Peak(s):  Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  04/23/2011
Modified:  05/04/2011
Date Climbed:   04/17/2011
Author:  nomadelmundo
 My Frozen Dozen [ Quandary Peak ] East std ski report   

It's been way to long since my last climb, and I've been itching to climb another 14er since last summer. In the meantime, I have acquired enough gear to do a winter ascent. But the key was still to find a climbing buddy in the a winter ascent. So, back in January a buddy of mine from work, "D" expressed interest to ski down the Couloir when the condition is right. I had no idea what the hell a "Couloir" was and had no desire to carry all that weight to a summit and ski down, but he convinced me that all the weight was worth it to be able ski down in a few minutes. This will be my 12th 14er.

So after final preparations, including paying an arm and leg for avalanche probe, nothing but an overpriced tent pole, we finally reassured our wives and headed out on Saturday night from Colorado Springs to make an early start for an ascent on April 17, 2011 of Quandary.

We got on the road ~ 830pm and made it to the start of the TH just before 11pm. My truck was the 1st one! Good thing, because the road leading to the TH is completely blocked by a 2 foot wall of snow, and looked like there were only 2 spots to park in such a way not to block access to the TH for emergency vehicles.


After I pitched my tent on packed snow, I noticed the moon was no longer visible with overcast but it wasn't windy and temperature was not even below freezing. Between my 3 season tent making whistles and Maximus (the huksy) whimpering throughout the night, I woke up a dozen times and manged to catch some good sleep. D slept in the cargo bay of my 4Runner, I hope he had a better night of sleep.


D woke me up at 5am, at least I think it's 5am because that's what the cell phone alarm was set to. Soon, we heard a truck with a father / son / chocolate lab combo pull up to last parking spot. Apparently they left Denver @ 3am. I made some hot oat meal for us using my trusted MSR stove and we got on the trail just before 6am. In haste, the mouth piece of my camel back came undone and it vanished in the snow. D initially planned on skinning up the whole way, but after only a few hundred feet, he took off his skis and joined me in carrying our skis on our back, except I also had my ski boots in my backpack.


We quickly got to the TH, felt like it was much shorter than a mile from the parking spot, and the trail takes a rapid ascent from the left of the main road.


The snow in the tree line was well packed and frozen, only few icy spots, so no snowshoes or crampons were necessary, and soon we both got sweaty as the sun is started to peak through


It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day during sunrise, very little wind. We were excited and trekked on. I reminded D to hydrate.


We made to the tree line ~ 7am and I thought, wow, we are making awesome time. But then I look ahead and above, it's nothing but a straight incline in packed snow. So we march and dig in our toes as we take our every step.


D was taking the point by now on full time basis. I was really impressed that he was able to hike in a ski boot. But I now am hating my 45lb + of load on my shoulders. We make our first pit stop @ 730am. I find it difficult getting any more water out of my 2L bladder... I figure it must be slightly frozen and it will thaw out as we ascent.


We were in great spirits, and take few photos. Max hates it when he is levitated into the thin air.


As we journey towards the east ridge, I notice D out pacing me further and further.. and I am thirstier and thirstier.. and damn it, I still can't get water out of the hose, it must be the mouth piece!?


The sun feels nice on the back, but looking ahead is not comforting. It's just more and more of snow and the peak is no where in sight. It is now 8 am. I am beginning to feel the burden of the weight of my backpack, feeling that 90% of the weight seems to be on my right shoulder... it beginning to hurt.

I am thankful for our second pit stop around 850am, looking ahead there seems to be 2 more humps to conquer before the summit. Unfortunately my water is still not flowing despite the sun's thawing affect... I realize I maybe going up without H2O! And now the wind has picked up and we don on our alpine gears before the chill sets in.

We trek onward, the landscape is beautiful.. well at least behind us. Where we are going looks like Armageddon, maybe it's for the best ...

I now feel light headed, did I not get enough sleep or am I dehydrated? I am still too ashamed to ask D for his water and he seems to get further and further... I am trailing behind... I never trail behind!

Soon it becomes zero visibility near 13,000 feet ~ 920am. My pace became pathetically slow, taking breaks after every 10-15 steps. A crazy voice echoed in my head, "I can't make it... what the hell am I doing out here... I am gonna die!..." Finally I begged for water, and D generously gave up his supply.. I drank so quickly, I choked and almost drowned from water of life... I felt refreshed, but it did not last long... the weight of the backpack now feels like 90 lbs ... the pain is excruciating on the right shoulder and i am too stubborn to readjust my backpack in the piercing wind

I was now resting every 5 steps... the father/son/chocolate lab combo now passes me... all I could think, poor D, having to wait for my pathetic ass, otherwise he would've summit it by now...

Finally a young couple also cathes up to me, and the guy mentions that we are at now 14,000 feet and there's only 200 feet more 'til the summit. But all I could see was endless incline on a glacier of hell! I finally reach my own quandary: Do I gain the or me it has the summit rather than trying to die carrying all that gear up there and possibly not make it at all? I ditch my backpack by a cairn. And see my dog running down to see why I have stopped ... again.

We march again. Max of course had no problem, staying now close to me rather than taking the point to make sure that I am remai with the pack. His inner-layer fluffs up like a down-coat in the piercing horizontal blizzard, looking more like a sheep than a wolf, and I wonder how his paws are not frozen yet?


