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Quandary Peak
Elevation: 14,265 feet
Climbed: Aug 13, 2005; Jun 1, 2008; Mar 1, 2009; Apr 25, 2009; Dec 20, 2009; Jun 12, 2010; Feb 13, 2011
Mountain Range: Tenmile Range
Colorado Rank: 12th
Class Rating: 1
Latitude: 39.397200
Longitude: -106.106000

Trip Report

Feb 13, 2011
This was a snowy climb on a warm day, at least by February standards. It was windy at times, especially at the top, but often calm, too.

Jun 12, 2010
Wild Mike made the trip out from St. Louis, MO, for this climb of Quandary Peak's East Ridge route. He had arrived only the day before, so his elevation gain over a 24-hour period was approximately 13,565 feet.

Extremely strong winds and blowing graupel on the upper East Ridge created brutal conditions. Frozen precipitation stung our eyes and made the climb feel almost like a (mild) winter climb. The temperature was below average for June 12 and the high wind made it seem even colder. Much of the talus on the upper ridge was coated with a thin layer of ice.

Two climbers we met on the trail accompanied us to the summit and down again. Nicole was on a training hike preparing for a Kilimanjaro summit attempt two weeks later. Nicole's friend, Julie, was climbing with her. Both were determined and worthy climbing partners.

After enduring the blast-driven graupel on the upper ridge, we reached the snow-covered summit together. We snapped a few summit photos and then quickly left the summit for our descent.

Limited visibility made the descent very interesting, especially when we lost the trail coming off a snow field on the east ridge. As I traversed left looking for signs of the trail, I soon noticed that I had lost visibility to the rest of the party. I retraced my steps and soon saw the group of three appear as apparitions from the swirling mist.

After a brief discussion on how best to find the trail, we headed off the ridge, bearing to the right, hoping to intersect the trail. Very shortly, we found the well-defined trail and resumed our descent toward the stillness of treeline. It was not long before we were back at the trailhead, damp but unscathed.

On a still, sunny day, I expect that this climb would not have stood out from many of the others. However, the weather became an unlikely ally in this adventure, creating conditions that tested our willingness to endure all the mountain had to offer. All in all, this was my most exciting and memorable climb of Quandary Peak!

Dec 20, 2009
Wind, wind and more wind on the mid- and upper-East Ridge of Quandary! I was knocked down several times near the summit. It was next to impossible to even take off my pack, since it was ready to become airborne.

I almost lost my snowshoes when they became detached from my pack and went flying. One was driven length-wise into the snow just before it went flying off the East Ridge. Finding the other required a short re-ascent up the summit ridge against the battering wind.

My goggles were fogging/icing up on one side, so I took them off for a minute. The goggles were ripped from my hand and went on a long, wind-driven ride down the talus-laced snow slope. Then I couldn't see them any more. I continued down the slope hoping to spot them. After not seeming them for quite a while, I assumed they were gone for good. Then I saw them in the air again, blowing across the rocks. I was eventually able to track down and retrieve the goggles, but not before they received a good battering against the rocks. The lens was pretty scratched up by the time I got my hands on them again.

All in all, it was a battle to gain the summit and just as much of a battle to get down.

The punishing wind continued as I descended the upper pitch of the East Ridge and did not let up until I had crossed the flatter section above the lower pitch.

It was pretty dark as I descended the lower pitch without a headlamp and completely dark as I reached the bottom of the pitch. I finally took time to retrieve my headlamp from my pack. The final descent into the forest was made possible by following tracks down the snow slope. New snow would have obscured the tracks and made the route hard to follow.

After reaching the forest, the trail was very easy to follow with the light from my headlamp. The howling wind which had literally knocked me to the ground several times near the summit had given way to complete stillness as I trudged through the dark, snowy forest.

Mar 1, 2009
I followed the East Ridge route, which is the standard Class 1 route on Quandary Peak.

This route in winter took a couple of extra hours compared to my summer 2005 summit time. There was snow all the way from the trailhead to the summit.

