Peak(s):  Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  01/12/2010
Date Climbed:   01/10/2010
Author:  mtngoat
 Quandary Winter Climb  

Thanks to some lucky scheduling and and a weekend promising good weather I was able to join a large group on a January climb of Quandary. I have climbed Quandary many times before but never in the winter so I decided to pack the AT gear (still in downhill boots) and perhaps get a summit descent as well.

The Denver based group met at the dinosaur lots on the west side of town and after some relaxing get to know you conversation and some car shuffling we set off at about 5:45am. The group loosely reconvened at the trailhead at about 7:30 and we all proceeded to put on our gear. I made the mistake of exiting the car in my Crocs and walking off trail to relieve my coffee filled bladder, which promptly led to snow covered socks. I spent a few extra minutes with my feet under the heater to warm and dry my socks. No sense in starting out with cold feet.

The peak shined in the distance as it caught the first rays of sunlight. The wind was exceptionally calm and the temps I would imagine hovered around 0 plus or minus a few degrees in the early dawn stillness. With the majority of the group assembled I headed out at about 8a.

I knew the start of the trail was steep and since I still had my alpine boots (hopefully soon to purchase some AT boots) I knew traction with the slick plastic bottoms would be an issue so I opted for skins unless I had to switch back over. Luckily the trail was fairly well snow covered and I only had to gingerly place my skis across a few rocks in the beginning switchbacks.
I was making a slightly slower pace than most of the other group but then again I was carrying an extra 20# on my feet and av gear on my back. As most of the people in the group could attest, I had about 3-4lbs worth of extra clothing I did not need. My microfleece was peeled off by the time I reached the summer trailhead and dangled from the external pack straps just in case the wind picked up when we got to treeline.

I occasionally met up with some of the other group as the trail started to flatten in spots where I could get a little kick and glide out of my skis. The trail was pretty packed down except for the steeper sections where people had been kicking steps. With my skins on I often opted to ascend slightly off trail to get more consistent contact with the snow.

I hit treeline at about 9:45. I was not making record time that was for sure but I was comfortable with my progress. I still felt confident I could make the summit by noon if I kept this pace up. Above treeline there were a few sparse pockets of bristlecone pine and I dropped my pack to take a quick rest and apply some sunscreen. I was extremely glad I brought it as the sun was backing the left side and the back of my head and neck. I had been switching between might lightweight smartwool skull liner (a must for anyone who is folically challenged) and coverless but with a bald head, I figured I would apply the sunscreen and make sure to keep my head covered. I soaked in the views of North Star, Lincoln, Bross and Sherman off in the distance.

I remounted my skis and hoisted my pack after enjoying a few FRS Energy blocks...which had surprisingly little energy. I should have just brought Starburst or something with some quick sugar. The snow cover was starting to get thin and I had to pick my route and carefully place my skis in some spots. I could see the main group above me cresting the shoulder and saw a few dots already near the summit.


I continued the 50m, rest, 50m, rest pattern for a while until I reached the crest of the bench at 13,150 and decided to have lunch. It was 11:15 and my pace had predictably slowed. I still felt good but the snow was getting spottier and spottier. I had decided shortly before reaching the high point on the ridge that I would ditch my skis and continue up the final pitch without them since skiing back down did not look like a good idea. I was not sure about the stability of the snow on the NE face and did not want to chance it. It any event the snow had turned into pure windpack and crust so even if it was stable, it would be survival turns on crust at best.

I sat with a few others at the high point and enjoyed my almond butter and honey sandwich. I think I need to add some granola for a little added crunch and energy - next time. I sat on my pack and closed my eyes as the sun warmed my face. There was still not a breath of wind and all I could do was appreciate the moment of being above treeline and in the presence of such pure air. I looked at the sky and it was a deep blue pretty much every where. Some whispy clouds phantomed the eastern skyline and directly above the sky darkened to almost purple or black. I could not help but strain my eyes to discern the stars beyond the atmosphere but none appeared. It did look like I was peering into the vacuum of space though with the deepness of the sky above.

A peregrine falcon rose and fell on the thermals further down the East Ridge and I decided that my day was complete. The trek up to the summit would be slick and difficult with alpine boots and the trip down would be treacherous at best. The summit ascent and decent will wait for better snow cover and more stable snow in the Spring perhaps and I will just enjoy the day for what it is.

The others on the ridge decided the same for themselves and headed down at about the same time as I did. The ski down was uninspiring and required some side skidding in many places up high since there was not room for turns. A few spots required some side steps through rocks but once at the far eastern end of the ridge, there were a few spots that allowed some turns. None of which were executed gracefully with the wind buff and scaling in places. I was able to get a couple powder turns right as the trail rejoined treeline but there were only two real opportunities for that.

Once in the trees it turned into trail plowing and speed management. At one point I intersected one of the cross roads that cuts across the trail. There were some ski tracks on it and it seemed to lead reasonably downhill. I estimated it would rejoin the Blue Lakes road if I followed it. After about 100 yards it choked down to cross country ski tracks that were meandering up and down small rollers. I ended up putting my skins back on and bushwacking for a more direct route down to the TH.

After a few minutes I rejoined the main trail and kept my skins on for the remainder of the descent. I popped back out at the TH and kick-glided back to the car. A few people had beat me down as a result of my bushwacking detour. And we all commented on what a great day it was and how perfect the weather had been for the trip. I was glad to have been out and felt refreshed from a nice climb, expedient descent, and fresh mountain air. I need to ski it with someone experienced to figure out the best route back down so perhaps Quandary will go on my Spring skiing list as well.

See you all on the mountain!

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 Comments or Questions

01/12/2010 21:34
the peak that never sleeps!

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