| Quandary - East Ridge Snow Ascent
Sorry for the delay in getting this posted up. My life has not been my own the last week and a half.
Having always wanted to make a snow ascent of a 14er, and recognizing that I tend to have more ambition than ability, I picked a relatively safe one, Quandary via East Ridge route. Blessed by continued ridiculous amounts of snow up there, we got to do what felt like a mid-winter climb near the end of May, which was great for a number of reasons, not the least of which was early daylight and no ski traffic. We left Denver at 415AM and were hiking our way up the road at 6:20AM.
The NWS forecast called for precip to end by 7AM, with high winds decreasing throughout the morning and mostly cloudy skies. 'high winds' was the only thing they got right on this day. More on that later.
Heading through the trees it was easy to forget it was almost June. Snow was falling hard by this point, and the only reminder of late spring was the wet conditions. The snow was almost like rain at the trailhead. I was able to go with just microspikes for most of the section in the trees; Mike was on snowshoes. Once the trees started to thin out and I started postholing with some regularity, I went to showshoes, which were a necessity for the rest of the ascent (unless you had skis, which we did not).
Incredible conditions in the trees
Almost impossible to believe it's 10 days from June
Slogging up out of the trees. Heavy snowfall but protected from much of the wind
It was really quite a pleasant little snowshoe climb for a time, albeit wet. Temps were nice; we were fairly protected from the wind while below the ridgeline, we had some skiers breaking trail ahead of us....good times.
Once on the ridge everything changed, as it often does. For the rest of the ascent, sustained high winds & very poor visibility with new snow falling at a tremendous rate. The skiers and a couple snowshoers that had been breaking trail ahead of us were now just faintly visible, and the wind/snow was so intense that we were now breaking trail for ourselves through 12-15" of fresh snow. At one point Mike was only about 10 steps ahead of me and his tracks were already half filled in by the time I got to them. The wind & snow was really quite extraordinary - it'd be howling from the SW and then switch 180 degrees to come in from the NE. The result was just piles and piles of new snow in front of us all the way up the ridge. We had to take care to stay hiker's right of the rockband along the ridgeline, as I was worried it would be getting corniced out and in that poor visibility it would have been easy to think you were still climbing the ridge when in fact you'd wandered out onto the cornice. We just kept the rockband in view and cheated to the right of it the whole way up. The usual things you take for granted on a summer hike - like getting into your pack or keeping your water line free of ice - get infinitely more complicated under these conditions. The few pictures that we took were during the occasional moments when the storm cleared just enough to make out anything other than the 15-20' directly in front of you.
That dot...is it me? Mike? A Tauntaun?
Nearing the summit....shredded.
This image helps illustrate why it was important to stay hiker's right of the rockband.
Those who've climbed Quandary know that it's really just a big long slog broken up by a stretch of flat ridgeline in the middle. And so it went, one foot in front of the other, for several hours. Like I said before, I'm cursed with having more ambition than ability, and this was a massive physical undertaking for the first real climb of the season. We were breaking trail for ourselves for about 90 minutes when another group of skiers/snowshoers caught up to us and broke trail from then on (or at least until they also got far enough ahead of us for their tracks to be filled in).
The last few hundred vertical feet probably took 60-90 minutes as I was doing the 'take 8 steps then stop for 60 seconds' thing that whole time. The conditions continued to deteriorate and staring out into nothing but greyness, dealing with altitude, exhaustion, etc starts to play tricks with the mind and they eyes. But, we kept on pushing and suddenly there we were, with the conquered mountain beneath our snowshoes. A couple skiers had descended into Cristo and the nasty 'skis on ice' sounds coming up were unpleasant enough to cause another pair of skiers to descend into the East bowl (we saw them later skinning up out of it back to the ridge, tired but safe). We had just enough time to take a picture and then had to get off the summit - the gusts were literally knocking us down. The descent was a lot of work too; pulling snowshoes out of what by then felt like 15" of concrete all the way down the ridge was brutal. Ran into some more skiers who topped out on the little flat part midway up and decided discretion was the better part of valor (I tend to agree with them) and skied down into the trees from there.
Just a tease of blue sky. Next ridge south just barely visible.
Mike thinking "this is amazing and terrible all at once"
Once we got near the trees, the storm had broken and from there down we got occasional bits of sun and no more precip. But it was obvious, looking back up towards the top, that the storm continued to rage up there and we hoped that the snowshoers we passed on the way down were keeping safe in their efforts to summit.
Net-net, 8 hours total, 5.5 to summit. It was truly an incredible day. I wanted a winter ascent and by god I got it.
We made it! Lots of melting at the TH 8 hours later
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):