Angi and I had a miserable failed attempt on Quandary in late December. The forecast did not look good, but we headed off anyway, and were confronted by brutal winds, cold temperatures, and poor visibility above timberline. We had decided to stalk quandary, waiting for a good weather forecast, and heading off when a success would be more likely.
The good forecast finally came for the 14th of February, Valentines Day. We got reservations for Valentine's dinner on Sunday instead to allow time for the trip. We left Boulder at 5am, about a half hour behind schedule. I wanted to be on the trail by sunrise, 7am. As we were leaving the house, Angi mentioned she felt like she was forgetting something. As it turned out, it was not she who was forgetting something...
When we arrived at the trailhead, I immediately realized I had forgotten my boots, socks and gaiters. I only had my worn out tennis shoes. I briefly entertained the idea of putting plastic bags over my shoes, or finding a workable alternative, but we did not have any suitable supplies in the car.
We decided to head back to Breckenridge, and I would simply buy some boots. Maybe very cheap, or maybe some nice ones, as my current ones are good winter boots, but not mountaineering boots. None of the ski shops in Breckenridge open until 8am, so we headed further down the road to Frisco, where we finally found ourselves at a WalMart. I picked out some $20 insulated hiking boots, and took them to the counter, where I realized I had left my credit card behind at Red Robin the night before.
Angi was now thoroughly convinced the trip was doomed to failure, but I convinced her to go grab some money from the car so we could get the trip started. After grabbing some good socks and driving the half hour back up to the trailhead, we were on the trail at 8:45.
There was a group of four snowshoers at the trailhead who had also attempted Quandary recently, and were turned back by the weather. One asked "is there an actual trailhead?" to which i responded "Yes, but many people simply head up the ridge". We chose to stick to the trail, which worked very well, and since the snow was deep, it was nice to have a well broken trail to timberline.
Once we reached timberline, we were looking at the most dangerous part of the route. The initial section up to the small summit at 12,200' set off a small avalanche warning in my mind. The slope was about 30 degrees, and there was some evidence of flagging on the sparse trees on the slope. We chose to follow tracks on the side of the slope, rather than the tracks switchbacking up the middle. Once we were on the slope, there was no sign of instability, and we achieved the 12,200' small summit without any trouble.
The rest of the route was quite wind scoured and had much less snow cover, and I was not concerned with avalanche danger. However, we did see some apparent fracture lines from settling snow. Sorry if they're hard to spot in the photo. I was only somewhat concerned about this since the slope angle was less than 30 degrees. From this point, Quandary is three sections: the ascent to the 13,200' false summit, followed by a gentle ascent to the final summit pyramid, and then the steeper ascent up the south ridgeline of the summit pyramid. Each of these sections took a little less than an hour to complete.
We leapfrogged the other group of four from the trailhead for much of the hike. I always hope for solitude in the winter, but with perfect weather, some other climbers are to be expected on the weekend. We saw about a dozen others on the route.
As we began our ascent up the last section, we removed our snowshoes. the snow was quite hard, and varied between windscoured rocks and about a foot of rather firm snow. My boots were working OK, but my toes were pretty cold now that my boot was in direct contact with the snow. Just as I was tiring significantly, I checked my altimeter and noticed we were exactly at 14,000' and the summit was quite close. After Angi led a grueling push, we found ourselves on the summit ridge. The weather had been absolutely perfect all day. About 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with very light winds. In fact, I had only been wearing cotton pants, a light windbreaker, and no hat or gloves.
When we had achieved the summit ridge, we were greeted with a bitter cold wind. Even after the short, 250 yard dash to the true summit, our faces were very cold and numb. After sitting down on the leeward side of the summit, we put on all of our extra clothes and settled down for about a half hour lunch consisting solely of trail mix. Most of the people we saw on the route joined us on the summit, and it was quite crowded. It had taken us four hours to reach the summit.
The descent was rather uneventful. It was quite long, and we did not get back to the car until after 4pm. After eight hours in unfamiliar boots with no arch support, my feet were very tired. We headed back down to Frisco, for an all out, no holds barred eating fest at the strangely Christian A&W.
After this ascent, our first winter ascent, in perfect weather and conditions, I have new respect for anyone who has summited a 14er during winter. It was not without difficulty, but was well worth the effort. And hey, now I have some almost new boots to donate to goodwill.
Map with GPS trail is available here.
See more trip reports, my homepage, etc at http://www.cunap.com/~hardingr