The time has come, my climbing friends, to talk of many things! Snowshoes and hats and microspikes, of ropes and ice climbing! And while the cold will make us snot, and whether the wind will sting, Kaloo Kalay for snowy play, what fun the winter brings!
Ah, SNOW! For those of us who don’t enjoy the sweltering heat of summer, we welcome the sudden cold fronts and these early snows that tease us so (I swear I’m not trying to rhyme anymore. It just happened). The mountains just look dapper in their new winter whites…. What a beautiful sight. Ha, okay I’m really done now.
Anyway, we made the early drive and parked up by the dam past the new “Mount Quandary” – whatever that is – trailhead. Weather said that storms were to stop Friday night, so we had high hopes of a great snowy Saturday. We got out of the car and had a group of 3 snap a picture with all our dorky cold weather stuff on.
I don’t know if it’s acceptable to wear snowboarding goggles or if I have to have some sort of cool, trendy, climbing-specific specs or something, but I made a very important, conscious decision to not care at all. Cyclops mode it was. We began our ascent around 7:30 am I think. There was a good amount of snow on the ground right from the get-go, which made me tingly all over. I love winter so much.
Now, I will say that so far I am not a fan of those winter boots. I can appreciate the warmth and insulation… but I seriously felt like I had a problem or something; like someone had attached different hands and feet to me. My hands were freezing into mini popsicles, so I went with the clown mittens I wear snowboarding, which also added to the difficulty. My feet felt stiff and clunky, and the biting 40 mph winds were insulting. 100% honesty, I was a bit nervous. Yes, yes, I know it seems impossible, but alas, ‘tis true. However, not summitting was not an option. The views, even from down low, were too spectacular. A snow tornado whistled its warning to us, but up we went.
Up, up, up!
We slogged up to the ridge, ice axes in hand, and got our first real views of the glory of coming winter. I haven’t had views like this since I did my first couple mountains in June. It brought me back to the feeling I got when I summitted my first mountain. I wanted to laugh and go cross-eyed and scream and sneeze and fall over all at the same time. I didn’t. But I wanted to.
Then it got scary. I mean, it got SCARY. This being my first time wearing new, awkward gear and doing class 3 in the snow, I was not a happy camper at this point. But press on, we did. There was a lot of up and down, up and down. Hugging around rocks, pulling myself up on top of narrow towers with wind whipping around me menacingly. Looking back now -- I'm editing this TR months later -- I truly think it was foolish to do this route feeling the way I did about it. I was pressured to go on even when I was doubting my abilities because I had a terrible leader. It's only by God's grace that I toughed it out and actually made it. It was a great learning experience, but don't ever listen to people who "think" they know what they're doing. It's reckless people like that that can get you in trouble... Or killed. Nevertheless, we pressed on...
^I feel like that one took me so long to get up!
I learned a lot on this climb about the mental aspect of it all. I’m not going to lie, I was freaked out. It would have been easier had it been packed snow, but instead it was a fresh fall of the soft, powdery type. Sometimes we’d kick a toe in a bit of snow and it would provide us a perfectly good step. Other times, we’d hit solid rock and all the snow would fall away like if you were to hit your car window from the inside after a snowfall. Again, wearing mittens didn’t help, either. I kept focusing on the problems… uncomfortable, heavy boots, the snow changing the dynamics of the climb, how cold I was… then I'd hear, “This is nothing you haven’t done.” I wanted to say, “Yeah, but there's freaking SNOW." I had to really battle with myself to convince myself that it wasn’t as hard as I was making it out to be... But it was SO very different. We even dropped down too far at one point and had to make some sketchy moves, but we tackled it. At one point when we were dropping down one of the towers, I actually lowered my pack because I felt so uncomfortable doing a backwards downward move with weird boots and spikes on. Ugh! We got through it and as the summit got closer, I became more and more excited. It’s always hard for me to compare any mountain to another, but I’d definitely say difficulty-wise, this one was up there. And I’m sure that may be due to the newness of it all, but it just goes to show everyone’s different. It’s always surprising to me how a mountain feels once I’m done climbing it. This one had its own tricks and challenges for me, but finally, the summit!!
And not only the summit, but the summit to ourselves. That’s right, ladies and gents… QUANDARY PEAK. TO OURSELVES. It was glorious. We snapped our photos and began our descent just as 10 or so staggered groups of hikers found their way to the top. We were enjoying the sun of the east side (and mud) and wishing “Good morning!” to the hikers passing us… when we realized we had no idea what time it was. “It’s quarter to two!” a guy told us. We looked at each other and laughed because we would’ve sworn it was only 11 or so in the morning. That west ridge demanded every ounce of our attention so much that we were near 3 hours off! We began our descent and spotted the car down by the dam (where the watermelons grow…).
But, what’s this!??! Can it be???? The rare and typically elusive mountain goats appeared!!!! I’m sure none of you have every come across these beasts of the mountain before, yet there they were in all their glory, stomping up the trail. Yes, the actual trail. In fact, they demanded we yield to them, which we did. I mean, they WERE going uphill. We stood in awe as these, what I thought to be mythological creatures graced us with their presence.
We made it down to the standard route TH and caught a ride to our car from a nice couple named Nick and Jamie. At this point, my feet were screaming for a break from those cinderblock boots. Cutting off those last 2 miles was greatly appreciated
So all in all, did I enjoy this climb? Was it worth the pain and fear and doubt that coursed through my veins as I clung to icy cliffs? Yes. Definitely yes. Is it possible I may be a masochist and just live for that feeling of uncertainty and danger? Probably But isn’t that what a lot of us love about this lifestyle? There’s something about the cycle of emotions we go through when climbing a mountain that is addictive. The excitement of anticipation, the hatred of gravel and steep slogs, the pride of getting to the top by putting your hands on rock, and that euphoric feeling when you’re swiveling on top of a summit and seeing where you’ve come from. It gives me the shivers just replaying it all in my head. This is why I climb. I am so happy to have this new experience and know that I pushed myself and pushed myself hard. I learned a lot and am proud that I upped my skill level, even though it was a pain at times ;) I can’t wait for more snow!
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