| Quandary's West Ridge and Surfing the Cristo Couloir
The west ridge of Quandary might be one of the finest half-day hikes I have done in Colorado. It's only two miles to the top (albeit arduous ones), a mile back down the Blue Lakes dam where the car is parked, and on the ascent, the last 30 minutes to an hour feature some extremely fun Class 3 scrambling.
We headed out from Denver at around 5:30 and made good time up through Frisco and onto Blue Lakes road. Even when the road turns to gravel it's mild, so pretty much anything can get up there. We parked at the dam an were on the trail hiking by around 7:30, making our way around the lake.
The sign is a little intimidating! Scramble up the rock near it to get to the trail that heads around the lake.
The area around the lake is beautiful, and a nice warm-up for the ridge.
The trail meanders it's way beside the lake before cutting up a bit through a gully. When we went, there had been rain a few days before, and much of the trail seemed like a stream. Either way, it wasn't too difficult to follow. At least for us, we kept wanting to turn right and gain the ridge early--the proper route is to be patient and not worry about gaining much elevation until you see some cliffs and an obvious gully leading up to the saddle between Quandary and Fletcher. Head up, scrambling over some minor boulders (the route is well-cairned) and to the right to get onto the West Ridge.
We followed the cairns and a few times, it seemed like someone was playing a joke on us--we'd climb up what seemed to be the only rock around to reach a cairn, only to see we could've bypassed it entirely. Either way, it was a lot of fun, and we were itching for some scrambling anyhow.
Heading up to the west ridge, with the route ahead of us. At this point you're already near 13,300 or so.
There is a little bit of scrambling in this portion of the hike. We had fun with it. Mostly it was class 2 stuff, though. In the beginning, we stayed mostly to the right of the ridge. I've read some other reports where people claim they've gotten into some sketchy parts of the mountain, either from loose dirt or exposure or both. Our experience was that if you continue to search for cairns and glance back and forth from one side of the mountain to the other, you'll never encounter anything dangerous. Sometimes, the route would stay on one side of the ridge for as little as 30 feet before a notch led over to the safer other side. I have no doubt there are multiple ways up this thing, but if you're careful you can avoid almost everything hairy.
The next section is a bit of a grunt up to the fun scrambling around 13,900-14,000ft. It's basically a stone stairmaster up to the left side of the ridge, curving around the mountain to the right and regaining the ridge proper near the top. It wasn't easy! But once we got there, my only thought was how much fun the rest was going to be.
View of the rest of the route. You can see the hikers on the top of the mountain in the distance.
Here, there is a lot of careful routefinding to be done and a lot of scrambling with decent exposure, but nothing combining it with technical moves. The large gully that is often labeled the first of the three major obstacles on the upper portion of the route is on the left side of ridge and comes up quick.
From the bottom of the gully looking up.
The rock is a little loose, but I didn't find it to be very dangerous. It was mostly loose dirt, more useful as an obvious feature for route finding than a real obstacle to the climb. In different conditions it might be worse, but we had no trouble with it.
Dave and Tim coming up the gully.
Scrambling along the top of the ridge brought us to the "small crack," which I was expecting to be a little smaller. Dave is six-foot-four, so that thing isn't too little! It was a fun Class 3 to the top of it.
The oddly named "small crack."
Stay on top of the ridge, and scramble to a precipice where you will see the final feature of the climb, the "big wall." The easiest downclimb is to the hiker's left. This was the most challenging part of the climb, but wasn't anything more than moderate class 3 stuff.
Dave and Tim on the downclimb. I found facing in more comfortable, but it wasn't too bad either way.
The "big wall" is an awesome feature to finish off the climb. You can choose a line and make it easier or harder on yourself. If you take the stairway-looking footholds that lead left, it's moderate Class 3 climbing. If you head up the chimney, it's a little tougher--probably more like Class 4. I wasn't sure if the weather would hold to get up many more weekends, and the chimney looked fun, so I went about 3/4ths up it and then came back out onto a ledge on the face to finish the climb. If I had continued straight up the chimney or straight up the face after gaining the ledge, I estimate it would've been in the low 5s, and I wasn't trying to be a hero--a fall from that wall wouldn't end well.
Heading up the chimney--a lot of fun, but I went back out onto the face of the rock a few feet above where I am in this pic.
Tim and me headed up the big wall.
From the top of the wall, it is an easy walk up to the summit of Quandary, where we were greeted by the hordes at around 11:45am. A know a lot of people would rather have the summit to themselves, but after spending the last four hours alone, I didn't mind chatting with the hikers, petting some dogs, and having a bite before we started the descent.
I didn't see too many trip reports that described the descent down the Cristo Couloir, so I had a little trepidation about heading down that way. But c'mon--we could see the car the whole time! We started down the obvious gully choosing different lines to avoid kicking rocks onto one another. This part of the hike is as enjoyable as you make it. If you're opposed to getting your legs and hands knicked up, I'd pack some long pants, thick socks, or gloves. Unless you go very slowly, you'll definitely fall once or twice. I found it kind of fun though, sort of like the Silver Surfer cruising down the mountain. Just lean towards the mountain and let gravity do it's thing!
The gully eventually begins to narrow, and that's when we popped out of the gully onto the grassy side of Quandary and hiked down between two big rock features to regain the trail next to the lake, just about 50 feet from the ominous Quandary West Ridge sign where we started our journey.
Pop out of the gully when the easy grass starts to beckon. If you're lucky you'll run into the infamous goat family like we did.
Overall, I would highly recommend the route. While I prefer the Class 3 scrambling to last a little longer, you really can't beat the last 30-45 minutes on Quandary. I found it similar in feel and challenge to Torrey's Kelso Ridge, just shorter.
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