I put on my snowshoes for the ridge climb above treeline. My MSR Denali Evo Ascent snowshoes have a metal heel lifter that comes in handy when climbing steep grades. I used the shoes more for traction and the heel lifter than for floatation.

Jun 1, 2008
Looking for a snow climb as a warm up to start my climbing season, I chose the South Gully, a.k.a Cristo Couloir, on Quandary Peak. Plus, I needed some more time on snow to work on my limited skills with crampons and ice axe.

The road to Blue Lakes had large snow fields covering part of the road about 1/3 to 1/2 mile below the dam at the upper Blue Lake, which is where the climb would start. Arriving well after dark the night before I climbed, I turned around at the snow blockage and parked along a wide section of road next to the lower Blue Lake. I spent the night in my vehicle.

I started hiking up the road a bit before 6 AM the next morning. I didn't cross the dam, opting instead to don my crampons and begin climbing a snow field just below the dam. This snowfield led me to the Cristo Couloir.

The couloir still had a lot of snow in it, which was firm in the morning, but soft by mid-morning. I spent too much time in the couloir dealing with new boot issues, i.e. adjusting laces and putting moleskin on my heals. Each minute lost allowed the sun to rise higher, warming the snow surface. The firm snow was much more pleasant than the softer stuff that came later in the ascent.

The couloir is moderately steep, with the upper section being the steepest. I watched a couple of climbers descending; one of them was descending facing in, planting her ice axe in the stake position and backing her way down the slope. The other climber just plunge-stepped down the slope.

I reached the summit to find nice weather. It was a bit breezy on top, but nothing major. Several skiers had skinned up the East Ridge route and were planning to descend the Cristo Couloir. Expert skiing skills are necessary for this couloir. A fall would probably take you all the way down the couloir, unless your fall was stopped by rocks.

I took time to eat some food and drink some water on the summit. The weather was not a factor, so I did not need to rush.

I started my descent in crampons, but took them off after I passed the steepest sections. Still, the glissading was pretty crazy at that point. It was very difficult to keep things under control due to the soft, fast snow. As I would see rocks in the runout zone below me, I would stop and traverse across the slope until I found a line with a safer runout. It was really a bit steep for a controlled glissade at first, but eventually the slope relented and I was able to glissade full-out.

My route down the couloir took me near upper Blue Lake, so after traversing a couple smaller snow fields, I reached the dam. After crossing part way across the dam, I took a shortcut down a short snowfield, then trudged down the road for 1/2 mile or less to reach my vehicle.

Though the Cristo Couloir was only about 1 mile long, it made me work really hard. It was a short, steep ascent on a warm first day of June.

Aug 13, 2005
Quandary Peak was on my "short list" the day I climbed Mount Sherman in 2004. I chose Sherman over Quandary on that day because it had snowed recently and Sherman appeared less snowy than the peaks further north. Instead, Quandary Peak became my first summit attempt of 2005.

After going to sleep around 11:30 PM the night before, my alarm woke me at 4:30 AM on Saturday morning, August 13, 2005. I finished gathering up my stuff, packed a lunch, filled my water bottles, and left the house around 5:30 AM.

It was somewhat foggy and overcast as I left Colorado Springs, with an uncertain weather forecast for the day. I drove west on Highway 24 up Ute Pass toward Hartsel. By the time I reached Wilkerson Pass, the skies to the west were sunny and blue. I descended Wilkerson Pass into South Park, turning north just past Hartsel onto Highway 9.

The mountains to the north were clearly visible as I drove toward Fairplay. Mount Sherman, with its indistinct summit, rose straight ahead. Gemini Peak, just north of Sherman at 13,951 feet, helped me pinpoint Sherman. Northeast of Sherman were several more 14ers. Quandary Peak would have been nestled somewhere in that cluster of peaks, but I'm not sure if it was visible from that vantage point. It could have been blocked from view by Mounts Bross or Lincoln.

