| A Leap Day Quandary Climb
Quandary East Ridge Standard Route
29 February, 2008
Every four years there is an extra day at the end of February in order to keep our
Calendar in synchronization with the spring equinox. From my home in Ann Arbor Michigan, I planned Quandary for Saturday, March 1st. I arrived in Denver Sunday February 24th for several days of acclimatization, skiing and vacation. As a teacher, I am extremely lucky to have frequent breaks. I stayed in the Alps motel in Leadville at 10,200' and skied at Breckenridge and Vail waiting for my body to adjust to altitude and preparing for my second winter 14er attempt. I had my sights set on Saturday March 1st but adverse weather predictions of 30 to 40 mph winds with 70 mph gusts, temperatures above 12,000' in the single digits and wind chills well below zero changed my plan. The forecast for leap day (February 29) was much better. I decided to push the climb up a day to take advantage of a weather window. Unfortunately, as a result of the unscheduled attempt, I did not arrive at the winter trail head until 10:20AM. I was tired from three days of skiing and was anticipating a rest day. Nevertheless, the adverse weather moving in convinced me to proceed with the climb.
Five cars filled the winter trailhead parking. I managed to park at the junction of CO 9 and CO 180 in a space off the side of the road. Caution was needed to assure that the car did not become stuck in the ice. The hike to the summer trailhead was straightforward with a good snow pack. At the Forest Service Quandary trailhead marker I put on my snowshoes and headed up. The going was easy and straightforward with a good and well packed trail. No portions of the trail posed any significant risk. I broke through the tree line at 11,800' and proceeded to climb the snow slope towards the ridge. This was straightforward. Two skiers approached from above. They reported that they had not summated due to cramps and were skiing down. The also indicated several climbers were on the trail.
Two skiers approached from above. They reported that they had not summated due to cramps and were skiing down. The also indicated several climbers were on the trail. The climb was well packed and showed no danger of slide. I proceeded up to the East Ridge.
(Figure 2) With the exception of occasional sections of exposed rock the trail was snow covered and obvious. My snowshoes made fast work of the slope. Looking up the ridge I could see several climbers near the summit. I pushed up the ridge with good snow. I avoided going to near the cornices on the South side of the ridge but stopped several times to photograph them. The slope was steep at places. The snow made the climb easier. On the ridge I paused to take in the wind sculptured cornices.
(Figure 3). Quandary is a true 14er with a fairly constant slope. The hike is a straightforward class 1 hike but it is indeed a 14er hike. I set a turn around time of 4pm and pressed on.
(Figure 4)This is view looking up the final section from the flat area at 12,600'. The
(Figure 5)Some of the sections of the ridge were wind sweep and the climb took about a two hours. Some of the sections had deeper snow. A few places were steep with steep snow and required careful footing.
At 3:20 I topped out.
(Figure 6)This is a view showing the final section leading up to the summit.
The view was spectacular though the winds had picked up a bit. I took several pictures and cursed my gloves that didn't have detachable linings. They were hard as hell to get on after taking off. As my fingers grew colder I snapped pictures of spectacular Colorado from 14,266'
(Figure 7). I then made two cell phone calls to friends to announce my success. After thirty minutes on the summit and several more pictures of the spectacular views. Several excellent views from the summit of Quandary are recorded below.
This view is my favorite.
A final view looking South.
I attempted to take of my outer shell but the zipper jammed. A $400 jacket with a jammed zipper! I was warm enough so I stowed my gear, lengthened my poles and began the descent. Since I had climbed Quandary solo and late in the day there was no one on the summit to take my summit photo. I enjoyed being alone on the summit. I adjusted my gear and prepared for descent. Then I snapped a self portrait.
(Figure 11) Yes, I know that I look like Santa Claus.
I made good time down the East Ridge taking pictures as I descended. The winds increased significantly. This provided good incentive for me to continue my descent towards tree line.
(Figure 12) The sun was setting as I reached tree line but I still had significant light. The trail was still easily visible despite blowing snow. As I descended further I was sheltered from the winds. When I finally reached the summer trailhead it was 6:15 pm and my camera flash became automatic. I reached my car at 6:20 pm happy and content in my first winter 14er ascent.
I can confidently recommend Quandary for winter beginners, it is a straightforward 14,000' mountain but don't underestimate it. It is a 14er by all accounts. The trailhead for the East Ridge gives great access to the mountain. Though the slope is gradual for a 14er, it is relentless. The only respite from going up is a short section on the ridge before the final push.
Significantly high winds developed during my descent. The winds heralded the unstable weather that was due the next day (March 1).
This photo shows a view from the ridge looking North East. The length of the shadow shows that the time is late afternoon.
Quandary was an enjoyable and rewarding winter climb. It was easy in technical difficulty. I recommend it as a good first winter 14er. The route is straightforward. The trail had good snow and the avalanche risk was minimal to zero. The wind on the ridge can become significant very quickly.
Return to tree line was a welcome return.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):