Peak(s):  Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  06/04/2012
Date Climbed:   05/30/2012
Author:  dumbsocrates

 The Art of Surfeit  

The other day I found out that a rock climbing friend of mine was going to start off her 14er climbing season with an ascent of Quandary Peak via the standard East Ridge route--a good preparation for a venture into the Sawatch range next week. I have climbed Quandary a few years back via West Ridge, and thought it might be a good idea to invite myself on this trip in order to condition my body into hiking to the roof of Colorado without collapsing from lack of oxygen and physical exhaustion.

The weather on the fine day of May 30th was looking relatively good... a bit nippy and breezy... 20-30F and 15 mph winds with gusts up to 40. But I was not worried. After all, the ridge was spacious, and I didn't have to reach the summit. I checked recent trip reports for snow conditions at this time of the year, so I could decide on footwear: mountaineering or hiking boots? Four days before, there was a good snow coverage with some postholing (5/24/2012 trip report): mountaineering boots it must be and a mandatory ice axe. I stuffed my day pack with gaters, heavy gloves, hat, neck warmer, face mask, a thermos of hot tea, and a thermal blanket. All this, on top of the orienteering and survival equipage, such as a compass, altimeter, multiple fire starters, map, and a sizable knife. I knew I wasn't going up Denali, but I figured better over-prepared than under-prepared. Besides it's good for conditioning the body. Thus prepared, clothed in layers, winter jacket, and ski pants, I was even ready for Denali: Quandary--the pipsqueak of a mountain--was nothing! Hubris was far from my attitude, since I've developed tremendous respect for this finicky mountain, but I felt a comfortable confidence.

I met my hiking partners at the trailhead at 4:45am. As soon as I arrived, I realized that all the snow has completely melted and my boots were slightly superfluous. But I did not foresee this little problem, so I did not bother to pack my hiking boots as well. Oh well, I thought to myself, more conditioning. We were off, my dog in the lead and I trailing behind, as usual. By the time we moved 500 yards, I was already overheating... The 30 degree morning temperature at the trailhead felt surprisingly warm. As dawn started breaking, the headlamps very quickly became extraneous as well on this obvious trail through the trees.

The hiking was slow and consistent without too much effort. We quickly reached the treeline and the exposed ridge. The summit became quickly visible, but oh it seemed miles away. The sun started peeking above the mountains and coloring everything with a fine pink glow. Once on the ridge, the cold wind started picking up, and I was thankful for the hat and gloves I lugged on my back.

We followed a good trail up the wide, rocky ridge. The trail became more steep at about 13,000 feet. I started falling behind as my steps became shorter and slower, the heavy, stiff boots weighing me down, adding to the exertion on my flabby, inept leg muscles. To add to the discomfort, I developed some substantial blisters on both heals, and with every step it was more difficult to ignore the pain. We stopped to rest and found an encouraging message scribbled on one of the rocks: "Almost there." I glanced towards the summit: I guess it didn't seem that far away. So with newly restored confidence, we moved on, strong gusts from the East occasionally compromising our balance.

Honestly, the final push to the summit proved quite a feat for me: I was tired, out of breath, slow, in pain, and frankly quite annoyed that I was having so much trouble on this hike. But I pushed on, and at about 8am I found myself on the summit.

I haven't mentioned yet that we hiked all the way up without meeting a single soul on the trail: no one witness to my pathetic effort--bar the mocking pika and the angels. The wind on the summit was cold and substantial. We quickly took a few shots, rested a while, drank some hot tea, had a bite of a granola bar, and started our descent.

The decline in altitude and the momentum were helpful on the descent but my stiff boots countered every advantage: I had to tread carefully in the rocky ridge in order not to loose my balance or twist an ankle. So coming down required more effort than I would have anticipated. At least I could not feel my blisters, since the force shifted to the front of the boot. Having descended about 1000 feet, we met the first hikers going up to the summit. As usual, we passed some ill-prepared victims in shorts and t-shirts. I stood in stark contrast to the miserable, cold girls.

We finally reached the treeline, and as soon as the trail became packed dirt rather than rock and scree, I could move a bit faster. I could feel my legs, my toes, and especially my back. Shedding the layers of clothing as we got to the trees on this beautiful, sunny morning, the extra weight went back to the pack. We reached the car at 10:20am--not exactly record-breaking but a worthy start to the season.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

06/05/2012 13:40
Wonderfully written...thanks, we will be heading tomorrow for the same”finicky” mountain...

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