Friday, June 7, 2013

Thursday Adventure: Quandary Peak, redux

Last year I did a Thursday Adventure post talking about 14,265 ft Quandary Peak and showing off some pics from a mid-summer ascent.  But Quandary deserves another Thursday Adventure post, because yesterday I had a particularly special visit to the peak: I took long-time blog reader (and book reviewer, SF Signal Mind Meld Curator, and all-around awesome genre commentor) Paul Weimer on his very first attempt at summitting a 14K peak.  Paul lives in Minnesota and this was his first visit to Colorado.  For the last week or so he's been driving around Colorado visiting all manner of parks and wilderness areas, and photographing them (he's a terrific photographer - for a sampling of his Colorado pics, check out his Tumblr account!).  I offered to take him up a 14er, and he was foolish brave enough to accept.  

At the Quandary Peak trailhead: Paul Weimer (right) is ready for the challenge!  On the left is our other hiking companion, my friend and fellow 14er enthusiast Dustin Putnam.
I chose Quandary because it's one of the easiest 14ers to summit.  But as Paul found out, there's no such thing as an "easy" 14er!  Especially in the early season - we had a lot of snow in Colorado in April, and so Quandary's upper slopes currently remain covered in deep, slushy snow.  We had to wear snowshoes to prevent postholing (sinking thigh or waist-deep into the snow).  No big deal, but snowshoes add pounds of weight to your feet, making an ascent an even greater challenge for a novice.  The weather was another source of trepidation at first - yesterday morning dawned cloudy and rainy in Boulder, and I worried the visibility would be nil on the peak.  But thankfully, once we drove through the Eisenhower Tunnel and crossed the Continental Divide, the clouds vanished and the day beyond was beautifully sunny and warm. 

The Quandary trail starts off with a nice gentle ascent through pine forest.  But soon, the pines thin, and the views expand: 

Paul taking a rest break and enjoying the views
Paul with Quandary's east ridge in the background.  (You can't quite see the summit in this picture, as it is blocked by the bulk of the ridge.)

Soon enough, the trail vanished into a snowbank, and it was time to put on gaiters and snowshoes.  In the summer, the trail switchbacks up the ridge, often staying to the south side.  When the ridge is snowcovered, you simply stomp straight up the ridgeline.  Direct, but strenuous.  
At this point, Paul is beginning to curse my name.  (The slope is far steeper than it appears in the pic. And people unacclimated to altitude soon find that the air is very, very thin!)
But look: he's still willing to smile!
The never-ending snow slope to Quandary's "false summit."  (You reach the top of this snow slope and then see the REAL summit looming beyond.)
Paul and I, onward and upward
The real summit at last appears in view: so close, and yet so far!
Valley south of Quandary.  The infamous Cristo Couloir drops straight down from the summit to the mining road at the base of this valley. Glissading or skiing the couloir, you can drop 3000+ feet in 5 minutes.
Approaching the saddle before the final steep slope to the summit.
Paul at the saddle.
Paul was a real trooper, stubbornly trudging onward despite his need for frequent rests to gasp for air.  The weather was perfect, not a thunderstorm in sight, meaning we could stay on the peak much later than is typical for Colorado.  I'd been hoping Paul could reach the summit, but alas, my friend Dustin had family coming into town and needed to get back home before evening fell, so we had to turn around before it grew too late.  (It's always important to remember on a peak: uphill only takes you halfway, you still need the energy and time to safely get back down!)  

Paul and I at our turn-around point.  Paul: "Like Caradhras and the Fellowship of the Ring, the mountain had defeated me."  Me: "Just means you need a rematch."
Dustin and Paul, snowshoes on and ready to descend
On the way down, we did get to do a brief little glissade: the slope wasn't steep enough to need an ice axe for speed control, so trekking poles worked just fine.  (The snow was so soft & slushy it was actually hard to get going!)  

Sequence of Paul glissading down (Dustin standing beside the glissade track).
We might not have made Quandary's summit, but in my view there's nothing better than a gorgeous day spent in the mountains with friends!  


  1. The glissanding was the best past.

    A pleasure to meet you, even if we didn't manage a summit.

    1. Definitely a pleasure! So glad you chose CO as your vacation spot this year.

  2. Way to go, Paul! I would've gone only to the snowline, and I'm impressed that you could keep up with Courtney so far.

    And e-gad on that never-ending snow slope. Looks like some incredibly exaggerated mountain for that squirrel to traverse in "Ice Age."

    1. Ha! Love the Ice Age comparison. There's definitely a squirrel-struggling-to-roll-massive-heavy-acorn feeling when slogging up it.

  3. I didn't know you had this blog, Courtney! Glad I stumbled onto it. Thanks for sharing your climb -- great pics, and looks like fun!

    1. Very glad you found me! And yes, there's nothing better than a beautiful day in the mountains (as you know! :).