Peak(s):  Crystal Pk A  -  13,852 feet
Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  05/06/2013
Modified:  09/10/2013
Date Climbed:   05/04/2013
Author:  SnowAlien
 Crystal & Cristo   

The spring is finally here. Carl has finished his 14er skiing quest with Crestone Needle, Otina and Bill M skied Little Bear (congratulations to all of you), and some of us ski mountaineering newbies have finally checked Quandary off the list. But first things first.

Day 1: Crystal Peak

Approach: Via Francie's hut, with overnight stay @11,300 feet
Partners: Michael and Brian (BKS)
Mileage: 9.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,500 feet roundtrip
Time: 1 hr 10 min on Friday + 4 hr 40 min hut-summit-hut + 15 min of deproach

After finishing 14ers last summer, I was struggling to wrap my arms around 13ers (there are so many!), but have recently discovered a great way to enjoy them - to ski them! So when Michael suggested an overnight trip to the Francie's Cabin (one of the huts in the 10th Mountain division) with the possible attempt on Crystal Peak, a Centennial, I was all ears. The hut was booked a few weeks ago, and the wait for the decent weather window began. After a stressful week at my new job, poor diet and no exercise all week due to a stormy weather in Denver, I was ready to get the trip rolling. I drove to the Sprice Creek TH after work on Friday, loaded my pack with overnight gear, and started off from the TH at 7.30pm. My goal was to find the hut before the sunset, so that I wouldn't have to spend the night in the woods, but I took the wrong turn and ended up getting to the hut well after the sunset. Still, I was not complaing about a 2.2 mile/1,000 ft gain gentle hike to kick off the weekend. The eight hour restful sleep in a comfy bed at the hut was nice! Three of us decided to wake up around 6am and get going by 7am.

Spruce Creek TH

Arriving at the Hut on a Friday night to a warm fire and a comfy bed

First look out of the window in the morning - it is nice to preview the conditions

Houston, we have a problem! It is a bluebird morning and way warmer than was implied by the weather forecast, which means we need to get out of the hut NOW! However, mostly because of me, we were not able to leave the house until after 7am. Our saving grace (at least for a while) was a solid overnight freeze.

Looking back in the direction of the hut

Taking a first good look at the basin

Attempting to skin up the icy slope. Tryouts in side hilling commence

Near the headwall, skinning quickly became problematic, so we threw the skis on our backs and aimed to bypass the headwall on the right. I would not recommend this approach unless you have a solid overnight freeze like we had.

Traversing above the headwall

After the headwall, we clicked back into the skis and were able to skin all the way to the summit

Natalie skinning

Michael & Brian

Michael and Brian skinning as Peak 10 looks on

Natalie and Brian on the summit, with Pacific Peak in the background

Michael skiing off the summit

Snow conditions up to this point were great - the layers looked to be well bonded, with lots of fresh powder above 13,500 feet, but we were getting worried about the warm temperatures - well above the "high of 37 F" forecasted. We wore base layers almost from the start.

Michael skiing


Natalie skiing

All of us skiing (photo taken by our hut-mates from lower down in the basin)

Brian & Natalie

The ski/snow conditions have been perfect thus far. However, when we got to the headwall, the things have changed - it is been too warm and wet slides were forming by 11.00am. We made it through, but not without kicking off a few loose sluffs.

Michael heading down the headwall

wet slides below the headwall

Back at the hut around noon

All that's left was to pack and head down back to the car

Day 2: Quandary (Cristo Couloir)

Approach: via East ridge
Mileage: 7.1 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3,600 ft
Time: 5 hr 18 min
Party: solo

Encouraged by the spring conditions that we found on Crystal Peak, I decided to stick around Breckenridge for another day and try to hit my old target - Cristo couloir on Quandary. My partner and I attempted it a couple of weeks ago, but turned around as we were not happy with the conditions that that day - very high winds coupled with seemingly poor bonding between layers.

On the face value, both Saturday and Sunday weather forecasts look the same, but they turned out to be quite different. I woke up to the overcast skies and the "mostly cloudy" forecast for the day. Again, not what I was expecting. I spent some time going back and forth - would it mean that the snow won't have a chance to warm up and remain crusty for the ski descent? Should I look elsewhere? After checking and re-checking the forecasts for other potential "targets" and even some driving between Hoosier pass and Frisco, I finally settled on Quandary. I decided to go up the East ridge and assess the conditions on the way up.

I noticed several cars parked at the Monte Cristo TH, which meant that a group (or two) were heading fup Cristo. Sweet - I'll be nice to have beta if I catch up to them on the summit. Back at the standard TH, I take my time to gear up and finally leave the parking lot around 7.25am, behind dozen or so snowshoers.

Starting out

This is what happens to people who don't carry snowshoes (or skis)

Quandary is sporting great coverage on the East ridge

Pacific looks intriguing as another potential ski descent

Checking out the dam and the south facing couloirs ~13k

The snow feels very grippy and I am able to skin up all the way to the summit


Democrat - North face

Getting ready to ski

First turns off the summit. No billy-goating required

Looking down the line

Hikers on the flank of the couloir

The snow conditions were great. Even on a fairly warm day, cool breeze and overcast skies kept the snow relatively uniform for the entirety of the 2k descent. My main problem was flat light, even though I was wearing googles with the flat light lense.

Sustained pitch of ~35 degrees

A few stops to catch a breath were in order. I did not set any speed records and carefully picked my line through the couloir

Stumbled upon some old wet slide debris. Again, not an issue today, but it could be on a warmer/sunnier day

Fun rocky section to go through towards the bottom of the couloir

Looking back at the line

Skiing all the way back to the car. My first D10 (or is it D9?) ski descent on the books -

which deserved a Bloody Mary at ABasin

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

 Comments or Questions

Spruce Creek
05/08/2013 02:07
Did I meet you at the TH when you came down from Francie's on Saturday afternoon? I had just finished skiing Helen and was enjoying a beer. Looks like you had a good couple days


05/08/2013 13:51
Natalie - how was Francie's? I've toured in that area semi-extensively and never stayed there. Wondering what your take was. It certainly looked accomodating, specially with the plentiful touring ops in those 2 drainages alone. I figured its not ”secluded” comparatively speaking, but am curious nonetheless.

Nice work on 2 classic Tenmile lines.

blue lakes road
05/13/2013 18:56
how far can you drive up blue lakes rd?


04/02/2015 19:45
Yes, that was me. Apparently Crystal alone was not enough when skiing is that good


04/02/2015 19:45
Brian - I am probably not qualified to answer that. I‘ve only toured in the vicinity of the hut once before - Sangree Froelicher, and Francis was my first ever hut stay. So, let‘s just say I am not an expert on huts. With that in mind, I thought it was rather nice. There was firewood, plenty of water, toilet, reasonably comfy beds (bunks and twins/doubles) - just bring a sleeping bag. As you well know, the round trip to Crystal is doable from the car, so not sure if there is much value in paying for the night about 1.5 miles away from the parking lot (Friday night was cheaper than Sat/Sun, that‘s why we picked it). But it certainly was a nice place to spend the night, and the easy skin up the night before was a pleasant way to start the weekend.

P.S. Thank you

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