Couldn't decide whether to do Antero (12 mi RT) or Quandary (6.7 mi RT), but after much debate, John and I decided on Quandary. I'd chatted with some SPers (thank you guys) about the possible avalanche dangers on Antero (there are some) and with the new snow in the mountains...the thought of having to break trail for 2-3 mi...and the added av danger...my enthusiasm for Antero quickly waned....
So, we slept in (5a :) and were heading out from the Quickie Mart in Colorado Springs at 6:15a. Highway 24 and Hwy 9 were dry with only a few exceptions. Hoosier Pass had snow on the road near the top, but that was it. We made it to the winter parking area at ~8:30 and were headed up McCullough Gulch Rd before 9a.
We found the well marked trail off to the left, shortly after the summer parking area (a whopping .1+ mi from the winter parking area :) and entered the woods. The trail was packed in places, but due to the wind and some fresh snow, we had to break trail in a few places. Wasn't bad (since John did most of it ;) and the pristine snow was beautiful in the sunshine. We stopped to take off some layers and met 2 skiers from Pueblo who promptly thanked John for breaking trail for them...I could have been insulted, but their assunptions were correct and I couldn't take credit for much of the work. :)
En route to the ridge, we encountered 2 slopes that gave us a little avalanche concern (we're not well versed in ice crystal-ese) so, we crossed one at a time and made sure our transmitters were on. No problem. It all seemed safe, but why risk it?
The only minor issue I had (and yes I ALWAYS have issues) was the wind kept toying with me the closer we got to timberline. Calming long enough for me to get unbearably hot and take my jacket off, then blast me with a cold, snow filled, gust until I'd put my jacket back on, then become calm and warm again, then blast me...sigh...very funny guys, very funny....
We made it to the ridge without further ado, and on cue, the wind ceased the childish games and just decided to consistently blow...quite hard. The powdery snow was getting kicked up about 10-15' into the air. We stopped again to put on our usual ridge attire, goggles and balaclavas, but this time we needed hoods to protect us from the blowing snow (that stuff gets cold!)
The ridge was great! More challenging than I'd remembered from last winter and the views were incredible as always. The trek up the ridge last year was windswept and my snowshoes would dig in just fine, but that was not to be our lot this time. This time we had icy hard snow, knee deep powder, and barren rock. My "recreational" snowshoes didn't dig into the icy snow very well and I would slip...and ensuing frustration would set in, but John's higher end shoes did the trick. I was envious not only of his better traction, but of the heel lift bar as well. My calves were fatiguing a bit with the constant slope whilst I trudged up some exposed rocks to avoid anymore slipping frustration. I would have changed into crampons, but I needed the snowshoes for the deeper powder sections. Note to self: when snowshoe ads claim they are for "rolling terrain" and "recreational use" they mean it. I will muttle through this year, but next Winter, I will budget and buy the higher end, mountaineering, snowshoes.
Eventually we made it to the summit and timed it perfectly. The skies directly above were a cobalt blue (although not shown in this picture) and the wind died down, but we could see storms moving in all around us. We hung out for ~15 min, ate, and enjoyed the views, then headed down. About 20 min into our descent, we looked back and the summit was socked in with snow and the views were nonexistent. We hiked down to the ridge saddle in the snowfall and met up with 5 skiers/snowboarders on their way up (2 were the Pueblo guys from earlier). They probably had about an hour to go before summitting, given their current rate of progress. A little further down, we met another skier who asked how much further. When he learned it was probaly another mile, he turned around...I hated dashing his hopes, but....
About 40 min later, we saw the 2 Pueblo skiers flying down the ridge, having a swimmingly good time. I asked if it was worth it, they jubilantly exclaimed, "It's always worth it!" I had to agree, given what I saw. I snapped a few pictures of them and continued trudging down in my "recreational" snowshoes. I am guessing the 2 snowboarders and other skier went down the bowl as we never saw them again.
The rest of the way down, the sun was out and once in the trees, the wind ceased. The mittens and jacket came off and remained off this time. :)
We made it back to the car by 3p and headed into Alma for a lovely meal, served by an equally lovely and charming waitress there. After we'd sufficiently indulged, we headed back into the Springs.
Round Trip, GPS read 7.96 mi, ~6 hours.
And so ended another incredible day in the Rocky Mountains!