click to enlarge!
As I said in my last trip report of Gray's & Torrey's Peaks, I am starting to venture into other parts of Colorado to do some exploring. While I still hike/climb in the Park more often, by far, than anywhere (just climbed Flattop/Ptarmigan/Knobtop a couple of weeks ago), it is nice to get to know new parts of this great state.
My idea, when venturing into a new area for the first time, is to climb some of the more popular mountains. This way, I am on a mountain that I will likely see others on. By talking to them, you can learn a lot about the area, such as surrounding mountains, good climbs, alternative routes, etc. So I decided to head up a popular 14er just south of Breckenridge by its most heavily traveled route.
Quandary Peak is the anchor of the Tenmile Range. At 14,265 feet, it not only is the 13th highest peak in Colorado, it is the tallest in this series of mountains and provides wonderful views into surrounding basins and down onto peaks for miles around. The East Ridge Route is a basic class 1+ route that takes you from the valley far below, and leads you all the way up the eastern slopes of this elephant of a mountain. This is a good route for Winter ascents, as you stay on the ridge top for a vast majority of the hike, and out of avalanche danger.
I was planning on hiking Quandary the previous week, but checked the web cams early in the morning and saw that I-70 looked pretty snow packed and I wasn't in the mood for a 5 hour drive to Breckenridge. So I put it off until I had better driving conditions. This week was perfect. I made it from my home to the trail head in about three hours and was hiking by 7:00 am.
I had heard that it was difficult to find the trail, and that the signage giving you directions was very limited. But I found there to be a nice new trail head with a lot of info about the trail with a nice parking area as well. It would be impossible to miss.
The lower portions of this trail are nothing I would call close to spectacular. You are in dense forests and only about 1000 off of hwy 9, so it sounds like cars are driving right along beside you. This changes pretty quickly as you climb toward tree-line.
Once you are above the trees the trail steepens and you can see your destination in the distance. I am pretty new to winter-type summiting (this is the latest in the year I have summited a mountain above 11,000 feet) and I am really enjoying it. While it's harder, physically, to hike/climb in the snow, it seems to me (so far) to be much more rewarding once you reach the summit, and a lot of fun!
It was a warm day at lower elevations. In Breckenridge it was 46 when I got off the mountain, but up at 13k+ it was pretty chilly, even with all of the energy I was using. I just had some fleece gloves on so my hands began to get VERY cold. I didn't feel like digging through my pack to find my good gloves, so I just kept on heading uphill. I was keeping pace with a hiker who was about a quarter mile, maybe less, ahead of me. He was moving pretty good, so I just tried to keep the same pace and would really only stop to take a few pictures here and there.
After a bit of post holing and kicking steps into hard, icy snow (what a variety up there) you get to the top of the false summit. This begins the steeper jaunt up the final ridge to the summit. This was a lot of fun and it was neat to see all of the mountains in the distance begin to peek over the horizons as I kept getting higher and higher. I started to get a little hungary so I did stop about 3/4 of the way up the final slopes to have a couple of snickers energy bars. I have learned that while hiking/climbing, eat right when you are hungary. At least that's what I have to do to keep my energy at it's peak performance.
About 200 feet below the summit, the guy who I had been following was coming down. He gave me tons of info about the area and other fun climbs/good routes/etc.. It was fun talking to him. A local from Breckenridge, he knew a lot about these mountains. So after a 15 minute palavar with him, I continued up the final ridge line to the summit.
I don't know, but it seems like there havn't been too many people up there since the last snow last week. There were just a couple of sets of footprints, which is surprising to me being that this mountain is one of the states most popular 14ers.
I enjoyed having the summit all to myself the entire 20 minutes I spent up there. I took some pictures, scoped out the west ridge a little bit, and enjoyed the most incredible views I have ever seem from a mountain top. I could see all the way south to the Sangre de Christo's (could even see the Crestone's), I could see the Maroon Bells and the other large mountains around Aspen, I could see north into the heart of the Gore Range and even to the Indian Peaks, and, of course, to my east at Gray's, Torrey's and other front range mountains. It's too bad it was such a gloomy day...not the best for taking pictures. After a few minutes, Bilbo Baggins showed up to have a little rest on the mountain top. After he moved on, I packed up, put the good gloves on (while enduring a painful few minutes while my hands thawed out) and headed back to the trail head.
It was a nice drive home, I went over Loveland Pass, which I had never done, to take a look at a few mountains which I'll climb this winter. And just as I was nearing Estes Park, I saw an amazing sunset. This is Mt. Audubon (Indian Peaks wilderness) from hwy 7 during a great sunset! Click HERE. It's not the best picture, as I had to act pretty quickly to even get this shot off before the display was over...but you get the idea.
I made it back home without seeing Estes Park in the daylight...it's been a while. And after a nice shower, I was sound asleep dreaming of what will be next!
|So until then....|
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