Reaching Fairplay, I drove north and passed the town of Alma, then drove up and over Hoosier Pass. As the highway began to flatten out after descending the north side of Hoosier Pass, the road turned sharply to the right. Just 200 yards or so beyond the tight bend, I turned left onto Summit County 850, then almost immediately turned right onto Summit County 851. The trailhead was just a quarter-mile or so up the road.

The trailhead location didn't match the description I was following from Gerry Roach's book, "Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs, Second Edition." I was looking for the Monte Cristo trailhead, which, as it turned out, had been relocated. The lower section of the trail had also been rerouted. Since both the old and new trailheads were accessible from SC850 and since the new trailhead was clearly marked with road signs, it was easy to find.

I soon saw quite a few vehicles parked along the road, so I guessed that the trailhead was near. I pulled to the right and parked along the road, as well. I had yet to actually see the trailhead, but it turned out to be only 150 yards or so up the road.

By 8:10 AM, I had left the truck behind and was hiking up the road. The trailhead signs and parking area appeared on the right side of the road, while the trailhead was directly across the road on the left.

The trail was easy to follow and enjoyable. The dirt trail twisted and turned through the trees, climbing at a reasonable rate. It really wasn't a very strenuous trail and the time passed quickly.

I saw very few people on the lower stretches of the trail. However, as I climbed higher, I began to encounter and pass several groups of hikers. It turned out that there were a lot of people on the mountain that day, although many had started earlier that I had.

As I neared treeline, the view to the east opened up and I could look down upon Highway 9 and Summit County 850, near the trailhead. The trail also changed from packed dirt to rocky talus, although the trail remained very well-defined and easy to follow.

The Monte Cristo Creek ran through the valley to the south, filling the twin Blue Lakes reservoirs. South of the creek rose the steep north face of North Star Mountain. The head of the valley was filled by the tall, rounded dome of Wheeler Mountain.

As I broke out onto the rocky slopes above timberline, I was meeting and passing more and more groups of climbers. In fact, the procession of climbers on the East Ridge of Quandary reminded me of the photos I've seen of Chilkoot Pass during the Klondike gold rush of the late 1890s.

The trail offered a slight reprieve just below 13,000 feet, when the steady climb flattened out for a bit. Soon, however, the steady climb resumed. From 13,500 feet to the summit, as usual, my effort increased and my pace slowed. I reached the summit at 11:16 AM.

The summit was a busy and popular place that day. I didn't count, but I would guess at least 25 people were on the summit at one time. Since Quandary's summit can be reached via a relatively easy Class 1 trail and it is close to many Front Range cities, it draws a lot of hikers. Other than Pikes Peak, Quandary had more summit and trail activity than any of the other mountains I'd climbed to that point in time.

I spent about 35 minutes on top, enjoying the vista of surrounding peaks, eating my lunch, and taking a few photographs. Mounts Lincoln, Democrat, and Bross appeared very close to the south of Quandary, though Lincoln and Bross took turns disappearing in the clouds. Noticing a significant build-up of potential thunderheads in a short amount of time, I left the summit at 11:52 AM and headed down.

Even though the trail was not difficult, my legs began to feel kind of rubbery during the top section of the descent. On top of that, I wasn't feeling quite right. It was nothing significant, but something wasn't clicking. Still, the descent went well, and by the time I neared treeline, I was feeling better.

Clouds persisted during the descent, but the weather never appeared particularly threatening. I had already reached treeline before I heard some distant thunder. I took time to change into a fresh pair of socks to address some foot discomfort, which seemed to put renewed energy back into my stride.

I reached the trailhead, and then my truck, at about 2:15 PM. Chilling out in the back of my pickup, looking up at the trees and sky, I soon felt a slight mist on my face. It was time to start driving, so I hopped into the cab for the drive back to Colorado Springs.

The weather had cooperated perfectly. While my hike up the mountain had been sunny and bright, and the descent cloudy and pleasant, the drive up and over Hoosier Pass was wet. The rain started in earnest. By the time I reached Highway 24 and Wilkerson Pass, the mountains were cloaked in gray rain clouds.


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