It's been nearly a year since our near-success on Quandary Peak. Quandary is an 'easy' winter 14'er which sees a lot of hiking in the summer and snowshoers and skiers in the winter. On our last attempt, we spent a while thrashing about in the woods trying to locate the correct trail before attaining the long east ridge to the summit. Spying many rocks poking through the snow cover, we left our snowshoes just above tree line figuring we wouldn't need them. This proved to be a bad idea and we wallowed for another two miles through snow knee-deep in places (and occasional tall rocks). With the weather turning and the time wearing on, we finally turned around on the interminable upper slopes figuring we had another hour or more to go to the summit. But before we departed, I took compass sightings on some nearby peaks so I could triangulate our turn-around location on the maps back home. It turns out we were well above the 14,000' contour line on the 14,265' peak at the time! Arrrgggghhh! If we'd only kept going another ten minutes, we'd have been on the summit!
We came back this time loaded with thoughts of pay-back and closure. The upper slopes looked even less snow covered than they had last April, but we weren't going to abandon our snowshoes this time! Nor would we spend an hour or two thrashing through deep snow trying to find the correct trail. We parked at Monte Cristo TH and headed straight up the hill from there following a set of snowshoe tracks in the deep snow. While this may be one of the 'easy' 14ers, it's still three thousand feet of climbing in three miles of trail. The first steps you take from the car are upward and the slope doesn't appreciably stop until you're standing on the summit. Going immediately became challenging as the snowshoe trail branched several times and left us largely wallowing in deep, rotten snow.
In an hour, we'd achieved a small clearing below the east ridge and could see our objective. The day was warm and windless and we were sweating bullets from the climb. Amy was dragging more than usual and just couldn't get her second wind. Nathan charged on ahead with his usual energy and I trudged along heavily laden with mixed emotions. On the one hand, any hiking is nice and climbing any mountain is better than no mountain at all. On the other hand, I'd rather climb something new than to repeat an arduous climb all to satisfy some need to check off a mountain on a list. However, having gotten so close last time (albeit unwittingly close), Amy and I both concidered it a personal. Vengeance would be ours! This is not the attitude one should take towards mountains. The mountains have no ego, no pride, and no responsibility to you or your goals.
After a brief snack break, we continued up the open slopes to the ridge. Amy was dragging uncharacteristically farther and farther behind. After much effort, she finally joined us on the ridge proper. We discussed options and she decided that, much as she wanted to summit this mountain, her slow pace wasn't likely to allow it. Nathan and I would sprint for the summit while she would continue at her own pace turning around if and when she felt the need. We were in radio contact, had been on the mountain before, had plenty of supplies and daylight, and the mountain had dozens of other people visible so I didn't feel too worried about splitting up our party.
|Our first good view of the long east ridge looming 2600 feet above. Quandary is a massive mountain and viewing it from this angle doesn't soften that impression.||Higher up, we trudged up the edge of the upper bowl.|
Nathan and I started out with renewed vigor. Up here above tree line, the snow was much more consolidated than it had been down below and walking was easier; snowshoes weren't even neccessary. Still, given the predicaments of last time, we kept them on doggedly. In half an hour, we achieved the second hump along the ridgeline at 13,000'. The broad east slopes narrowed to a more proper ridgeline and the huge upper bowl spread out on our left. Amy radioed to say that she'd had enough and was turning for home.
At this point, the snow really was solid. I knew from experience that the slopes near the summit neared 30o and that crampons might be more useful than snowshoes. With some trepidation, we stashed our snowshoes under some rocks at 13,100' and donned crampons for the final 1200'. There was a welcome nearly level section (the only such on the climb) for a few hundred yards before the slope started increasing rapidly. Thin air, steep slope, and a good cross-wind combined to spread lactic acid judiciously through our quads and calves. It wasn't just the lack of snowshoes that had made this climb hard last time; it's a really demanding climb!
Our rest breaks became more frequent and our pace slowed to a crawl. The two sides of the upper bowl came closer and closer and the slope increased to near its maximum angle. All indications were that we were reaching the summit, but summits have a tendency to remain tantalizingly just out of reach as you climb higher. We passed the spot where (I think) we turned the trip last year and continued on (a small triumph). Another hundred feet higher, the sides of the bowl met and a snowy ridge could be seen above us. Was this the actual summit ridge finally? The slope was easing off and it did appear to be getting closer with each anoxic step forward.
|Looking down from half-way up the upper bowl (about 13,500'), the immense scale of the upper bowl becomes clear. Our snowshoes are stashed under some rocks down there.||The view every mountain climber is desperately waiting for: the summit ridge! We turned back about a hundred feet below this last time.|
|An exhausted Nathan celebrates the long view to the west.||A raven sees us off the summit.|
The view north and west from the summit. Pacific Peak is visible in the middle right flanked by Atlantic and Crystal. The southern Gore Range looms in the clouds in the distance.
The Wilderness Journal