Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  06/09/2009
Date Climbed:   06/07/2009
Author:  audiotom
 first spring climbs - finally got a summit  

Here's my first trail report - may someone else also with less spring climbing will learn from my experience

I arrived thursday night to knock off a few peaks over the weekend before the AAPG geology conference in Denver. Had planned to do Evans/Bierstadt/sawtooth as a warm up for Bell Chord on S. Maroon. I had a partner lined up, game on. I had just read key parts of Halfway to Heaven and 14er disasters - so part of me was questioning my taking on too big a mountain. People much more experienced and those with a lot more stamina and conditioning than I had problems on this route. I had only done crampons on Sneffels last year in August - no spring (winter) climb.

Don't ever make plans in concrete... or at the very least be adaptable to change them, because more than likely you will.

drove up to Evans, forgot to get water and too late by time I got to Echo Lake. Parked in the summit parking lot at midnight - 50-70 mph winds rocked my rented pathfinder all night. If you could call it sleep, I may have gotten a few moments of it up here. Nice view of Denver city lights up here (I used to run up to Mt Zion for the light show when I was a mines grad back in the mid 80's).

Friday morning saw predawn light.


got out at 5 and worked short way up to summit with ice axe and stepping in old tracks. the wind stopped dead for 5 minutes as I hit the top and I took in the view (left camera in car - would probably had blown out of my hand if I took it), storming to east and west, snow on south face was rock solid and very slippery - had to crab down a few spots. Looks like climb from summit lake was a no go.


after a meal in Idaho Springs drove west. wow, the storm to the west dissolved into a bluebird day. went up loveland pass to do Grizzly when I noticed the chairs running at Arapaho Basin - wow, a full day skiing! I hadn't skied in 20 years - this was first time on parabolics, was right back to my old form and it never slushed up all day - I was in heaven


saturday I wanted to get crampon experience for sunday's climb. I didn't feel like retracing evans, and at night scanned 14ers and decided to do something less traveled but with a good snow climb - Cristo Coulour on Quandry fit the bill. I got a late start - 9:30.

BLuebird but 25-30 mph winds. The mountain goats were hunkering around the few cars in the lot by the dam.


I started up the couloir.


Got up around 800' from the base. Met Mike (Co Mt Guide) and his son doing self arrest techniques on their way down.
I explained to Mike my lack of experience and the options of doing the bell chord the next day. Mike told me - get some experience today - you really need to work up to Bell Chord over several seasons, do it on a perfect weather day and not to rush it. I went up some more - tried some self arrests and glissading down the lower run out. I had just read my photo copied Freedom of the Hills sections on self arrests again last night. It was a good day. Off to Breckenridge (too trendy and touristy), then up to Loveland Pass again - walked 1/2 way to Shintau - watching a skier and one hell of a cornice on the east face. Decided no use driving down to Denver, I've got to try a more reasonable mountain sunday in search of a summit.

next thing I was off to Leadville to do Elbert. One of my favorite 14er authors online - Aubrey - had left a detailed TR from last weekend and the conditions looked ideal. Hadn't slept well the last two nights so let myself sleep in (6:30) hit trail head NE halfmoon at 8 am - only 5 cars in lot. asked God for a successful climb - whether it be a reachable summit or the wisdom to turn around if weather dictated. It was a beautiful bluebird day, mostly 4-7 mph wind.

Clearing near timberline showed first views of Elbert's false summit.


Just a few snow drifts in upper trees - easily avoidable.

Trail dry and very well maintained and Bill's route writeup was perfect. Last year I was breathing hard on Handies Grizzly Gulch but sunday my lungs were in check and I took a slow and steady approach and barely stopped on the way up. Last trees on route

1 1/2 hours later I was at 12,800' - I had made it half way up and felt great (flatlander in late 40's from New Orleans). Maybe today was my day!

I kept pushing up - 2 hours - at start of snow climb,
crux 13,400 - 13,900 went well - snow in good condition - no postholing and enough give to get good holds (poles and trail runners (my La Sportivas were stolen out of my car on friday in Golden hotel lot) - crampons and ice axe on my back and worth the security factor). Met nice couple going down who had turned around - her first attempt - I told them - no shame this was a great effort.

Weather was starting to sock in on LaPlata and Massive area - snow, high wind, etc. These are early shots of the storms on both sides of us, they got much worse but my camera had frozen up soon after this

Image Image Image

follow aubrey's report for the route - the weather went from bluebird to whiteout with high winds

made it through steep part to 13,900, got towards first false summit. Saw two guys from Houston in shorts and leggings coming down fast. They told me major weather was going to hit and I should definitely turn around now. I told them I had plenty of resources in my pack and would wait out a storm if no lightening was present. they booked down - 5 minutes later - bam. I tried to get my face mask on - the velcro wouldn't stick because of too much snow on it, nor would it stay tucked into my headband. my gloves filled with some snow, 35 mph winds - temps dropped from 46 to 15, I laid down to avoid it coming up both sides of the ridge. I felt calm in the midst of this, trusted God there and waited - with freezing fingers. 15 minutes later - it started to lighten up through my frosted over sunglasses towards LaPlata.

I was able to work myself up the face past the two false summits, checked the cornice edges and stayed to the left. swirling winds, etc, I crawled in a few spots in wind gusts on the most exposed part of the ridge and I made it to the summit (2:15 pm)- I was laying down sideways taking in the summit views which where quite expansive as things cleared momentarily- but some major storms coming from the west in the Elks (glad I wasn't on the Bell Chord).

