|Me hiking the trail up Quandary, in late June|
|Mountain goat on the trail|
|Baby goat playing near Quandary's summit|
If you hike the peak in the early season, you can even spice up the trip a bit by glissading down the Cristo Couloir instead of hiking back down the trail. Glissading, for those not in the know, involves sliding down a steep snow slope on your butt, using an ice axe as a combination rudder and brake. Quandary's Cristo Couloir is a classic - you can zoom down to the base of the peak in 5 minutes flat, instead of 2 hours' hike on the trail. But the steeper the slope, the more mandatory the ice axe - you must know how to self-arrest safely, or risk slamming into rocks at the snowfield's bottom. (You don't want to miss the arrest & flail like this guy.) An unfortunate number of people in CO have gotten badly hurt or even died while glissading because they don't take it seriously enough.
I speak from quasi-experience here, having had my own "dumbass glissade" moment on Quandary, many years ago when my husband-to-be and I were first hiking together. He'd never glissaded anything steep and was dying to try the Cristo Couloir. We'd spent a day practicing self-arrest techniques on a much less steep snowfield, and I'd dutifully checked the avalanche conditions for Cristo and found the danger was low, so I thought we were set. At Quandary's summit, I gave Robert a last set of safety instructions, speaking from my oh-so-vast experience (a couple years of peak climbing + having completed the Colorado Mountain Club's mountaineering school). He zoomed off down the slope, whooping all the way, until he passed out of sight.
I followed, a bit more cautiously. The top section of the couloir is quite steep and you need to avoid some rocks poking through the snow. I dug my heels into the snow a bit as I slid, thinking to help keep my speed under control. Big mistake! One foot promptly plunged deep into the snow, and momentum kept me sliding right past it. I spun and ended up dangling upside down on the slope on my back. The snow around my trapped foot had set like cement, and I couldn't get my leg free, even chopping at the snow around it with my ice axe. (Nothing like doing a vertical sit-up while wearing a heavy pack and waving an ice axe.)
I wasn't in any serious danger, but talk about embarrassing. There I was, the so-called experienced one, stuck like a bug in a flytrap. Thankfully, after some twenty minutes, another glissader came by and dug me out - and then braced me on the mountainside while my newly-freed leg cramped up with the mother of all agonizing charley horses. I finally got down to the base to find a very anxious Robert about to start snow-climbing back up to look for me. Moral of the story: when glissading, NEVER dig your heels in - bend your knees and skate your feet on top of the snow! And don't get cocky. ;)