Quandary Peak 14,265'
June 11, 2011
Jerry and Richard
It was 1130 pm on Friday night when I hit the road to Denver to meet up with Richard for this summer snow climb to the top of one of Colorado's most popular 14er hikes. After getting into Denver at 1am, we were soon on the road through a dark and calm night into the mountains. By 4am we were hiking up the road to the summer trail head. It might be summer in the plains, but up here at 11,000 feet, spring is still hanging on. The road to the trail head is still blocked by some really large snowfields.
The beginnings of another day reveal our objective as we reach the base of the couloir. The cool mountain air felt good. At the top of the couloir, the summit of Quandary awaits us. Quandary has been somewhat of a mountain of mystery to me. A winter ago, I attempted to climb her East Ridge route, only to be denied 3 times. It is time that she allows me to begin to surmount her steep slopes again, and hopefully stand on top!
It wasn't long before the morning sunlight began to light up our surroundings. Across from Quandary, to the south is North Star mountain, along the continental divide. Some clouds began to roll over the ridge, as the southwesterly wind began to pick up.
A quick pic of Richard on the Cristo Couloir. Please excuse my blurriness, at times the wind would gust and it was hard to keep a steady hand.
From the base, it appeared to be continuous snow, but this flatter section was devoid of snow and easy to hike up. Looking up, the remainder of the route is easy to follow.
Looking west, the sun is having a hard time shining on the mountains with the scattered cloud cover and the hazy and smokey skies caused by a massive forest fire down in Arizona.
A quick look east towards the continental divide. Colorado state hwy 9 can be seen below as it hairpins up towards Hoosier Pass, not seen.
A group of climbers above us on the Cristo, the summit is now hidden. The angle of the slope once again, becomes steeper.
Clouds began to cover most of the sky, and I was thankful, hoping they would slow the melting, but worried that they may bring some thunderstorms earlier than expected.
The true steepness of the couloir can be seen above. The snow was rock hard and hard to penetrate with our ice axes. Richard began to feel sick and light headed. He opted to traverse west, towards a grass and rock rib, and descend back to the valley floor. Judging by his symptoms, he was likely suffering from altitude sickness, in which retreat to a lower elevation is the only cure.
Have you ever wanted to climb a couloir? Here was my perspective of the route ahead.
And from the same place, a look below to upper Blue Lake, still mostly frozen over. We began our assault at the dam on the left side of the photo.
My left ankle began to hurt, and I began to worry if I was not going to make the summit, still another 1,000 vertical feet above me from this location. I decided to rest a little, as a group of 4 skiers passed me.
After a few minutes rest, I began climbing again. The slope continued to be in the 45 degree range, and the snow was firm. The climbing was fun, but very exhausting at this altitude of approximately 13,200 feet. As I climbed, it became apparent that if I was to continue up, then the descent would be difficult and long with my ankle in extreme pain. But, if I turned around and descended, it would very be either on steep, icy snow or on very loose and steep rock. Ultimately, while on Quandary peak, I was truly in a quandary. I weighed the pros and cons, and came to the decision that it would be best to descend and catch up with Richard. I was concerned about his condition and worried if he would be able to descend safely on his own. The snow was still really hard and firm. Below me were a series of small cliffs and quite a few large, Volkswagen sized, rocks. At the time, I thought it would be best to traverse east to a rocky rib and descend the cliffs, rather than take a chance on the bulletproof snow. It took some time to get back to some flatter ground as I began to catch up with Richard. I tried to yell at him, but with the windy conditions, he was unable to hear me. When I finally caught up with him, he was traversing a very steep couloir. At the base of the Cristo, there is a maze of cliffs and snow. The snow is a little less steep than the vertical cliffs. Route finding through the mess is difficult, and one can find himself in a pickle if the wrong route is taken. This was Richard's case.
The couloir in middle center, you can see Richard traversing over to avoid the vertical drop. I had taken a route to the left, and out of the picture. This pic and the one below were taken from the base of the climb. The dam is to the right, out of picture.
Above is a close up of what I like to call, Richard's Traverse. Notice the large boulders below him. A fall here would not be good!
The pictures below were taken at the base of the climb.
A final view of the Cristo Couloir and the summit of Quandary. The snowfield in front, was the route I took to get to the base. After a few tricky moves and a nice glissade, Richard was down at the base with me. Ahead of us, was a short 1/2 mile hike down the partially snow covered road to Richards car.
A look from where we parked, up towards the dam. Quandary lower slopes are on the right.
Can you find the Mountain Goats? These goats were traversing some cliffs above our parking area. It is really neat to see wildlife when you out in the woods!
This last pic was taken of Quandary, right side of photo, from the turnoff to the trail heads. The Cristo Couloir is on the right, the far one.