Peak(s):  Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  08/11/2012
Modified:  08/12/2012
Date Climbed:   07/17/2012
Author:  MtnHub
 Quandary Peak - West Ridge  

Quandary Peak - West Ridge

July 17, 2012

Quandary Peak (14,265')
Blue Lakes Trailhead (11,700')

Elevation Gain: ~2,650'
Length: ~5.5 miles
Starting Time: 0450
Return Time: 0940


When I was planning my CO trip earlier this year, I originally hadn't even considered doing the West Ridge of Quandary. I was mainly focused on my prime objectives, the Crestones, and then a couple of other big hikes in RMNP when my wife and I would be staying in Estes Park our last five days. But before heading down to the Sangre's, I was hoping to get in a couple of easier warm-up climbs to prep my lungs and legs.

I have climbing friends in Black Hawk, so I was thinking of possibly doing a loop in the nearby IPW. Later this spring, I got an email from another friend of mine asking if I had done Quandary's West Ridge. I replied that I had only done the standard East Ridge. But this brought the western route to my attention. Upon closer review, it appeared to be an excellent choice for another warm-up climb. It wasn't long and only had moderate elevation gain, but it would also provide some good scrambling to practice on.

A last minute change of plans prevented my friends in BH from joining me at all, so I decided to do a solo up Bison Peak in the LCW instead. Quandary would be my second climb.

The climb:

My intention was to arrive at Blue Lakes about an hour before dawn so I would have optimal early daylight. The monsoon storms this year were moving into CO quite early and I wanted to be off the mountain well before noon. I drove up to the large parking area below the dam at about quarter to 5:00, perfect timing as the sky was just beginning to brighten. There are no trees close to the man-made lake so once I climbed up to the dam and found the trail on the north side, I could see just fine without a headlamp.

My mini-thermometer read a chilly 42 degrees. But with no wind or breeze, it was really quite pleasant for climbing. Quite a change from the record heat wave of mid-90's to mid-100's going on back home.

This route is not nearly as popular as the eastern one, and as a result of less traffic, the trail leading into the basin was a little thin in places and quite overgrown with vegetation. Fortunately the air was remarkably dry that morning so there was virtually no dew on stems and leaves, which made passing through some thick willows much more bearable.

Eventually the trail escapes the heavier growth and the basin opens up for you.

You also pass by some mining remnants along the wayside.

The trail then bends to the right a little and climbs more sharply into the basin, following a stream for a while. Looking back, the lake and dam are now in full morning sunlight just below to the left and out of sight.

As I approached the end of the basin, I could better visualize where I was aiming for on the ridge crest. I looked to stay below and on this side of the snowfields, eventually reaching the first bump.

Once I attained the crest, the entire line of the ridge snaked before me all the way to the summit. I love ridge climbs like this!

Looking over to the southwest, I caught a glimpse of another very rugged traverse between Fletcher Mountain and Atlantic Peak. That ridge looked a bit more challenging than what I intended to attempt however.

In some places I could bypass the ridge proper, going around to the right of some of the obstructive outcroppings. The rock was very poor and broken up in most places but in general was relatively stable.

Looking back to the low part of the ridge where I ascended:

As warm and dry as this spring was in CO, I still came across a few places where residual ice rested on the trail.

I was also surprised to find remnants of old mining activity this high up. I was almost at 14,000 feet by this time.

The trail then becomes a little more difficult. After you to drop down to a notch, you come head to head with a false summit. You need to climb up the loose gulley just left of the steep rock faces in the center. To give you some perspective, the little chimney at the top of this gully is about 6-8 feet high.

Also at this notch, I peered down to my right (south) to what I think is the Cristo Couloir, a steep winter route to the summit. At the bottom is the basin where I started.

Nearing the top of the gully:

Once you're over this obstacle, you immediately face the final crux wall.

