Peak(s):  Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  08/08/2018
Date Climbed:   08/01/2018
Author:  timisimaginary
 1st 14er - Quandary Peak   

I came to Colorado for the first time this year to climb a couple of 14ers. The highest peak I had previously climbed was Mt. Washington in NH, which I hiked up last fall during an unseasonably warm weekend (if you hike in the White Mountains and your only complaints are that it's a bit too warm and not quite windy enough, you're doing pretty well). My ultimate goal for this trip was to climb Mt. Elbert, but I wanted to start with an "easier", shorter hike to see how well I adjusted to the higher altitude before attempting Elbert. After a lot of research, including this site, Roach's book, and other internet trail reports, I chose Quandary Peak as my first 14er. It was relatively short, relatively less elevation gain, a Class 1 trail to the top, and an easy-to-access 2WD trailhead that I could drive to in my rental car. Also, I would be joined by my wife, who is a slower hiker than I am, so I wanted to choose something she had an opportunity to hike with me, and she is not a fan of heights or rocky terrain.

We arrived at the lower trailhead parking lot at about 6:45am on a Wednesday. I knew this trail would be busy, but was still surprised that the lower parking lot was already nearly full. As we started to hike up the road to the trailhead proper, we found out why -- the road to the upper trailhead was closed. Even so, one car had made it up to the upper trailhead, but that was it.

The trail below treeline was a really nice trail, very wide and smooth. Really, it was more of a walking path than a trail. The uphill hiking begins right from the start, but it is not too bad below treeline. I knew it would get steeper, rockier and more difficult above treeline though. As we began to come out of the trees, we started to encounter rockier terrain, which ultimately became too much for my wife. I didn't think it was too bad through here at first, but my wife was struggling, and at the pace we were going, it was clear we would not make the summit with enough time to descend and be back below treeline on a schedule I was comfortable with. The forecast I had seen indicated possible rain and thunderstorms after 12pm, and I wanted to be back below treeline before then. Even though the weather looked gorgeous, I've read enough about how quickly that can change in the high mountains and wasn't taking any chances, and I don't have the experience or expertise yet to recognize changing conditions.

So, we discussed our options: she could wait for me below treeline while I continued to the summit, or we could both return together. I know that it is not recommended to separate, but we were both prepared with maps/compasses and GPS navigation on our phones, we had radios to stay in contact with each other, and the trail up to this point was so easy to follow and full of people, I did not see any risk for her in waiting there. I knew she would not go off trail or try to descend back down without me, so we both decided that I would proceed to the summit while she waited.

The remainder of the route soon levelled out for a bit, before beginning the much steeper and rockier final ascent to the summit. This was a definite learning experience for me to discover what is considered Class 1 trail on a 14er. While the trail is clear, the final half mile or so was quite rocky, and somewhat loose, mostly from smaller rocks and loose dirt on the trail which, combined with the steepness, made traction difficult at times. As I was ascending, I saw several people sliding while descending this section, and made note to myself to be very careful and take it very slow on this part on my return. Even so, I still found myself sliding a couple times, and fell once, fortunately cushioned by my nice thick pack. There was no risk of a dangerous fall here, but footing was still pretty tough. The traffic on the trail also made things more difficult, since I often had to dodge around people going the opposite way. There were many spots of trail braiding, which I would guess might be due to the heavy traffic and people going around other people through these sections. And this was a Wednesday, so I can only imagine what the weekend traffic is like.

I summitted at 10:45am, and enjoyed a relatively short time at the summit before beginning to descend, since my wife was still waiting below. Lots of pictures, snacks, and a marmot sighting later, I was on the way down and below treeline by 12:30pm, rejoining my wife for the remainder of the trek down. Unfortunately the famous goats did not make an appearance for me, but I did spot a couple marmots at the summit, and many many pika.

Quandary is described as a good first 14er, and as a first-timer I don't have enough to compare it to to say whether I agree or not. It was well within my capabilities, but was still tougher than I expected, especially that final half mile, primarily due to the condition of the terrain and the crowdedness of the trail. If I knew how rocky and loose the trail would eventually become, I would not have chosen this trail for my wife to join me on, since she hates this kind of hiking. By contrast, I descended Elbert the following day by the East Ridge, and that trail was almost entirely a good dirt trail from the summit to the trailhead. Despite being longer and having more elevation gain, if I had known then what I do now, I would have taken her on that trail instead. Even the Class 2 sections of the Southeast Ridge on Elbert felt more comfortable to me, just due to traction issues.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
rob runkle

Very cool!
08/09/2018 11:03
Awesome first! Nothing wrong with two adults separating on a climb, if both are prepared and knowledgeable about a route. Consider it two people going solo. Good job!!

08/13/2018 10:30
Saw this and the Mt Elbert report. Congratulations! Knew you could do it, glad to see it worked out. I had similar thoughts on the last thousand feet of Quandary--this is a class 1 trail? I guess the Class 1 part is accurate because you don't need to use your hands, but "trail" was a bit of a stretch in some places! I hope to get to Elbert in the future, so your comparison of them is helpful.

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