| Quandary Halloween Snow Hike
I had other obligations on October 30th and couldn't make the 14ers.com Winter Welcomer on Quandary. Luckily, however, I had two colleagues willing to make an attempt the next day. We left Denver at 4:30 a.m. Despite driving past the left turn near the Hoosier Pass that we had to take from CO-9, we arrived at the trailhead at around 7:15 and hit the trail at 7:30. The weather was brisk, but below timberline there was very little wind. We stopped at around 8:30 at a scenic spot for a quick cup of tea to warm and wake us up a bit more. Not long afterward, we were treated to a parade of about 8 ptarmigans in winter plumage out bobbing along.
Looking southwest toward North Star Mountain.
The first glimpse of Quandary from the trail.
A closer view of Quandary.
This was a perfect place to stop and have a cup of tea.
Sunlight shining through the Douglas firs.
Looking east toward the Hoosier Ridge.
A ptarmigan in winter plumage.
The trail was generally packed from the 14ers.com Winter Welcomer the previous day (thanks!), so snowshoes weren't necessary. Nevertheless, they would have helped in a few spots. Snow had drifted over the packed trail, and it was therefore quite easy to stray from the firm path and wind up postholing knee-deep in snow.
Above timberline, the wind picked up considerably. It was bitterly cold, blowing from the northwest and directly into our faces. One of our group of three started falling behind, and eventually signalled to us that he was going back below treeline. Not long afterward, my remaining colleague indicated that his left foot was very cold. This worried me a bit, but he insisted that he could keep going. At around 13,250 feet, he started to complain that his toes were tingling pretty badly. I told him that this was an initial sign of frostbite and that we needed to address this immediately. I helped him remove his boot, and it was obvious that his sock was completely soaked. He had postholed off the packed trail earlier in the morning and snow had fallen into his boot and drenched his sock. After removing the sock, we discovered that his foot was extremely red. I opened my fleece and stuffed his foot into my armpit to warm it up; I certainly felt a bit strange about putting another man's foot inside my coat, but I knew we needed to get his foot warmed up if we wanted to have any chance of reaching the summit. As he wiggled his toes inside my fleece to get some circulation going, we discussed our options. Foolishly, I had neglected to double-check my checklist in the morning and had forgotten to pack an extra pair of socks. My colleague didn't have an extra pair either, and his wet sock was useles. Should we turn back? Neither of us wanted to turn around so close to the summit, but we also didn't want to risk a serious case of frostbite. We finally decided that I would give my colleague my (warmer) boot and sock and would attempt to keep going with his soggy boot and no sock. This was a risky decision, as it may have resulted in two people with frostbitten left feet instead of just one. We agreed that if my foot started to get cold, we'd just have to retreat down the mountain and save Quandary for another day.
Our other colleague took this shot of us heading up to the top.
Surprisingly, my colleague's wet boot still provided good insulation. It also helped that the last leg up to the summit was steep and provided an ample workout. My foot stayed quite warm, and my colleague's foot was now dry and warmed quickly. Other than looking ridiculous due to wearing two different boots, the strategy was a success. The final push to the summit still wasn't easy--Quandary was much steeper than I expected, and the oncoming wind certainly didn't help. We finally reached the summit of Quandary at 12:15 p.m. The wind was fierce, so we snapped a few quick photos and then headed back down the mountain.
Once we had dropped 1,000 feet or so, the wind died down considerably and the sun began to warm us up. By the time we reached the krummholz, we were actually sweating. We met up with our friend, who had been enjoying lounging in the sun just below timberline and out of the wind, and continued back to the car. We were the first on the summit that morning and hadn't seen any other hikers on the way up, although we passed around 11 heading up as we were descending. We made it back to the car at 2:30 p.m., stopped to grab a bite to eat in Alma, and then headed back toward Denver.
Improvisation had allowed us to turn a possibly dangerous situation into a sucessful and rewarding summit, but I'll certainly think about this climb every time I load my backpack from now on. I won't be forgetting my extra socks ever again!
North Star Mountain and the Blue Lakes.
Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross behind the ridge of North Star.
Looking to the west toward Mt. Massive. I can't believe I trekked across the whole expanse of this behemoth in September!
A nice shot of my colleague looking toward the Hoosier Ridge from near the summit.
Climbing Punky Brewster style--better than having someone lose a toe.
A nice shot of Quandary from CO-9 on the drive home.
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