head north to Wyoming to indulge in some of the best skiing in North America.

Jackson Hole is unlike any other ski resort, mainly because it’s not a really a resort in the typical sense. The Grand Tetons jet out of the flat valley floor forming jagged peaks, which only the most daring skiers tackle.

The tram provides expert skiers access to 4,139 vertical feet in just 15 minutes. As soon as we disembarked the tram our crew of about 20 guys headed straight for the headwall, which is a short hike to an even more expansive area of untouched snow that includes the Crags and Casper Bowl.

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We shot to the far left of the mountain and dove into the trees around Crags. While the snow wasn’t great we were able to find some stashes of knee high snow. Midway down the sun had already baked most of what we were hitting so we opted to swing to the other end of the mountain and hit the Sublette chair. There we did some laps on the Alta Chutes and hit up the Expert Chutes.

With the snow going to crust by early afternoon we retired early to the Mangy Moose for a few beers. We had a great set up this year staying in some condos directly on the mountain between the tram and the Mangy Moose.

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For day two we were thrilled to wake up to find fresh snow with more coming down. We hit the tram and started hiking the headwall again. This time we dropped off into Casper Bowl and found boot-deep untouched powder. We flowed down between the cliffs in a steep gulley before hitting the valley floor.

We took the Marmot lift back up and hiked the White Spider or Stairway to Heaven back up to Casper. This was a beast of a hike that was straight up and took me about half an hour. It was brutal. I dropped in and took the same route down through Casper. Each run I never saw anyone else and it is the best powder I have ever had at Jackson.

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That afternoon we hit the trees finding some deep snow throughout the Moran Woods and into Saratoga Bowl.

That night we checked out the band Greensky Bluegrass performing at the Mangy Moose.

For day three I avoided the hiking as we did laps between the tram and the gondola. Majority of the day was spend in the woods finding some leftover stashes as there wasn’t much new snow. We checked out Corbet’s Couloir but opted against dropping it this time.

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For our final night we went into town and ate at the Snake River Brewery and then played a bit of pool at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, two musts if you are in Jackson.

It was a great trip, full of great skiing that made up for the poor season in Colorado this year.

Three days of intense skiing (Feb. 16-18 2012) at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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Filed under Hiking, Powder, Skiing

Mexico

 

 

After a stellar season of mountain biking hundreds of miles, slaying it on rivers with the flyrod from Alaska to The Frying Pan, climbing 14ers and camping I was able to get away to Mexico for a long weekend.

 

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Filed under 14er, Backpacking, Fly Fishing, Hiking, Mountain Bike Riding, Mountain Biking

Three Days in Moab

Day 1:

Slickrock (Practice Loop) 2.5 miles

I arrived in Moab as the sun was falling fast in the sky. Having driven straight from Colorado I floored it through town up to the Slickrock trailhead.

The lot was pretty much empty and most riders were finishing up their rides for the day with a beer. I unloaded the bike and figured what better than a sunset ride in Moab.

I hit the epic sandstone trail and moments later was rolling though the vast wilderness with the sun painting the rock bright red. Unlike any other trail I’ve ridden, it came back to me why Moab is so special and worth the extra drive.

I knew my time was short, so I hustled up and down powering over the practice loop route. Everyone else was done for the most part for the day and the sun was dropping fast along with the temperature.

I hurried around the loop and headed back to the trailhead as the darkness set in. I felt great and was stoked to get a shot at the entire loop the next day.

Day 2:

Slickrock (12 miles)

I got up bright and early Saturday to beat the heat and the crowds. After a great breakfast at the Gonzo, the best hotel in Moab, I headed up to the trailhead.

The sun was still rising over the La Sal range and it was around 50 degrees when I hit the hard cold rock. I pedaled fast to keep warm and soon the sun hit the rock warming things up.

As I set out there were only a couple cars at the trailhead and I didn’t see anyone on the trail for 75 percent of this ride.

As I rode out past the giant chasms and cliffs, the spectacular ride came back to me. Slickrock is like riding a rollercoaster on the moon. It is a one rolling drop after another as the sandstone rock stretches on for miles and miles.

Slickrock’s main loop is a 10 mile lollipop that spans some of the most amazing terrain in the country. I hit the loop and, as advised by the trail map, I went clockwise.

As I ascended the Swiss Cheese Ridge the sun spilt over the mountains painting the rocks a golden red and illuminating the landscape. Atop the ride I rode with an elongated shadow of myself stretched out on the rock ahead. Moab was visible to the west and most were just rolling out of bed for the morning as I rolled down the ridge.

Soon the trail started dropping down towards the river. Below the Colorado River cut a path through the sharp rocks that dropped off abruptly. Soon Shrimp Rock came into view and I saw the first other person for the day on the trail. Some motorcyclists riding the other direction rolled through.

I continued climbing then dropped back down to the fork that leads back to the trailhead. The last stretch out was packed with bikers and 4X4 vehicles rolling into the trail.