(Note: when I get above 13,000' or so, my speech becomes very sluggish and slurred. I'm assuming this is because of hypoxia; but I believe my thought process is still working pretty well. I seem to have difficulty in finding or spitting out the words I want which is apparent in the video)

I found this last wall to be extremely sketchy and difficult. I must have spent at least 30-40 minutes trying different places to ascend. The rock was bad and I ended up dislodging several large pieces of rock the size of large watermelons when I was testing handholds. I didn't find any "good" places to climb up and I really would have appreciated having a partner with me on this section.

I would also appreciate hearing from anyone else who has done this ridge recently. I'm curious if I really was that hypoxic which may have inhibited my best judgement or if that area has deteriorated a lot since Bill's last description. As I said, the rock there is quite rotten and the fact that I ended up pulling off several good-sized rocks possibly means the once-good hand and foot-holds may also have changed somewhat.

I'm usually quite comfortable on class 3-4 stuff, but a few of my moves up that wall seemed much spicier than I would have liked. But obviously I did eventually make it to the top of the ridge.

From here it was clear sailing to the top where a multitude of climbers were sprawled around eating, taking pictures, and otherwise just enjoying the apex of their journey. I arrived at the summit at 0750, exactly 3 hours from my start.

I tried to display my emblems on my helmet and shirt in an obvious manner hoping to find and meet some other members. I thought surely among this many people there would be at least a few in the crowd. But alas, I found none; so I quietly ate a snack by myself and then proceeded to descend the standard route to the east.

About halfway down the long eastern ridge I came across a wooly goat partially shedding his coat. I've seen them from a distance before but have never been this close to one. With so many regular human encounters anymore, they are not terribly impressed when another one comes close to them.

The trail down is really unremarkable. After walking on the rocks and talus along the ridge, it's an easy trail when you reach the trees. I reached the McCullough Gulch TH around 0940. I hoped to find someone leaving the parking area to hitch a ride up the road to my vehicle, saving me two extra miles of walking and about 850' of elevation.

The second car driving out stopped immediately and offered me a ride. The generous couple inside ended up being two young women from Italy who had just arrived in the States to enjoy a vacation here in CO. My sincere thanks goes out to these gracious ladies, Lara and Laura (or is it Laura and Lara?) for chauffeuring me to my car.
Thanks so much, ladies!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

09/24/2012 15:44
Next time I'm on Quandary I'll be giving this route a try.

Jon Frohlich

Crux wall
08/13/2012 17:00
Not sure where you ended up climbing exactly but there is a route through that part that isn't bad at all. From the video I believe we went down and left around that section on relatively solid rock. This is the 'white rock' section some describe. The right side you're looking at in the video I decided was not a good way to go.


Thanks, Jon!
08/13/2012 18:30
Yeah, I hope to do that ridge again sometime, preferably with someone else. It just seemed like everything I was grabbing a hold of was breaking loose. I thought I checked everything else around each corner but didn't see too many other options. But then, maybe I was having trouble processing or just having another senior moment! Ha! Thanks for your reply!


West ridge
04/02/2015 19:45
We thought there were 2 cruxes. The first one was the chimney, that is rated C3 in Bill's description, but we felt it was closer to 4 than 3.
I think this is it in this photo (facing East so apologies for photo quality)

This is look down the chimney

Then there was C3 downclimb from the other side (we found 2 viable ways)

Then there was another crux, but with clever route finding (going left and around) we were able to keep it at loose Class 3. The person who went over the top found it to be closer to Class 5. I think this was the spot (again, sorry for the photo quality).

Overall, an excellent route, and you are right, the route finding is a bit confusing (for a ridge climb).

emcee smith

Tend to agree
08/19/2012 09:44
Just got back from the west ridge myself. I tried to take the line in the route photo (Bill's photo 18 ) and was thinking there was no way it was class 3 (but I may not have been on the exact right line). Once on top though, it is visible that there is an easy work around to the left. From about where the climber is in photo 18, you can almost walk due left around the side and then easy up. I came back down that way almost to where the person is in the shot to show another group the line.


08/19/2012 12:43
Natalie, Mike, thanks for both of your comments and suggestions! I appreciate the feedback. I really want to try this again and check it out myself again sometime (but preferably with a partner). Even from my video it looks much easier than how I found it to be when I started up.

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2017®, 14ers Inc.