Combine these two photos (aubrey's summit shot) and you have my summit experience (photoshop anyone?). It was 2:15 - 6 hrs up


I stayed in the high winds 15 minutes on the summit - solo and all to myself in early June. Top of the Rockies. I touched the wood pole, read the graffitti and looked for but didn't find the summit register.
I left a few calming bible verses in the snow at the summit and on my way down. I felt at peace, despite the winds swirling on either side of me

I worked my way down, first easy, then strong winds at my back. Left pole, right foot, right pole, left foot, sometimes sideways, sometimes straight down. My hands warmed up and I felt good.

I worked down the face, a cairn marked the entrance to the north side passage at 13,900. I hadn't checked this passage on the way up, but determined it was my up route. I soon was in another white out but this one passed in a few minutes. I was feeling great and enjoyed watching the wisping wind swirling up light snow. it had a poetic, ethereal quality

My camera had unfroze and I took this shot in the clearing weather


I met a couple from Shreveport Louisiana near the start of the snow climb. They had left at 8:30 from the TH, only 30 minutes behind me. Rather than scare them down I asked a few questions that would let them decide whether to turn around. I asked if they had a headlamp (yes) compass (no) told them to fixate on Mosquito range peaks lined up with their climb direction - in case of a white out. I told them it was two hours to the top at my pace. I told them I had tried two days in a row and not gotten a summit yet. I looked back 15 minutes later and was relieved that they were making a good pace down the mountain. Conditions altered from snowy to bluebird several times


the hike through the woods was bluebird, pleasant - and I focused on being back in hot and humid New Orleans soon enough - so it never felt like a slog.

My legs held up surprisingly well. I was down at 4 pm - 8 hours roundtrip. I never found the sign in sheet for the trailhead. 4800' of vertical (same as the Bell Chord) and 9.5 miles round trip - and I wasn't tired, it felt great and I was euphoric

Just a few minutes after I got back to the car, another storm hit the mountain in white


I had only seen 6 people all day
in three groups of two
and in early June

I had conquered, no, been given the opportunity to grace the roof of the rockies
and found peace in a trying storm

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Well Done!
02/05/2011 00:22
Old guy, flatlanders like us have to stick together and encourage each other, so I‘m glad to hear that you persevered through the weekend. Congrats on making the Elbert summit and, most of all, congrats on maintaining your good judgment throughout and never forgetting where to place your reliance. God Bless.


06/09/2009 17:29
Thanks for the report
I am thinking of hitting up Quandry this weekend. Looks like there is enough snow to hit the Coulior? Was it pretty stable?
Is the top pretty steep and technical?


quandry looks good
11/30/2010 17:28
thanks Gene - old guy indeed
yes I used good judgement and realized my lack of snow climb experience instead of just tredging on
I felt His guidance the whole way up... and down

dave - the snow on quandry was good, I didn't get to the top but it looked like the slope lessened in a few pitches, a little steeper near top. Mike had a good climb to the summit
should be a good go,cristo is a nice climb without too many people on it (2.5 versus main route 6 mile hike)
I saw 10 hungry mountain goats and spoke with 4 nice people!


One of the guys you met from Houston says hello.
06/11/2009 02:23
Congratulations on making it to the top! We saw the storm coming and wanted to make sure you were prepared for anything and everything because we knew it was on its way. Glad you survived the blizzards. We had several white outs on the way down ahead of you and were thinking of you each time. Great description of the conditions June 7. Great climb, beautiful views. One of us is at the same Geology conference this week in Denver. Last name is Flint. Best Wishes.

Louisiana Paige

Louisiana Couple says thanks for the advice
06/11/2009 06:40
Hey audiotom, thanks for the great advice. This was our first attempt at a 14er. We got a late start, and the climb was tough, especially on my wife. As tough as it was, I made the decision to turn back considering your advice, the weather, time of day and our lack of experience. If I had been by myself or with another guy, I would have probably pushed on to the summit. I was extremely proud of how well my wife did, considering all of the challenges for our first climb. Breathing was very tough for her, so I think she did excellent to make it as far as we did. It was a tough decision to turn back, but the right one. On the way down, the conditions at the summit worsened, and my wife said that God had sent us a guardian angel to keep us from doing something stupid and getting stuck in what could have been a dangerous situation. I agreed. Thanks for the good advice. Next time we will start earlier and try to keep a steady pace. Congratulations on reaching the summit. It was nice talking to you.


glad i could help
11/30/2010 17:28
Flint - I only wish I had put my face mask on a minute sooner - you would have been in the steeper section when the storm hit
that was some strong white out where I was

LA Paige - glad I could help. You both did admirably well
and the route got steeper and more snow filled where you were
I've turned back in much less conditions - and should have gotten an earlier start myself. Personally I think if you had treking poles it would have allowed you quicker passage up the mountain - always hard coming from sea level

glad everyone made it down okay

in 3 weeks people will be doing this route in t-shirt and shorts
or purple pimp costume

I will prefer my first big spring climb, much more solitude and you have to come prepared to be challenged


06/12/2009 19:19
Glad you were able to get your summit and everything turn out very well for you!! Congrats!!


What an exciting day!
06/30/2009 20:37
I‘m the other guy from Houston. What a crazy tiring day with all of those snow squalls! Man that trail is STEEP! And it just never lets up! I‘m glad I didn‘t know it was that steep BEFORE I did that hike. I‘m not sure I would have wanted to do it!! Started around 7am and summited by Noon. Got back to the car by 3pm. 8hrs round trip. Pretty good for only having 2 days to acclimate. That was the hardest part, catching my breath! I was attending AAPG too!


flat lander climbing in sept
07/09/2009 23:23
we are from houston and going try and bag quandary and maybe evans. any good advice fo us. this will be our first. thanks

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