| Perseids on Quandary
One of the things which drew me to backpacking, hiking, and climbing in the Colorado mountains from the very beginning was the fact that it got me away from city lights at night. I've willingly gone without much sleep, even in between consecutive days of energetic hiking, on many nights, just to drink in the glow of stars in a truly dark sky. But I'd never managed to make those nights coincide with the peak of the year's premier meteor shower, the Perseids.
This year, the elements all appeared to be finally coming together, at last. The new moon would be the same day as the shower peak, August 12th. Plus, it fell on a weekend when both trishapajean and I could get away for a night hike. The plan was to climb an easy fourteener on Saturday night, throw out our sleeping bags and bivy at the top for a few hours before dawn to enjoy the meteors under a wide-open sky, and then hike down shortly after sunrise.
Quandary Peak was the obvious choice because it's not very far away, it's easy to climb, the standard route is fairly short, and I knew from experience that the summit area would accommodate a prone stargazer or two or three well. It would also be a new fourteener for trishapajean, and I didn't really mind that it would be a repeat for me, considering this new and different take on the mountain.
We found that we did have to trade in Saturday night for Friday night. We'd miss the actual peak, but the Perseids reliably give two or even three consecutive nights of meteor counts obviously above the background, so we didn't feel too bad about this. After picking up our third team member, Jim, we headed out from Colorado Springs about 10:30 pm MDT.
We made it to the trailhead just before 1:00, and were promptly greeted by Horton, the famous Quandary dog. He took an immediate and obvious shine to trishapajean, and hit the trail with us. There were only two other cars at the parking area when we arrived.
After a little guesswork in the trees, sorting out the trail from all the abandoned mining roads, we hit timberline and the set of three switchbacks on the south side of the east ridge which lead up to the ridge crest. We had seen a few meteors even down in the trees, but, when the view opened up for us on the bare ridge, the count quickly went up. The bad news was that we did have to pay some attention to where we were putting our feet by the light of our headlamps. As a result, while we hiked up, we mostly had to settle for occasional sightings of meteors which happened to appear in the direction we happened to be looking. Occasional rest stops, though, were perfectly good excuses to turn the headlamps off, lean back for a few minutes, and see what the whole sky would offer us. All in all, we were well rewarded. In addition to many faint meteors which we would never have been able to see if immersed in the light pollution of the city, we also saw a number of the bright ones for which the Perseid shower is justly renowned. No bolides (exploding ones), though.
As we neared the summit, dawn began to creep into the eastern sky. This meant that we had failed in our attempt to reach the summit while it was still fully dark. We would not be able just to lie there in our bags, with the whole sky in view, going "ooh!" and "aah!" at our leisure. A compensating advantage was that we were treated to the sight of the very thin old crescent moon, which I spotted just after it had cleared the horizon. I wish I could have captured it photographically. The subtle colors, the slimness of the lighted crescent, and the Earth-lighting of the night side of the moon, were stunning to say the least. But I know from experience that I would have needed a tripod and a very long exposure to capture it, and I wasn't carrying a tripod.
I also didn't want to slow down at that point. If we'd missed dawn on the summit, we were by gum going to get there before the sun actually rose! Fortunately, we did.
About fifteen minutes before sunrise, we made it up past the final slope and began putting on more clothes against the chill; the temperature was somewhere in the thirties. I gave highest priority to getting out my sleeping bag, fluffing it up, and getting into it, although, instead of lying down flat on my back, I propped myself up in a sitting position against the stone windbreak, facing east. From my bag, I snapped the day's first few pictures. I had finally gotten to experience sunrise on top of a fourteener!
Horton was still with us. The only other company we had--in the middle of summer on a weekend day--on this popular fourteener was two young men who had overtaken us less than a half hour before.
I had also packed my stove, and we got water boiling for hot chocolate as quickly as we could. It helped immensely!
Warmed up, I got out of my bag, and began taking more pictures in the growing light. The beauty of the vistas opening up all around us, and the luxury of the early hour, allowed us to spend just over an hour on the summit.
Finally, we packed up and went to sign the register. It was intact, but quite full. (Later inspection revealed that Aaron Ralston had summitted a few days before via the Inwood Arete.) It had lasted just ten days! So we replaced it with a new one and headed down.
Naturally, it wasn't too long before we began encountering people coming up--lots of them.
It was amazing how much easier it was to see the route in front of us in daylight, and we made good time on the descent. We also were able to enjoy the fabulous views that this high peak offers in the strong but low morning light, such as Mt. Silverheels.
More pictures are at:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):