| Quandary from East Ridge, 3/15/07
I was looking for a safe peak to climb, since three people have died in avalanches in Colorado in the last two weeks. Quandary Peak fits the description, since it is mostly a ridge climb, with generally stable conditions. It's not too far south of Breckenridge, so it's not a terrible drive from the metro Denver area.
Image of Quandary Peak, taken from Hwy. 9 north of Hoosier Pass:
To get to the trailhead, head south out of Breckenridge on Hwy. 9. As you start to head up Hoosier Pass, turn west on Summit County Rd. 850. The normal trailhead on SC Rd. 851 is not plowed in winter, so you have to park on Rd. 850. There are only 2 or 3 parking places, so get there early. The trailhead is not far from the parking spots. Elevation at the start is about 10,900 feet.
The snow was packed hard and frozen in the morning, but I wore snowshoes for traction and to prevent the occasional post-hole that can happen when you stray from the center of the trail. The usual summer trail was covered with snow, so there were multiple alternatives, some of them dead-ends. The trail was fairly steep as it started through the trees, but the sky was sunny and the weather was pleasant. After about half an hour, I had to stop to peel off my base layer because I was starting to get hot. I was following some snowshoe tracks on a route that cut a bit of distance off of the usual summer route, but it proved to be impassable in the afternoon because the sun heated up the snow and turned it to mush. The track eventually merged with the summer route and brought me up and out of the trees. The route was much easier to find above treeline.
The trail ascends a ridge that approaches the summit from the east. There are a couple of significant false summits, and, except for some glimpses from different vantage points, the true summit does not come into view until you are basically standing on it.
The second false summit as viewed from the first false summit. Note two pairs of hikers on the ridge:
I stashed my snowshoes beside a cairn before I ascended to the first false summit. The snow was packed hard and frozen, and really wasn't too deep on the ridge. There were a few spots where the wind had blown the snow from the trail, and it made for easier going. There was a cornice of snow hanging off of the south side of the ridge, so I stayed as far to the north side of the ridge as was convenient.
The true summit comes into view behind the second false summit. The gray skies were not indicative of the weather; a few banks of clouds passed through, but skies were mostly clear:
Ascending the ridge to the second false summit was pretty straight-forward. It was steep, and I was counting my steps and sucking wind. I appreciated my trekking poles on this pitch. It was steep and icy, and there were occasional gusts of wind that made me dig in my poles and hunker down. The winds were pretty gentle, for the most part.
At the top of this false summit, the base of the final pitch begins:
The true summit is about 100 yards beyond the highest point visible in this image. I got my second wind, and picked up my pace a little bit. It was a major relief when I hit the top of this pitch and walked on nearly level ground over to the summit at 14,265 feet. I didn't find a summit register, but I didn't look very hard. Summit registers are to climbers what fire hydrants are to dogs. I copped a squat and ate a half-frozen chicken sandwich that I bought at a gas station in Breckenridge. It wasn't exactly gourmet fair. I had the summit to myself, and I took a few minutes to admire the views. To the south, you can see Mts. Lincoln, Bross, Democrat, Cameron, and North Star Mountain. To the north, you can see Father Dyer Mountain, Crystal Peak, and Mt. Helen. To the east, there is Silverheels, Hoosier Ridge, Red Mt., and a good view of the canyon with Monte Cristo Creek at the bottom. Fletcher Mountain and others are to the west. I think that about eight people summited today: four college students from Michigan on spring break, two fifty-something guys celebrating the 20th anniversary of their first Quandary summit, myself, and a younger guy who was the only one to wear snowshoes all the way to the summit. It was nice to meet some people along the way.
It was my first solo 14er, as well as my first winter summit. As such, you will have to lower your expectations for my summit photo:
I remember thinking last summer that it took as long to descend Quandary as it takes to ascend it; you have to step pretty carefully among the loose rocks on the ridge. It's entirely different in the winter; most of the rocks are covered in snow, and many of the switchbacks are eliminated. It didn't take too long to descend to treeline. Once I hit treeline, route finding became a chore. I made some unwise turns, but my GPS unit got me back on track. The sun had softened the snow, and major post-holing ensued. Some parts of the trail were exhausting. I was relieved to get back to the muddy road. It was a pretty pleasant outing.