Waiting for some of the crowds to clear, I paused at the Abyss View Point and looked out over the vast wilderness. I pedaled the rest of the way felling fantastic and very glad that I had gotten up early enough to beat the heat and crowds.

I got back to a packed trailhead full of families and motorcycles. I loaded up the bike and headed into Moab for some lunch and a brew.

Day 3:

The Whole Enchilada (26 miles)
Last week when I was at the bike shop getting my new pedals installed, I was talking to one of the guys who worked there who had done 24-hours in Moab the previous weekend. I told him I was headed that way and he suggested I try a ride called The Whole Enchilada.

Thus began the most Epic ride ever.

I’d never heard of it so I went home and checked out some trip reports. Basically the ride starts in the La Sal mountains climbs 2,000 feet to the top of Burro Pass before dropping 7,000 feet to the Colorado River. In all, the ride is more than 26 miles and includes four sections: Burro Pass, Hazard, Kokopelli, Porcupine Singletrack, and Porcupine Rim.

Around 8 a.m. I met up with my buddies Dan and Rick who had been rolling in Fruita the day before at Gonzo. My wonderful wife shuttled us up to the trailhead, which is more than an hour outside Moab and requires a four-wheel drive vehicle.

The views of Canyon Lands and Arches on the drive up alone were amazing. After missing the turnoff we doubled back and found the trailhead. There was still a lot of snow up that high at near 11,000 feet. In the shade it was cool, but the weather was perfect.

As she dropped us off it set in that we were pretty isolated and had a lot of riding ahead of us. We set out and immediately started climbing. It was clear we were pretty high by how hard it was to breathe. The elevation combined with snow and ice on the trail made the climb up the pass tough, but not too bad.

At the summit of the pass there was a great view of the snow-capped La Sal’s. We dropped down the other side where there were a series of really steep switchbacks laced with ice.

At the base of the pass there were a series of stream crossings that lead to a glade of aspens with golden leaves. The path was carpeted with fallen leaves and this section of the ride was magnificent.

The trail climbed a bit and then dropped back down to the Hazard section of the trail. We passed a couple lakes and then followed a rode to the singletrack trail that started back up a ridge. At the top of the ridge we had great views looking back at the mountains where we started and the expansive terrain that lay ahead. Coming off the ridge was an awesome open single track section with some jumps and gaps built in. I hit one jump and got flat tire moments after.

After changing the tire we headed down and were really putting the brakes to the test as the rocky terrain started to drop faster towards the river. Soon the trail spit us out on a road marking the start of Kokopelli.

A large double track trail continued connecting to porcupine. Here you can pick up a lot of speed as the dirt trail gives way to sandstone rock. The Castle Valley comes into view here and provides some of the most spectacular sights on the ride.

The trail parallels the giant valley and in some spots dashes just a few feet from the rim. We paused for a break on one of the cliff bands jutting out into the canyon. The trail here along upper porcupine is a mix of rock and dirt and offers some really fun technical sections that flow well down the valley.

Soon the trail dropped into via some really steep drops than required a bit of hike a bike. Porcupine Rim weaves through the desert land. Flying though this stretch Dan got a flat.

Finally, 26 miles later the Colorado River comes into view and we dropped down the steep cliff bands to the river.

The ride was epic, and I can say it was the best ride I have ever done. From start to finish it was fantastic terrain that covered everything from snow in the mountains to the rocky desert.

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Filed under Mountain Bike Riding, Mountain Biking

New pedals & shoes

The last time I purchased pedals and shoes I was working at a bike shop in Houston and was able to pro-deal some of the best gear available at that time.

The pedals and cleats served me well, as I’ve ridden them hard for more than a decade. The pedals are still good, but my shoes are so worn they have holes in them and the tread is completely gone.

With a trip to Moab coming up this weekend I knew it was time for a new setup. That was confirmed when I took my old rig in and the guy at the shop was amazed that I could even ride based on the condition of the shoes.

With the pedals, I knew I wanted to step up from an egg-beater style to a more platform style that would enable me to have more stability dropping off rocks and riding without cleats. I ended up selecting the Shimano DX PD – M647. The duel sided pop-up binding is stable yet fast and easy to clip into.

It was a pretty simple decision for me with the pedals, but the shoes were a little harder. I tried on a few pairs before settling on the Bontrager RL Mountain.

The shoe fit well and was very lightweight. It included a ratchet system so I can crank down on the shoe. They also included cleats that I can screw into the sole for extra grip.

Here is the company’s line:

“Bontrager’s RL MTB shoe is the perfect companion for your epic trail rides. Rugged, efficient, incredibly comfortable, and more about epic adventure than all-out speed, the RL MTB is plenty light and stiff thanks to a Bronze Series Composite sole that helps put the power to the pedals. It’s also built for long-wearing durability, featuring a TPU toe cap and tough medial and lateral side mud guards. It’s all-day comfort and all-day support for all day on the mountain.”

I’ve done two rides with the new setup so far and they have worked great. Comfortable and easy to clip in and out of, I’m excited to see how they perform in Moab this weekend.

 

 

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Filed under Gear, Mountain Biking