Peak(s):  Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  03/07/2011
Modified:  03/08/2011
Date Climbed:   03/05/2011
Author:  spetrova

 Quandary Peak - East Ridge - 1st winter hike  

So, this was our first winter hike to 14er with my grown-up kids and my 3d one (after climbing Mt. Elbert and Mt.Beirstadt), and the Quandary turned out to be a real quandary.

The reasoning to choose a peak for winter hike was very simple - Quandary Peak is considered an easy hike, but, as turned out, not always easy in the winter. I think the mistake was that I underestimated that it is still a pretty good elevation gain and it is a pretty steep stretch in the last quarter to the very summit. If without winter conditions it could be an easy climb, with snow and harsh cold winds it turned out to be quite difficult. Now I know - I would have chosen Mt. Sherman instead for winter hike - I considered this one as a 2d choice if anything wrong with the weather and we cannot climb Quandary. Also, I thought and read that in winter with snow on the ground it has to be easier to hike, provided you use snowshoes, since the ground is leveled very well and there are no much exposed rocks to stumble upon.

Anyway, the decision for this hike was made a long while ago, we had plenty of time preparing with gear for it - snowshoes became even a holiday gift for some of us. . Image
View from the lodge - night before the ascent

When we left Skier's Edge Lodge (very nice inn just 2 miles from the trail head) around 6:35am, and it was already -3F outside (hm, what should we expect up there? -35F?). We were well prepared with warm layers of clothes, hats and mittens, warmers in the shoes, and had snowshoes ready as well. Snowshoes is the must on that trail - we saw deep holes on the trail where people fell through the snow - for someone - not quite tall - it could be almost up to the waist!

We started at the trail head some time around 7:30am. The begging of the trail was covered with well packed snow. Soon within the treeline it was wise to put the snowshoes on. I was watching people carrying them and not wearing them and was wondering - why? The snowshoes make hike so much easier and take less effort to walk over the snow. Image
beautiful promissing morning
kids taking a break
my first snowshoeing experience

It started with a pretty nice clear shining morning, which really didn't last too long, and eventually turned out to be a cloudy day with winds blowing snow into our faces once we were far away from the treeline, in the open.

We also learned from our trip to Mt. Bierstadt (which was on Columbus Day with snow storm coming up) that keeping water from freezing is very important, and this time we didn't even think about camel backs, we simply picked Nalgene bottles with water and put them into bottle parkas - and that saved us. I picked this tip from some experienced winter hiker.

So, while it was pretty easy to hike up till 13,000ft, the cold and wind blasts were taking strength away, and it was becoming more and more difficult to keep the pace. I guess with winds, temperatures up there were over -35F! Image
Katya is climbing up - the steep ascent begins

I was counting steps, after each 10-15 stopped and frequently inhaled to keep up steady breathing, tried to look down on the path, and simply keep walking without looking up very often to check out how far is the summit - it is easier to set and reach a small goal and set yourself to the next one - eventually, you would end up where you need to be. So in such manner, the false summit was reached and there was a last final stretch to the real one. The amazing part was when ascending in such way, I found myself finally on the flat surface of the summit (even forgot to look at the watch when I was right there - but it was around 1:00pm, as was figured later on). People on their descend warned me about brutal winds on the summit - and I was met with the gusts. Already exhausted, I said loudly to the mountain - "OK-OK, I see you don't want us here today!" At some gusts I had to almost get down to my knees to avoid being blown away, waited a little till I could get closer to the rocks and have some protection. The registry tube was broken - winds did that? - I wonder. Image
broken registry tube on the summit
pretty flat at the summit

I waited for a while, took a couple of pictures and headed to start descending. 4-5 people were still on their way up to the summit - some with skis and snowboard. I wished I could do that to have a quicker descent myself. Image
taking picture of myself
descending - people coming up on skis to have a quicker descent
descending - more people still ascending/descending
views from the summit - winds blowing on other peaks

With that steepness and muscles already tired, descending was quite difficult - almost at the same pace as walking up. Once I passed that part and it went much quicker - over the boulder field, down the ridge till finally reaching the treeline. Met a nice couple on the way down to hear the words of encouragement. And finally, I was so relieved when one of my kids came to meet me 3 miles away from the trail head, greeting with hot tea in thermos and taking my backpack off my shoulders. We got back to the car around 3:50pm. Image
a couple of more miles back to the trail head - oh, I need this energy now! - from here it does not look too difficult a hike! ;)
Thank you, thank you, Shyam! I love you, guys, regardless anything! Even though you said you don't want any more winter hikes to 14ers. I hope we still will have more hiking any time but winter, and you will have winter for skiing only! Though there are so many other uses for snowshoeing in CO, aren't there?

And yet, overall, it was not as much exertion as I had on Elbert. I only wish we were lucky with weather and had blue shining sky as many other people had with their trips to Quandary! Maybe, some other time, not in winter, ah, kids?! ;)

Here is the link to the album

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