Quandary Peak – February 2011
- Date climbed: February 18, 2011
- Quandary Peak: 14,265 ft.
- Elevation gain: 3,520ft ft.
- Length: 7 miles (round trip)
- Climb difficulty: Easy (Class 1)
Sometimes time in the mountains helps me gain perspective on life, and on this trip I gained more than I expected. Although I’m a pretty confident and driven guy, sometimes life jars me. The week before this trip I went through rejection, loss, and a time of realizing again that I do not know how life works. I think God knew that I needed to get my perspective knocked around, and he was going to use this mountain to help me look life straight in the eye. I tend to get busy – a good excuse to avoid looking myself in the eye – but a day alone on Quandary eliminated that option. There was nothing out there except for the thoughts in my head.
I went to sleep in our Denver hotel at 10pm with my alarm set for 4:45. My alarm hit, and I felt great waking up. I looked at my phone and noticed a text from a 14ers member who I was planning to climb with. He was unable to get gear squared away during the night and couldn’t climb. That meant this trip was going to be both my first winter climb, and my first solo 14ers hike.
My first thought was “whoh, I’m a little inexperienced to do this alone”. But I thought through my preparation (I have very solid gear and trained for this) and remembered the fact that I was climbing a relatively easy mountain that had cell phone reception. If I got in trouble a partner wasn’t going to be able to drag me off this relatively flat trail, he would probably end up calling SAR (Search And Rescue) anyway. Maybe I was only justifying my desire to summit, but it worked in my head.
The trailhead at 7:15 – I’m ready to rock!
I was on the road at 5 and at the trailhead at 7, about 15 minutes after sunrise. After some gear wrangling (I’m still getting used to dealing with winter gear), I was on the trail by 7:15. I noticed a set of skiis going up the trail – a figured I probably was not alone.
The first section of the trail was solid boot pack and very easy hiking. I felt great and began to take off layers. I ended up staying with a 3 layer (base, fleece, shell) system for most of the day.
Very solid boot pack made hiking easy.
Further up the trail 3/4 mile or so the trail got pretty sketchy. There were lots of trails veering off in different directions. Since the only fresh tracks were of the skier in front of me, I followed his tracks. I figured out pretty quickly that he didn’t really know much more than me about trail finding, so I postholed a bit as I neared the tree-line.
Is that the trail? Who knows…
Feeling a bit of altutude at the tree line.
I caught the skier who had gone up ahead of me at the tree-line. It was also his first 14er, and first winter climb. He was doing well but had binding problems. Since I haven’t figured out ski ascents I wasn’t much help (maybe next year!).
Once I broke the tree-line things got much harder packed, and MUCH more windy. I was regularly getting hit with 40mph gusts as I crested the East Ridge. There was no snow falling, although I did get a nice ground blizzard from the wind.
Let the wind begin.
Pano looking east.
As I crawled on top of the ridge things flattened out, and got more windy. There were times I couldn’t see more than a few feet. However the trail was extremely easy to find and I never got off route. I would estimate temperature at 0 degrees and wind gusts up to 55mph. I got knocked off my stance a couple of times and ended up in the snow once. Hopefully I’ll get better at staying upright in high winds.
I could kind of see the summit…
The black plastic over my nose is a “ColdAvenger” system – it warms up the air going into my lungs and really helps reduce my asthma problems.
Looking down the ridge that I just climbed.
The final summit block was significantly steeper than the rest of the ridge. I began to feel the altitude as I struggled up this ridge. Less than 24 hours ago I was sitting at 1,400ft, now I was at 13,500ft. That’s a big change. I hate being winded – I usually associate it with bad cardio training, but I blamed this one on the wind to feel a bit better. But regardless of why, I really huffed and puffed up that final summit ridge.
The last part was a bit steep, but had good trail.
As I pulled onto the summit I felt a rush of joy – I had just climbed my first winter 14er solo and in high wind conditions, and I felt great! I didn’t make the summit as quickly as I had hoped (I summitted at 11:30am, giving me a time of 4:15, slower than the 3:30 planned), but I got to the top with no real issues.
It was good to be on the summit, but it was windy!
Pano looking southeast.
My gear with the summit register.
Summit pano looking east.
Summit pano looking west.
Looking south toward Democrat.
North Star Mountain looms to my south.
What a view!
I spent about 45 minutes on the summit rehydrating, taking pictures, and eating some goo packs and Clif bars. My energy came back quickly and I was able to relax and enjoy the view. I did put on my down layer to add some warmth as my system slowed down, but overall I was very comfortable up there. I looked down the south ridge and wished I had skis to descend the Cristo Couloir. Avalanche conditions were sketchy, so it was good I didn’t have that option.
I also took some time to unscramble my unhappy head. There’s something about looking out across a vast expanse that gives me a lot of peace and perspective. A verse came to my mind up there:
“LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.” – Psalm 8:1
Although I was coming off a painful week, this perspective brought a rush of peace and happiness to my heart in that moment. I’m so thankful for moments like this that help me even my thinking and strengthen my resolve for life.
Views I’ll never forget…
I dropped off the summit at 12:15 or so and rapidly descended the ridge. The wind seemed less strong, although maybe my perception was skewed by the fact I was going down instead of up. A few hundred feet off of the summit I ran into the skier who was still making his way up. He had ditched his skiis and was focused on just getting to the top. I gave him a word of encouragement and continued to descend.
Looking down Cristo Couloir
After dropping below the tree line, I noticed the correct trail path and followed it. This made descending even faster. In what seemed like no time, I was at the trailhead and walking toward the car.
Feels good to be down!
As I approached the car and saw my reflection in the window. I noticed a small black spot on my cheek – what could it be? Those 55mph gusts had crawled behind my google strap and burned my cheek with cold. It was extremely mild frostbite, but the cold had got me none the less. I’m glad it happened – I have a very healthy respect for the cold. Even with good gear you can get in trouble quick with the wind. I’ll keep that in mind for the next climb.
Frost bite so mild I didn’t notice it at first. Peeled off a couple days later.
Overall, Quandary was a great climb. Even in winter the distances were manageable and route finding easy. I would highly recommend this for a first winter 14er. It’s still very important to be in good condition and have solid gear (especially if things get bad), but it’s a reasonable climb that can be made without a lot of prior experience.
Quandary from Highway 9 a few miles from Breck.
After a quick stop at A&W to grab a burger, I cruised back to Denver for an evening to decompress, think about life, and enjoy warmth again. With some new perspective and a great workout, I throughly enjoyed the rest of my weekend. I’m blessed!
Stoked to be finished!