Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Beautiful Winter Climb of Quandary Peak

Quandary Peak is one of the most climbed of Colorado's 14000 foot peaks.  It is a relatively short hike and fairly easy as far as 14ers go.  It also has very easy access with its trailhead just off of paved Colorado highway 9 close to the town of Breckenridge.  It's a popular peak among hikers new to hiking 14ers as well.

I never climbed the peak.  Stories of big crowds deterred me from visiting Quandary.  Drew Petersen, another hiker from Salida that I started talking to climbed the peak several times and spoke quite highly Quandary.  Drew had plans to hike the peak again in the near future.  Since we live pretty close to each other and I never climbed the peak, we decided to climb the peak together. We monitored the forecast and set out on Wednesday, January 7th.  When we arrived at the trailhead it was in the 20s with nearly no wind at the parking lot.  It was a beautiful clear bluebird day.

Quandary has relatively gentle slopes and is typically safe from avalanches in the winter on its East Ridge route.  This makes it a popular 14er for winter climbs as well.  Because of its popularity, the parking lot already had quite a few cars for a Wednesday in January.

From the trailhead, the trail was very nicely packed from the hiking traffic.  Almost immediately we put on microspikes and used them the entire trip.  We had the trail to ourselves as we traveled through the woods on the lower reaches of the route.  As we broke out to the trees for good we could see quite a few groups climbing ahead of us.  Even on the lower reaches of the hike there are plenty of views from several clearings. We reached  treeline quickly and the views are pretty much continuous the rest of the climb.

Looking back toward Hoosier Ridge
The trail was well-packed
Looking toward North Star Mountain early in the hike
The summit poking out above the trees
The route passing through a meadow before treeline
Drew climbing a lower slope
View toward Grays and Torreys
Before climbing above treeline, we stopped to add a layer since the wind was picking up with elevation.  Almost immediately we began passing other hikers.  There were a decent number of hikers along the way.  By the time we reached the main ridge to the summit we passed every group climbing that day.  Only one other climber that already summited passed us on skis as he descended.

North Star Mountain
Catching up to other hikers above treeline
Looking ahead to Quandary
I think this looking at Wheeler Mountain
Pacific Peak
Before we made our way up the last 1000 feet to the summit along the ridge we stopped to add our shells and goggles.  The wind was stronger along the ridge above 13000 feet.  I took the lead and made it to the summit about 15 minutes before Drew and had the top to myself until he caught up.  I had a snack and drink while taking in the views at 14265 feet.  The summit was a little chilly with gusts maybe reaching 30MPH and a temperature probably in the teens.

Quandary's East Ridge
Drew making his way up the ridge
The scenery started early on this hike and the summit views are beautiful.  The 14ers of Lincoln, Democrat, and Bross are just a few miles to the south.  The northern Sawatch 14ers area are prominent to the west as well as the Elk Range's high summits.  The front range 14ers of Gray and Torreys seem very close and Pike's Peak dominates the skyline toward Colorado Springs.  The Sangres are even visible far to the south.

Looking west from summit
Looking east
Looking north
Sawatch Range beyond the West Ridge
Sawatch close up

Decalibron 14ers over North Star
Looking down the West Ridge
Tomcat on the summit
We descended quickly making great time.  Along the way we passed quite a few people.  The views are just as good heading down as they are climbing.  Before entering the woods for good, there were a few places where the snow started to soften but never bad enough to put on our snowshoes.  We used microspikes the entire trip with no issues although most were using snowshoes or skinning.

Descending back down the ridge
The view northeast as we descended
 It seems a lot of people that climb 14ers in Colorado grow tired of hearing about Quandary climbs.  It is a fairly easy peak among the 14ers and gets quite busy.  I can't speak for the trip in summer, but in winter this is a beautiful trip,  As far as winter hikes go, this one is a great bang for the buck.  Starting at nearly 11000 feet, there is minimum time below treeline, and the views are big.  The entire trip is around 7 miles and getting to the trailhead is easy.  Seeing the endless views of snow covered mountains from the summit was well worth the trip even if having Quandary to yourself is rare.  This was the most people I have seen on any hike since I moved to Colorado.  I was lucky to have the summit to myself for about 15 minutes even with quite a few others climbing that day.

Line of hikers heading up as we descended
I did this hike with Drew Petersen.  This is the first time I hiked with Drew.  In fact since I moved to Colorado in June I have hiked, mountain biked, and cross country skied more than twenty times and each trip was solo so this is my first trip in Colorado that I wasn't solo.  Even though he is nearly twenty years my senior he kept up with me and passed the entire crowd of other hikers on the climb.  He traveled over 1600 miles last year  in the mountains by foot so he's in great condition.  I'll be sure to join Drew on future trips in the mountains.

Another shot of  Tomcat on the summit


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