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Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby Tim A » Mon Jan 09, 2012 10:20 am

Hi 14ers fellows,

I'm planning a spring break trip the week of March 12 to make my first 14er summits with some friends, and I've chosen based on going through both this site and other blogs that Quandary and Sherman are the best mountains to aim for given the snow conditions we can expect in March.

My main question relates to budgeting restrictions as we're all poor college students with limited means. I've read trip reports of people on either of these summits being successful with either snowshoes or microspikes, and I'm wondering: if our budgeting allows each of my party to only afford one piece of technical equipment like this on top of all our other winter gear, which should we invest in for these particular mountains?

Also, I'm very tempted to attempt the Decalibron since we'll have almost a week in Colorado to make climbing attempts and there will be days to rest between climbs, but I can't find many accounts or summaries of climbs in the winter months. The simple explanation is that these mountains aren't feasible during the winter months, but I did want to pose the question to authorities greater than myself before writing these mountains off and looking for something else.

On a final note, if anyone would like to join a group of low-land music majors for climbing any of these peaks during this given week and "showing the ropes" so to speak, I've very much appreciate it. Thanks in advance for all advice you can provide!

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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby SurfNTurf » Mon Jan 09, 2012 10:32 am

Snowshoes aren't as necessary on those mountains (especially Quandary) right now due to the lack of snow. I'd wager on that changing in March. There's a chance there might be a bootpacked trail (again, especially on Quandary), but you'd still find life easier with snowshoes. Forced to choose between those and microspikes, I'd definitely go snowshoes as long as you get a pair with built-in crampons (like the MSR Evo series). You'll likely find the traction helpful on the route's upper reaches.

I haven't done the Decalibron in winter yet, but my understanding is that just doing Democrat is a very feasible winter option. Adding on the other peaks ups the ante because of distance (winter road closures well below Kite Lake) and avalanche concerns.

You might also look at Elbert's East Ridge. The road is plowed to the parking lot and the avy danger is minimal if you stay on route. It's 12 miles and 4,900 feet.
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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby DaveSwink » Mon Jan 09, 2012 10:42 am

You can reduce expenses by renting snowshoes at REI rather than buying them.

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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby MtHurd » Mon Jan 09, 2012 3:02 pm

In March, you will most likely need snowshoes for Quandary. It's possible you won't given the amount of traffic going up Quandary, but it's more likely in March than in any other month.

The Decalibron would be a difficult undertaking in winter if you haven't ascended a 14er before. It's also a lot of high altitude hiking which will keep you exposed to the elements for long periods of time. The winds can be brutal in the winter up there. Bross is the easiest out of the 3 in winter if you chose to do just one, but it is also a boring mountain with a lot of miserable scree if the route is windblown like it was when I climbed it in winter. Bring a topo with and make sure you do not get off route to avoid any avalanche potential. The standard route shouldn't be of any worries. You will most likely have at least a 2 mile hike/snowshoe to get to the summer trailhead as the road isn't plowed all the way.

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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby peter303 » Mon Jan 09, 2012 3:05 pm

I'd advise going with someone who has climbed these in the winter already.
These are not wise questions to ask for a first winter climb.
Windter is more dangerous than summer with the extreme weather, special equipment, avalanches, etc.

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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby Randy » Mon Jan 09, 2012 4:19 pm

MY 2 cents, choosing only "one" piece of gear to climb with, due to finacial constraints is asking for trouble. You either have the right equipment or you dont, if not, you have no business climbing a peak in winter conditions. That being said, the idea to rent ALL that you need is a great suggestion.
P.S. regardless of your equipment there are a whole host of considerations to consider, ie. altitude, route finding, weather and last but by no means least avalanches, have you ever seen an avalanche? do you know how to read avalanche conditions?

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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby Tim A » Mon Jan 09, 2012 5:10 pm

@SurfnTurf and BarryRaven,

Thanks for the advice regarding the Decal and for the suggestion about Elbert. I figured winds and constant exposure on those saddles were why most people avoid the Decal during winter, but I wanted to hear it from "natives."

@Dswink,

Thanks for the suggestion, it's looking like renting the equipment is what I'll probably recommend for my traveling companions. I myself confess to have the "climbing itch" and doing class 3 or 4 climbs in the dry canyons of West Texas and Arizona isn't quite cutting it anymore, so I'm looking to invest in some equipment as this won't be my last trip to CO.

@Pete and Randy,

Thanks for the feedback and concern. I mentioned in my OP that I'd love to have someone from this site join us on these climbs, as I don't know anybody personally in CO and if I keep waiting until I meet someone who has climbed these I'll probably never get there. I've done tornado chasing for several years in the summer months in the Midwest with some meteorology friends and if someone was looking to get in on those types of adventures, I'd recommend they travel with someone who can read storms like you guys can read mountain conditions, so I completely understand the suggestions to find mountain-veterans and repeat my invitation to anyone who would like to join. Outside of this website where I've lurked for some time, I don't think I'll find any willing applicants.