We make summit at 1130am! I think the last 1000 feet took me over 2 hours to crawl up! Nevertheless, the view was awesome despite near blizzard conditions at the summit... we snack up... well, actually, I also forgot all my food in the truch, so D had to give up his snack and that blue Gatorade tasted like heaven juice...

On my way down to 14,000 feet to find my backpack, a dozen skiers/borders make their gruesome homage towards the summit. I do not envy them and wish them luck...

I had originally thought that skiing down would be awesome, consider it's only a ~ 3 mile one way up and I figured it would take no more than 30 minutes to ski down. Wrong! D could've done it, but not a suck-ass like myself. Now with legs feeling like rubber. The icy slopes frozen harder by the freezing wind and the poor visibility did not help either. I fall down every 200 feet. But it was still quicker than hiking down. My shoulder did thank me but my legs eventually gave out just before reaching back to the TH.

We arrive at the truck ~ 145 pm. Earlier than I thought. I told D that he had saved my life up there, and that I'll call him next year if I ever wanted to do another climb & ski combo (we had talked about doing Sherman perhaps in a few weeks, but that was before this brutal torture). Today was insane. But I would not have done anything differently, except maybe fill my camel pack full of water next time! After getting home, I took the bladder out of the backpack and it was completely dry. I know I did not drink 2 liters in the 1st 2 hours of the hike. I think I had forgotten to fill it all the way up prior to climbing! But hey, I had my avalanche probe, that's gotta count for something, right?! Well, I am very thankful for D being an awesome wing man!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Camelhyde
04/23/2011 14:42
If I were you I would ditch the camelbak completely, at least until temperatures/weather patterns become more steady as we enter the spring and summer months. I too had to learn this lesson the hard way a few years back. Now I carry nothing but Nalgene bottles with insulators or Platypus that can be kept warm with the mouth piece inside of my jacket somewhere.

Just winds up as extra-dead weight if it can't be used.


04/23/2011 21:08
On ditching the Camelbak in the colder months...

Also, 45 lbs for a dayhike up Quandary -- why so much stuff? If your pack's so heavy you have to set it down it doesn't matter how much stuff you brought... and getting separated from your pack in winter conditions is sketchy at best.

Good work persevering through a tough day and getting the summit though.


04/24/2011 01:07
the camelback is extra insulated for winter conditions... it would've worked fine if i had actually put water in it
45 lbs+ was mainly the ski boots & skis... yeah that's pretty much it and for some extra layer of clothing, and suppose to have 2 liters of water... but let's not dwell on that anymore


Give yourself Credit!
04/24/2011 17:59
I'm the guy from the young couple you had mentioned, and climbing Quandary Peak last Sunday was definitely challenging. The wind and snow gusts were enough to kill anyone's morale, so don't be too hard on yourself.

During winter climbs, I only utilize incompressible nalgene bottles with wide lids. Storing them in the middle of your pack assures that the water wont freeze in typical winter weather conditions at altitude. Even if your hose is's still narrow and more likely to freeze. If the hose is frozen, you won't be drinking. Please please please make sure you have enough water and food on the next trip, and never get separated from your pack during your trip. In those winds, it doesn't take much for a pack to blow down the slope. People die every year from getting separated from their supplies.

Don't give up on that Sherman idea...I think if you climb like you did on Quandary and keep yourself'll have an easier time summiting.



04/24/2011 19:14
Congrats on your summit. But as zdero1 said, you'll be doing yourself and future partners a huge favor by being a little more prepared. There are a lot of debatable items to carry up a mountain, but a surplus of food and water aren't among them.

The winds in the mountains this winter/spring have been absolutely brutal. Looks like you had similar conditions to when I did Quandary in January; makes an easy mountain a huge pain.

p.s. awesome dog!


04/24/2011 19:34
yeah, the wind up there was not a level 1 exposure! ...felt like I was back on Shavano & Tabe again! I remember back 10 years ago when I hauled up 60lbs of crap on my back up to Machu Pichu, at the 1st summit ~ 13,500 feet, my color vision temporarily went off-line... guess I need to buy some lighter ski equipment and no doubt do more P90X leg workout.. yes, Max is awesome hiking buddy, he has 11 14er under his belt now ! 8)


great report
05/05/2011 01:59
thanks for a very thorough report and pics. Been considering heading up there in a couple weeks; with all the snow this spring it seems like it'd still be a 'winter ascent' and these pics are really helpful; having never been up there in the winter. Any thoughts on if just crampons are fine, or would I do well to have snowshoes on my pack? Thanks for any input anyone has.


krampons or no krampons?
05/05/2011 04:03
bring snowshoes and start early before snow becomes slushy... if not even with very wide snow shoes below the tree lines you might still be sinking.... no krampons necessary ... only few icy spots which you can circumnavigate around... good poles and ice axe for balance strongly recommended... have fun!


much obliged
05/06/2011 02:46
That's very helpful, thank you!


Quandry ski
04/29/2012 14:02
You mention paying an arm and a leg for a probe?? Did you have a beacon and a shovel? It sounds like you need to invest in an Avy 1 class, and some better ski skills. you shouldn't be falling all over the place in the back country. an AT Ski set up and a full avy kit ( that you know how to use ) and learning how to read a snow pack, will make your life easier if not save you life...

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