This is my first successful summit of a 14er. I made an attempt on Mt. Sneffels with my friend Shanks (Derek) in June of 2009, but we abandoned the hike due to unexpected snow at the higher elevations.
My son Ben (also a first-time 14er) and I stayed in Breckenridge so we could gain quick and easy access to the trail head. We woke early and drove the short trip of 8 miles to the trailhead arriving just before 6:30am. The trail head parking area was full and people were already having to park on the side of the road. If you want to park at the trailhead you better get there earlier than 6:30 as the small amount of parking fills up really quick. However, there's plenty of parking in a large clearing just a few hundred yards down the road – so no problem either way.
We parked up, grabbed our gear and set off in anticipation. The start of the trail was easy to find and the well-trodden route was simple to follow as we snaked through the trees in the early part of the journey. We soon broke through the tree-line and got our first good glimpse of the lakes to our left and the summit far in the distance.
Heading away from the trailhead
Easy trail through the trees
Looking back down toward our starting point
The going then got harder as we cleared the trees and meandered across the open sections. It's at this point you get that first sense of just how many like-minded people are tackling the mountain with you—lots of people! There's a long line of people snaking up the mountain as far as you can see behind and ahead of you. Contrary to many of the trip reports I have read, I didn't consider this a negative. In fact, I found the company quite enjoyable as we met and chatted to people young and old all focused on that one objective. One 58-year old man from the Denver area, also attempting his first 14er, soon became a frequent acquaintance during our numerous stops for food, drink, and gasps or air.
First view of the lakes
About 1.5 hours into the hike, Quandary provided a new challenge as the well-worn path transitions to the rocky section which required special attention to foot placement and the frequent use of hands to help stabilize us through the trickier sections. The pace slows down considerably at this point and everyone around me seems to be feeling the same impact of altitude and a general lack of fitness. A few early starters (who must have started ridiculously early) pass us on their way down. They comment on the low temperature and high wind speeds at the peak as well as a few words of encouragement; "keep going, not too far now", someone remarks. I appreciate their words of support.
Half way - time to stop for a photograph
The trail changes to the rocky section
A view back down the mountain showing the line of hikers
We continue to push on. My breathing gets more labored as I gain elevation, but my enthusiasm continues unabated as the summit finally comes into view. A few more rest breaks, another bottle of water, and a few snack bars keep me going. Being 30 years younger than me, Ben is making a much easier job of the hike and has to keep stopping to let me catch up. With just a short section to go, I tell him to carry on and I'll meet him at the summit.
The rock scrambling gets even tougher as we near the top
Some three and half hours after setting out from the trail head I struggle across a small section of snow and finally make the summit. No record I'm sure, but not too shabby for my first 14er. The panoramic view is breathtaking and well worth the effort to get there. We remained on the summit for approximately 30 minutes taking in the spectacular views and bathing in our sense of achievement. The wind was blowing hard and the temperature had dropped considerably, so we decided to make our way back down.
A short section of snow just before the summit
The summit at last!
Quite a crowd at the top
Another view from the top
Image #14 (not yet uploaded)
I was really surprised just how hard it was to descend Quandary. I fully anticipated a tough ascent, but hadn't banked on the descent being this difficult. The rocks that we had scrambled over on the way up seemed different this time. They were wobbly and so much more unstable. You really had to take care to avoid rolling an ankle or falling. We passed lots of people who had obviously started out much later than us. This time it was our turn to pass on comments of encouragement. The weather, which had been brilliant all morning, took a turn for the worse as we neared the tree-line. We encountered a sprinkling of rain and a few minutes of hail as dark clouds started to roll into the area. Ben and I both felt glad we would be off the mountain before the weather got any worse. A few people were only just starting as we finished; this seemed way too late to me.
We finally got back to the trailhead at 12:00 -- a round trip of 5.5 hours including the 30 minute rest at the top. We dumped our gear into the back of the Jeep and slumped into our seats totally exhausted but totally satisfied. What a great day!
Our first 14er, but not our last I'm sure.