Every so often you really learn a lesson in the mountains. Normally it's not something you see coming. Because of that, you come out of the ordeal a stronger, wiser person and proud of yourself and your achievement. It can occur anywhere.
6:30am, Dominic's alarm clock blares from across our hotel room in Fairplay. Jamie, Sarah, Dominic and I all have a winter fourteener in our legs from the previous day. Outside of sore muscles no one worse for wear as we stumble around getting prepared to leave at 7:00am. Upon discovering that's when continental breakfast opens, we decided it would worth being a few minutes late with orange juice, coffee and cereal available.
After a quick drive, Jamie and I arrive at the turnoff for Quandary at 7:30am sharp. Yes, breakfast was worth it. Quandary looks striking from this angle in the morning light.
Quandary in the early morning light
Rounding the corner, Mike's Xterra is nowhere to be seen. Seven people are visible just starting their attempt of Quandary. Multiple snowshoe slaves! That should help our efforts.
A couple minutes later, Sarah and Dominic arrive from their food stop in Fairplay with Mike in tow a moment afterwards. We exchange pleasantries and comment on how warm it feels today. At 8:10am, we're hiking up the two snowshoer highway.
One-tenth of a mile into the hike, we turn onto the well-packed snowshoe trail headed up the mountain. The benefits of a popular winter fourteener!
Dominic, Sarah, Jamie and Mike early in the hike
We're able to find a solid group pace as we cruise up the mountain until the back of my legs starts burning badly. We stop as I clumsily remove a snowshoe and a boot expecting to find a cut forming. No such (bad)luck, thanks goodness! My polypro sock has been rubbing against my skin under the tights creating an inflamed area. Ugh! Just pull the tight underneath the sock, tie the boot up, and put snowshoe back on and Snap! Great, that was one of two straps on my right snowshoe. Does it work with just the one? Good, let's go.
Treeline appears soon after.
Dominic, Mike(mopping the floor with us in ski boots) and Sarah near treeline
Here the mountain gods unleash one of their favorite tricks, the wind.
Quandary wrapped in her winter blanket
Pushing forward, we arrive at the base of an interesting looking slope. There is lower-angled terrain to the left so we continue that way. Once safer ground is found we continue higher into the now stinging wind.
Mike and Jamie at treeline on Quandary's East Ridge
Around 12,100', we don balaclavas, goggles and lose the snowshoes. After stuffing the snowshoes into the snowbank, I stand up just as Mike's turning around.....Crack! Aw, that's what a ski across the forehead feels like. Yeah thanks, maybe it isn't my day, anyone else have a serious headache all of a sudden?
As we approach 12,400', I begin to lag behind the group. Without being tucked in behind someone, the merciless wind is thumping me from every direction. Jamie stays back to offer encouragement and a slow but steady rhythm is maintained when we‘re not bracing ourselves against 50-60mph gusts. Maybe they're right; it might not be my day.
Dominic, Mike and Sarah above treeline as the wind begins to takeover
Just then, Quandary's distant summit pops out over the ridge. Somehow it doesn't look too far now.
The name's Thompson....Sarah Thompson
Let's keep going and see what happens.
Fortunately, the remainder of our plod to the 13,000' plateau goes without incident. A lone hiker passes us returning from the heights and I high five him. It helps my spirits, having fun out here with fellow climbers as the wind begins to pump harder.
At the plateau we regroup. The wind is visibly wearing on the group but no one is mentally willing to be turned back without putting up more of a fight. Some Gatorade and candy bars help refuel us and we turn towards the final 1000'.
On the 13K plateau with the final 1000' to the summit rearing up
Taking off first, Jamie and I grab the front of the peloton to deal with the increasing winds and kicking quickly erasable steps. Soon Dominic joins us and we gladly allow him to pass. Jamie goes with him. As they scoot ahead, Sarah joins me and we begin to re-kick steps in their tracks. A rhythm of 25-50 slow steps before catching our breath while bracing against the wind works just fine. During one break, we wonder if Mike's okay since we've never seen him behind anyone EVER! Of course, we're not thinking that he's wearing ski boots(which we can barely walk to the bathroom in at the ski resort) and his skis are acting like a kite in this wind! Yeah Mike, you're a badarse!
Jamie and Dominic plowing through the snow and wind as we approach 14,000'
Refocusing on the task, we catch up to the waiting Jamie and Dominic just below the summit ridge. Those three fly up the remainder of the mountain as I develop a serious case of Himalayan Foot Disease. They don't stop at the crest of the slope and questions ricochet through my mind of how many false summits need to be conquered.
Upon cresting the slope myself several minutes later, I'm relieved to see the flat, summit ridge stretched before me. Halfway across the ridge, Jamie comes back from the top to walk the final feet with me at 12:45pm. At the top we celebrate my completion of Tenmile/Mosquito Range Fourteeners in calendar winter. The mountain gods allow us time to savor the occasion as the summit is engulfed in a wind shadow while spindrift flies across the summit ridge.
Jamies on Quandary's Summit
Mike, putting us all to shame, arrives five minutes after and happily removes his pack and kite from his back. Going down must be sweet smelling at this moment my friend.
Super Mike approaches Quandary's summit
Despite the enjoyable weather, we're only halfway done with today's objective. Blowing across us and from our backs, the wind doesn't seem so horrendous during the descent. Any attempts to glissade the low-angled slopes and wind hammered sastrugi is thoroughly frustrating. Mike glides effortlessly along.
A long way down
At our cache, snowshoes are retrieved before we scurry into the trees for protection from the wind. The warmer, calmer temperatures down here are most welcomed as we strip to base layers for the hike out. Warm snow balling on the snowshoes is only a minor annoyance during the descent. 2:25pm arrives as we approach the vehicles. Warm and happy smiles are abundant as we remove gear and soak in another fruitful weekend.