Based on the responses I've seen so far, I can expect more powdered snow than packed on Quandary and Sherman, so I'll recommend to my mates who want to purchase gear that snowshoes be the piece to spend on, and we'll see about renting additional gear like microspikes in CO. I figured that Quandary's trail on the east ridge is so popular even during winter that I could expect little in the way of drifts and that spikes would be enough, but as Randy said, best to be prepared for anything. As far as rentals go, if you guys have any friends or family you want to direct my business to, I certainly don't have any other place to look for suggestions (other than the almighty google).

I've done enough hikes in various wilderness locations at different elevations to know what to expect in terms of acclimatizing and path-finding in the snow with a compass and GPS. Avalanches are not something I have experienced before, but if I've done my research accurately, they don't occur that often on the mountains and trails I'm planning to use.

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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby MtHurd » Mon Jan 09, 2012 5:20 pm

The first 1/2 of Quandary has the potential for powdered snow, the upper half is usually windblown enough to go without snowshoes. If you are the first on Quandary after a snowfall, you will need navigation skills at the start because of the trees as the snow will cover up any tracks. You can probably stash your snowshoes halfway up and hike the rest of the way. The standard route is safe as long as you stay on the standard route. Any deviations will change things in a hurry.

Be sure and rent poles to go along with your snowshoes. While poles aren't required, they will help if you are snowshoeing over unstable crusty snow.

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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby Jesse M » Mon Jan 09, 2012 5:52 pm

Music majors... :)
PM me, I might be interested in a training hike up the incline on Pikes Peak. I might also have a couch or two to crash on for a night or so.

~Jesse

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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby Tim A » Tue Jan 17, 2012 3:50 pm

Few more questions as I consider assembling my gear. I'm looking for competitively priced yet functional snow goggles with sun protection: any recommendations?

As far as microspikes go, Amazon's reviews for the Kahtoola Microspikes are glowing: is this really the best buy for climbing 14ers? I've read enough negative publicity about Yaktrax to know to stay clear of them but want some feedback on Kahtoola before forking over $60.

Also, I've seen the TOPO, GPX and Google Earth Files related to each route on the mountains on this site, but don't know what programs open them. Can someone please explain what those files' specific purposes are and how to access them. I've also found the thread below and plan to purchase this product as most members of this site have given it glowing reviews, so if using that type of software facilitates the file types I mentioned above, someone please let me know!

viewtopic.php?f=4&t=7220

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Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby pseudoghost » Sun Jan 29, 2012 10:18 am

In March, you will need both snowshoes and microspikes. Even for Quandary, because you never know what the snow conditions will be like when you get out here. If it snows a lot in the week before you come out (which is typical), then the bootpack might be buried by a foot or two of snow... You definitely need microspikes for above timberline though. You probably want to take an ice axe with you as well. As a general rule of thumb, you should always take an ice axe with you on a winter climb, even if it's not likely that you'll need it, as you never know when it may be needed.

The Kahtoola spikes are the best ones out there. If you are going to buy spikes, then buy those.

As far as the Decalibron goes: you can climb it in the winter, but most people don't because the trailhead is typically snowed in and it requires a long snowshoe from wherever the road becomes impassable.

Don't believe the hype about Quandary and Sherman. While both typically do not have significant avalanche danger, they both have areas that can (and do) slide from time to time. Under the right snow conditions, climbing either mountain could be very dangerous. If you get caught in an avalanche without any rescue gear, you are probably dead.

Climbing any mountain in the winter is much riskier than during the summer, but it really depends on the snowpack conditions, and the weather for the day. Up till a few weeks ago, climbing Quandary was only slightly more difficult than during the summer, and you just needed to have some heavier clothes than you would for the summer. With all the snow now, it is a much different climb and a much more dangerous one as well... There is much less room for error in the winter: a small mistake in the winter can easily be life threatening. The same mistake in the summer: not as likely to be life threatening. My biggest concerns with winter climbing are: hypothermia and frost bite. Most winter clothes are not suitable for being exposed to 30-60 MPH sustained winds at subzero temperatures with blowing snow. At those temperatures, you won't last long if you get cold, and there's no where for you to hide on the mountain.

In my opinion, you should reschedule this trip for the summer or early fall, as it's quite likely that you will come out here and either get snowed out, or have bad conditions for a safe climb.

Re: Planning a March Climb on Quandary and Sherman

Postby gonzalj » Sun Jan 29, 2012 10:54 am

I terms of previous responses I agree that both microspikes & snowshoes are going to be necessary as quandary can definitely get very windblown above treeline. Also, kahtoola microspikes are hands down the best. If you do end up coming in March, definitely make sure you go up with someone on these mountains as has already been stated, they can be a whole different animal when reading terrain for potential avalanche conditions (and just so that you know, I'd be willing to go up with you guys if you want - weather permitting). Also, pay very close attention to the weather reports for the different 14ers on this site. They can be very helpful and once the wind picks up to 35+ mph gusts, it can get pretty miserable & tough up there and know because I've been turned around before the summit 4 times because of strong winds, so make a serious mental note on that one. Also, it would be advisable to keep your eyes on the CAIC's website (http://avalanche.state.co.us), especially as your trip gets closer. If the conditions are right, these can be fun hikes (although they'll definitely give you a really good workout), but just in general pay very close attention to both avalanche & weather conditions and have backup plans if needed.

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