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Milky Way from Mt. Oxford

Milky Way from Mt. Oxford, Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Colorado

Milky Way from Mt. Oxford, Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, Colorado

There are three Fourteeners in Colorado where the only feasible route to the top goes over the summit of an adjacent Fourteener. Mt. Oxford is one of these. Although it wouldn’t be necessary to go over the exact summit of nearby Mt. Belford starting from my high camp at 12,500 feet in Missouri Basin, I would still need to climb to 14,000 feet on the south ridge of Belford, then descend 500 feet to the Belford/Oxford saddle, then gain another 650 feet to the summit of Oxford. It had taken me four hours to gain 1,500 feet on Missouri Mountain one day earlier. That's a pace I would have considered pathetic in summer, but in winter-like conditions, with heavy boots and a heavy pack, breaking trail by myself in deep, unconsolidated snow, it was the best I could do. I estimated it would take five and a half hours to reach the summit of Oxford.

I left camp at 10:30 p.m. and summited Oxford at about 4 a.m., almost exactly on schedule. Once again I barely had enough time to shoot a few Milky Way photos before astronomical dawn, when the stars begin to pale. Sunrise proved to be spectacular, with intense color on the clouds to the east and then a deep mauve hue on the clouds over Mt. Elbert to the north and Mt. Belford to the west.

When the sun rose into dense clouds, I headed down. It took nearly an hour of hard slogging to climb from the Belford/Oxford saddle back up to Belford's summit ridge. By the time I regained my tent, I was thoroughly exhausted. That afternoon I ate, drank, napped, wrote in my journal, and tried to recover. I didn't have much appetite, but I wasn't feeling sick. I still planned to do Mt. Belford the next day (really, that night), then pack up and hike out. Mt. Belford should be the easiest of the three Fourteeners on this trip, I thought. I had a broken trail to the summit ridge, and from there it was only another 200 vertical feet to the summit. I wanted to summit about 3 a.m. to give myself an hour to shoot the Milky Way, and I figured the climb would take about three and a half hours. I settled in for an after-dinner nap with the alarms inside my hat set for 10:30 p.m. Two peaks down, one to go!

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