- Date: July 5, 2019
- Partner: none
- Height: 14,153 feet
- Range: Sawatch
- Route: Via Pine Creek (Class 2)
- Overall Distance: 19.5 + miles
- Elevation Gain: 5,800 feet + (TH to summit)
- 14ers climbed: 31 separate climbs
- 14ers remaining: 22
- Road Condition to Trailhead: From Leadville, drive 22 miles south on U.S. 24 and turn right on the Chaffee County 388 road. On this twisting road, drive about 0.75 mile on a washboard dirt road to a fork. The trailhead is a couple hundred yards up the branch of the road that goes to the right. A 2WD car can carefully make this. At the trailhead, be aware that you will be briefly crossing private property and they ask for a donation — $1/person, $2/pet.
This is one of the more interesting routes I have done for Colorado 14ers. The standard route for Mount Oxford is to do it at the same time you climb Mount Belford. However, because I am climbing each of the fifty-three 14ers separately, I am not allowed to “saddle jump”. I had climbed Mount Belford a few weeks prior and had no interest in retracing the same route in order to do Mount Oxford. Therefore, after studying a map, I decided to try an off-trail bushwhack coming in from the east.
I arrived at the entrance to Pine Creek late in the day on July 4th. It was sunny and hot. The first 4.5 miles parallel the south side of Pine Creek and the walking, is pretty, flat, and easy. I ran into a small party camping for the night, but other than that, there were no other people. That’s the nice thing about using a non-standard route on a 14er — less people. From here, you access the Colorado Trail, which veers due north on a beautiful layout, and steeply climbs about 1,500′ out of the Pine Creek valley. After roughly a mile, you crest out on top of a ridge.
It was getting dark and the temperature was starting to drop. I cut off the Colorado Trail and headed due west. Following the route on my Garmin Instinct GPS, I meandered through a series of rolling parks and ascended to a vast ridgeline at about 12,000′. The wind was picking up and I unfortunately tore a hole in my tent in my haste to get it up. I was unmercifully battered by the wind all night and might have been lucky to get two hours of sleep (even with some tissue paper shoved in my ears). Finally, I was finished with tossing and turning, and decided at around 4:30 a.m. to get ready and head for the summit.
If you decide to try this route, the key to remember is to stay to the right on the ascent. I think it is sheer habit for mountaineers to always ascend, but in this case, I would climb up a rise for several hundred feet, only to discover I could have gone around it if I had stayed to the right (the north). The route headed over to Waverly Mountain along a series of alpine parks and these undulating rises. There were little fields of snow here and there, but I was able to avoid all of them. Once on the top of Waverly Mountain, I encountered a fairly long stretch of talus (1/2 a mile), that I had to carefully pick my way through. It slowed down my progress considerably. Finally, I gained the main ridge and hit the summit at around 7:00 a.m. The weather was still sunny and had warmed considerably. There was not a soul around, even looking over across the saddle towards Mount Belford. I snapped some pictures, snacked for a few minutes, and then headed back to my campsite to pick up my gear I had left behind.
On the way down, I was able to see how much time and effort I would have saved if I had stayed to the right on the ascent. I was able to quickly retrace my steps back to retrieve my gear and then headed back down to find the Colorado Trail. I ran into a few other people on the Colorado Trail and some that were hiking and running along Pine Creek, but it was still minimal traffic given it was a long holiday weekend. The weather was now much warmer as I made it back to my car around lunchtime.
This is a long climb relative to other 14ers I have done. While not terribly technical, the distance and the ascent will let you know it’s there, especially considering a big chunk of the route (7.5 miles total) is not on trail. Therefore, I am going to give it a 4 out of 10, 5 out of 10 if the weather is bad, in terms of 14er difficulty. It’s certainly possible to do this as a one-day adventure, but consider doing it over two days to maximize the fun and comfort. Enjoy and be safe whenever you do something off of the standard routes.