| Quandary Peak--East Ridge
Quandary Peak made my third fourteener (after Elbert and Princeton). For my father and me (flatlanders both), the peak proved challenging without being too difficult, and its weather/scenery amazed us. Here I've shared my experience & then outlined a few observations about the climb, particularly what to expect as far as its difficulties and/or rewards.
The day we climbed, we started up the trail shortly after 10 A.M. Usually summer thunderstorms make this start far, far too late, but the previous day had gorgeous weather and the summer-thunderstorm-tradition seemed to be on hold, with the weather staying clear until after 6 P.M. So we kept an eye on the sky and started up the trail. To compensate for our late start, we hurried along below treeline. The trail levelled off in a few places that helped us make extra time (later spent when the trail grew steeper). The trail starts a bit rocky, just coming up off the road, but then it smooths out until above treeline.
Past treeline (in the 12-13,000 foot range) we found that the trail grew steeper and more difficult, with more and more rocks as we ascended. The stairsteps built into the mountain actually slow flatlanders like us down on the ascent: like ordinary stairsteps, they required larger steps and more breath (something in short supply after 12,000 feet!) to climb. The winds began to pick up as well—quite strong, channeled in from Hoosier Pass—so we put our windbreakers back on to keep warm.
Up the mountain towards the summit ridge the trail ascends and ascends and ascends: more than once we looked up, thought we were about to reach the ridge—then the trail ascended again. Once we actually reached the ridge, we did earn a bit of a break. The saddle stretches ahead nice and level for a little ways, giving us a short 'breather' before the final ascend. The break allowed us to get to know the locals on the mountain—several mountain goats eating a midday snack near the trail. Hikers crowded around to snap photos and admire them (probably thanks to Quandary's popularity, they are quite photogenic and remained nearby for hours.)
Past the saddle, the trail (especially the final thousand feet) ascends up the ridge more steeply than ever. Looking up we could see it ascend by leaps and bounds (all quite steep) towards the summit, creating a stairstepped effect: once you finish one steep place, there's another one just ahead. The amount of rocks increased here as well, so we stopped looking for the trail per se and started looking for the least rocky place (and for the cairns, marking where we were on the trail). For us, the trick was to climb slow and steady: these rocks cannot be taken quickly, at least if you're a flatlander, but they're quite manageable as long as you keep going, stopping just long enough to catch your breath and then head upwards again.
The scenery of course grew ever more gorgeous as we ascended, giving us views of reservoirs and the surrounding mountains. Towards the summit, we also reached the snowfields still left in August: though we didn't have to cross them, there was a little snowmelt across the trail, and they provided a good marker for us as we were nearly there.
The steep slop levels off coming into the summit, a sudden change quite encouraging to hikers. We reached the summit about half-past 1 P.M. (giving us a climb of perhaps 3½ hours up) and rested here for about forty minutes. On the summit is a medallion marking the top of Quandary. There are a number of rock circles set up to shield people from the wind. There are also plenty of hikers, which means plenty of people to take your picture.
The descent had its own set of challenges. The way down never winds me quite the way going up does, but it can do a number on legs and knees, espeically for flatlanders. The hiking poles proved quite helpful: this peak was our first opportunity to use these poles, and we loved the way they helped us balance and take extra weight off our legs. They also helped us descend more quickly through otherwise-difficult rock fields. The rocks were perhaps the trickiest part of the descent. The scree on Quandary (as compared to other mountains such as Princeton) is quite small in places, like large gravel. This means that we often skidded through the scree—a cross between hiking and falling down. In places where the scree is larger, we often had to squat down to step safely to the next rock.
The smooth trail below treeline proved easier, and we made good time through the trees back down to the car at the trailhead (a 2½ hour descent). The weather was still gorgeous as we reached the car and drove off.
Quandary Peak (compared to the two other Fourteeners I've climbed—Elbert and Princeton) seemed a challenging but a rewarding hike.
The trail itself proved more difficult than I expected, especially for its Class 1 rating. Quandary Peak, in comparison with the gentle and largely smooth slopes of Mount Elbert (another Class 1 climb), merits attention for its unusually steep slopes, which resemble those on Mount Princeton (Class 2). In fact, it'd probably be wise for non-native and/or flatlander hikers to consider this peak Class 2—particularly above treeline. The scree requires a good deal of energy to climb, especially as you near the summit and ascend the steeper portions of the trail. This peak is no walk in the park but a real climb: though it doesn't require your hands at all, or any scrambling, it does require good balance and a lot of breath!
The way down also has its challenges, particularly along the ridge. Here again the rocks pose the problem: underneath descending feet, they slip and slide. Hikers need to be careful to keep their footing and step carefully to avoid falling on their backside. The staircase-like steps are quite welcome here, as they provide a stable and wide place to step. The wind also poses a few difficulties. Though it's not continuous, it does pick up quite strongly in places, making a windbreaker of some kind (and again, good balance) essential.
The scenery is spectacular, more than worth any difficulties involved in the ascent. Quandary Peak sits just on the north side of Hoosier Pass, which means that the surrounding mountains are high and grow even prettier as you ascend. The peak itself is quite picturesque: for most of the early hike, you can see the summit, which means plenty of good photo-ops that show much of your route. From the top you can see Breckenridge and Keystone. High mountains (among them Grays and Torreys, I believe) are visible to the south, west, and east. The mountain goats sure add to the scenery, as we saw no fewer than three different goats. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for this special treat.
In the end, Quandary Peak was a fantastic climb. The weather and scenery were fantastic, and its challenges made it all the more memorable for us. Of course, the greatest reward for climbing any mountain comes when you reach the summit, and you know you've made it . . . and the long, large summit of Quandary gives you plenty of time to savour that moment. Best wishes on your own hike!
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help only comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):