| A Little Scramble (West Ridge)
The last weekend spent hauling up soggy carpet and other kinds of basement gnar left me with an itch. Unfortunately, my favorite hiking partner woke up sick, and by 8 am, it was decided that our planned adventure wasn't going to happen. By 9 am, I had taken my poor sick comrade's car and was speeding down I70. Saturday's forecast was too good to be wasted.
With nice alpine start of 11 am from the trailhead, I started heading up. This was to be my first solo 14er and my first solo routefinding challenge. I usually like company on the car rides, but this was such a last-minute decision that I only had enough daylight to jump in the car and go by myself. The beta from 14ers.com was just perfect. Hopped over some talus heading up and to my right from the trail next to the lake, and just when I began doubting where I was, I found the nice big trail I was looking for.
I hadn't been on that side of Quandary before. Blue lakes popping out like gems, rushing waterfalls feeding into them, and a few ridges of 13ers poking out in the background. I saw a bit of snow on the northern aspects of the tops of nearby peaks. Hmmm. But I told myself ehhh it's a ridge, probably won't be so bad... also the west side should get a bit more sun than the north right? About 20 minutes in, I turned a corner and saw the west ridge.... looked pretty snow free...?
First view of the ridge
As I approached the first dirty gully mentioned in the route description, I saw another party ahead of me, a group of friends working at a camp in Estes Park. Was happy to catch up to them and share their company as we neared the ridge around 1 pm. The first bit of the ridge had a pretty clear trail. It got slightly scrambley and ledgey in spots, but routefinding wasn't an issue... just follow the dirt path. I started thinking to myself "hmmm is this it?" and I even remarked to my new friends "huh I wonder where the class 3 starts?" We were approaching 14k and hadn't done anything other than exposed class 2, and I was almost starting to feel disappointed that it was nearly over. Also, I was beginning to notice some snow on the trail, but it was quite easy to walk on in sneakers on flat ground. Even thought to myself "hm, don't quite need to bring microspikes on this route yet." Lesson: It ain't over!
Looking west from the top of the ridge
A snowy path
The snow continued and we finally hit the class 3 section and also the route description became more vague - "scramble along the ridge." I took my time, being very careful with each foot placement. (Some traction would have given me more confidence here...) Sometimes there were ways around the snow that involved slightly stiffer climbing. When the route description didn't include a particular feature I was at, staying ridge proper seemed to do the trick. The Estes Park friends did a great job looking out for each other and helping everyone in their party out. Every once in a while I'd climb to the top of a tower and check on their progress, shouting back beta if they asked for it.
Feet pic. Hello snow.
The cracked wall was distinctive and a fun snowy stemmy problem. But I had to laugh when I looked at the "easiest way" up the crux wall, frosted with a layer of ice and then a layer of snow. Thankfully there was another way, a chimney/gully feature to the right of it, and it went just fine. Huzzah, smooth sailing to the top! I topped out at around 2:30 pm.
A natural staircase (crux wall)
But I took this route instead
View from the top
I sat down in a rock shelter, ate some candy, and texted my mom. Then I wondered how the Estes Park crew was doing, so I hopped back over the easy last bit of the ridge and was glad to see them coming up. Originally I planned on downclimbing the West Ridge route (double the scrambling!). With the snow and being alone, I was just happy that I made it to the summit safely, and so my gut desire at that point was to just play it safe and take the East Ridge down. I shouted over to my new friends that I had enough excitement for one day and I was going to descend the standard route. Since it was their first time on the mountain, I wanted to let them know that they could walk the road back to the Blue Lakes trailhead, should they desire.
The east ridge was a somewhat different world, with very little snow and many happy animal friends.
A new friend
Two climbing partners
O hai there
Maybe it's the New Englander in me, but I get very excited when the leaves start to turn.
Admiring fall colors in the valley
A look back at some color
The road was actually quite pleasant to walk.
Best road evar. (Lake Como, take note!)
As I neared the car, a couple of jeeps came down the road, a guy rolled down his window and I heard "Sara!" Heyyyy it was the Estes Park crew, all together and all smiles. I think they descended Cristo Couloir? We exchanged some laughs about the snow and about our common desire to not descend the West Ridge. It was great to see them again. I got back to the car at around 6 pm, just as the sun started to slip behind the peaks. At this point in the day, the Blue Lakes stood out, illuminated against the background.
Blue lakes are blue.
A nice end to a fun day. It was cool that because my original plans fell through and all the hiking closer to Boulder was closed, this really unique experience resulted.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):