| A Wintery Spring Break: Part II
Route: East Ridge
RT Distance: ~6.75 Miles
Gain: ~3,450 feet
Participants: stevevets689, Tweak
After a successful climb of James Peak at the beginning of break, it was time to get out again. Two days of rest and relaxation had driven my longing for the mountains back up to my attention. Not only that, but the end of calendar winter was approaching, and my window of opportunity to get my first winter 14er was quickly closing for the season. It was now or wait until December.
My James partner, Josh, was more than ready to head into the high country again as well. We discussed Grays Peak first, but decided to pick a shorter route for that magical number one. He had already hiked Quandary Peak, but that had been at night in the summer, so he was fine with repeating it. Quandary it is. I checked the weather for 13,600 ft.+ on Quandary and it read "10% Chance of snow with a high of 26. Winds 20 to 30 decreasing to 12 to 20 after 11 AM." Looks pretty good… I decided to call my friend Jamie (14ers.com member shanahan96) who has ample winter experience in Colorado to discuss the forecast. When I read it off to him, he commented that the winds would much more likely increase in the afternoon rather than decrease, and I should expect to be battling with it. That in mind, I packed enough stuff to cover every inch of skin on my body and headed up to Josh's condo in Keystone to sleep the night before the climb.
The morning of, I got up at 6 AM to see that Josh was already up. He treated us to an enchilada breakfast and we were driving for the trailhead by 6:30. We arrived at the turnoff for the trailhead to find that the road is snowed in for a little ways, but not far from the actual start. As we got ready to climb, we could look up at the summit of Quandary as it was hit with the sun's first light.
First light on Quandary Peak
Thanks to daylight savings time, we got a "late start" of 8:00 AM. We snowshoed up the packed road to the trailhead and then started up the trail on the left. The trail was well packed down and I was wondering if I really needed my snowshoes. We wound our way through the woods, crossing old logging roads and following the "Trail" signs. The sun was up and the air was incredibly warm, so I stripped down to my base layer. My ears started to feel a bit warm, and that's when I realized I had forgotten sunscreen, a mistake I hope I will never make again.
After a while the trail brought us to timberline, where we could see tracks from the previous days of skiers and snowboarders descending the mountain. I ditched my snowshoes here and Josh cached his a ways further at the top of a rise. From there, we could see the first of two long slopes leading upwards along Quandary's East Ridge. It would be a warm, long walk up to the flat section of ridge at 13,100 feet. There was still no wind.
The route above timberline
About halfway up the first part of the slope, my shell came back on. It was not colder or windy yet, but this way I could throw my light hood over my head to protect the back of my neck and ears from the beaming sun. This was probably a good move. The chance of snow had gone down to 0% as there was not a cloud in the sky. Everything was covered in snow and insanely bright. At least I had sunglasses.
Wheeler Peak from Quandary's lower east ridge
A while later, we arrived at 13,100 feet on the ridge, having completed the lower ridge. There were two hikers ahead of us, one near the summit and one at the bottom of the upper ridge. Unlike the 13er James, we would not have this mountain to ourselves. Finally the wind began to pick up, though it still wasn't bad and I didn't do anything more than tighten my hood. The hike was going absolutely beautifully so far.
The upper route of Quandary
Climbing Quandary's upper east ridge
As we approached the upper ridge, we knew we had about 1,000 feet to ascend over a mile, meaning that it would not be long to the top. We went slowly up the firm snow of the ridge. The views continued to open up and the wind was still marginal. Everything was beautiful, and I felt almost blissful to be back on a 14er and in such a beautiful setting with nearly perfect weather. Over halfway up the slope, the first hiker that was ahead of us came on his way down. He said we were about 300 vertical feet shy of the summit. As he continued down, I noticed views to the Southwest opening up. I could already see all the way to the Maroon Bells! A little ways further, the next hiker came down. I asked how the summit was and he said "cold and windy." I would call him a pessimist.
Approaching the summit
The view to the west
Josh stopped for a quick sip of water and I continued on. I slowly plodded through the thin air as the slope finally decreased to a sharper ridge. I was maybe 30 yards from the summit, and that last 30 yards went very quickly. As the 360 degree view expanded around me, I stepped up to the highest rock of the summit cairn. I was overjoyed as I stood there, alone for the moment, at 14,265 feet on the summit of my first winter 14er! Even on the summit at around 12:15 PM, the wind was only slight, and the air was relatively warm. I signed the summit register and then scampered around on the top checking out the huge views and looking for other routes up Quandary as well as routes up nearby peaks. Wheeler and Pacific Peaks in particular caught my attention, and I lost count of how many other 14ers I could see… from Longs to La Plata, Pikes to Capitol, there were so many. I sat to wait for Josh in my summit bliss.
Pacific, Crystal, and the Gore Range
Grays, Torreys, and the Front Range
The Dam Mou… I mean, Mount Silverheels, with Pikes Peak behind
The Sawatch Range, La Plata is centerpieced
The Elk Range, with the Maroon Bells in center
Wheeler Peak from the summit
Josh arrived a short while later along with a guy on alpine touring skis. We hung out on the summit for quite some time, enjoying the weather and views. We took pictures of each other and had one taken of the both of us before the skier began his descent. Once we were finally saturated with views of snowy peaks, we decided it was time to go down.
While descending, we saw that there were more people coming up, many with skis or snowboards. Not to be outdone, we got a bit of our own sliding in as we began glissading down the East slopes. Unfortunately, the fall-line takes you to the left of the actual ridge so we would have to glissade a ways, traverse back to the ridge, and repeat. The snow was firm at a moderate angle and our descent went very quickly. But for an encounter with an overly friendly stray dog at around 13,500 feet, it went very smoothly too.
A snowboarder descending, dog in tail
Our glissading ended at 13,100 feet when the ridge flattened out. We quickly walked the flat ridge and then failed at glissading the softer, shallower slopes of the lower ridge. Back at timberline, I removed my shell again and donned my snowshoes. After a little snowshoeing through the trees, one of the straps of my snowshoes snapped. If I remember right, this happened to Jamie on Quandary as well. Quandary must be anti-snowshoe. I just removed them and carried them the rest of the way down.
We arrived at the cars again at 3:00 PM. More than satisfied with our successful hike, I shook Josh's hand and bade him well as I continued south to my stomping grounds in the San Luis Valley. The next day I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror; I looked like the victim of a hate crime as my face was bubbly with blisters and slightly blackened. I had a second degree sunburn! With all the snow and sun, it's no wonder. From now on, sunscreen is the number one item in my packing list. But even with the massive sunburn, I was very satisfied with my first winter 14er ascent. Though I know I can't expect the same weather conditions on future winter climbs, I can't wait for more.
For more pictures from this hike, please visit my online photo album: http://picasaweb.google.com/coloradoclimberguy/
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):