Kane Engelbert ascends the east ridge of Quandary during the 2004 Rockies Winter Gathering.
Photo by Andy Leach
Quandary Peak: SummitPost Rockies Winter Gathering: February 21-22, 2004
After several meetings and a 2003 summer gathering, the Rockies group on SummitPost has grown rather close. We are always looking for a reason to meet, climb, drink, and socialize. The winter gathering was kind of a spur of the moment event idea for me. Jackie and I were planning on going skiing, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to meet the gang again. Besides, we had never done a winter climb and would enjoy the benefit of their experience of doing a high peak in winter conditions.
So...the idea was born and off we went to Colorado. Marc Johnson and Barry (abovethetimberman) would accompany Jackie and I in the Ellis Family Truckster (RV). A rather pleasant 13 hour drive took us over Hoosier Pass where we encountered our first patches of ice and snow. We had unhooked the Jeep before reaching the pass and Jackie was following close behind with Marc navigating. About halfway down the pass on the Breckenridge side, I made a hair-pin turn and was immediately doused by a Coke bomb. Apparently, Barry had left his Coke on the shelf above me and the sharp turn tipped it over. A quick clean-up and off we went to find the Tiger Run RV park to check in. Afterward, we drove into Breck to find the gang who were causing trouble at the local steakhouse.
It was good to see Aaron, Ellen, and Kane, and a pleasure to meet Nelson Chenkin. The table wasn’t big enough for the additional four of us, so we stood around the table until we were run off by the manager. A little charm and coaxing and we were soon seated where we enjoyed a great steak dinner.
Saturday was spent skiing with Aaron, Ellen, and Barry. The Johnsons were kind enough to show us around the mountain and the conditions were great. Later that evening, we carbed-up at the local Italian eatery where we met Andy, Julie, and Bill562.
Sunday morning broke clear and cold, with no wind. Eight degrees showed on the Jeep thermometer. As usual, my blood was pumping hard because of the excitement of adventure. I had never done winter high peak and was very eager to get started. We all met at a local gas station and drove to the trailhead at 7:30. There, Jim (colonelpyat), Grant, and Adam (Chef007) showed up. With those three, we had thirteen SP members which was a new gathering record.
After greetings and gearing up, Jim quickly tore off into the snow to break trail. It didn’t take long for him, Kane, and Andy to set a blistering pace up the mountain. I had never climbed with Jim or Kane, but could only envy their ability. I remembered Andy’s animal-like climbing ability from Crestone Peak and knew there would be no way to keep up with those guys. The crowd broke into several groups: The trailbreakers were Jim, Kane, and Andy. They were followed not far behind by Adam, Nelson, Aaron and Ellen. A ways back, Bill, Barry, and Grant sauntered along enjoying the views and snapping photos. Myself, Jackie, and Marc brought up the rear still sucking Oklahoma air.
About tree line, I began to get my second wind and caught up with Bill, Grant, and Barry. They were enjoying a leisurely day chatting, taking photos, and looking at the views, so I forged ahead, eager for the summit. As I caught up with them, along came “Carlos” from Brazil. Carlos didn’t speak much English, and with his MP3 player blaring, we couldn’t communicate very well. Jackie and Marc were chugging along steadily a ways behind Grant and crew.
Near the top of the east slope, I met Aaron coming down the mountain. He and Ellen had been little dots above me most of the day but I had been steadily gaining on them. Now, Aaron was coming down the mountain. We met and discussed the condition of the climbers both ahead and behind us. Aaron had decided to forego the summit and would go back to check on Marc who was last seen still in the trees. In the mean time, I looked ahead and saw Ellen in high gear heading up the summit ridge.
Looking down the mountain behind me, I observed Carlos, Barry, Bill, and Grant strung along the east slope. I thought the climb up the east slope was hard, but manageable, and I was still feeling pretty good. Ellen was getting smaller by the minute as I hit the shoulder below the east ridge. There, Grant caught up with me and passed me as I stopped to adjust clothing, rest, and eat a snack. Upon arrival at the shoulder, the wind picked up and the clouds were beginning to come in. I put on my balaclava and cinched up the hood of my jacket. Previously, I had shed the down insert to my layering system due to overheating. I still had three layers on and was plenty warm. The temperature was around 20 degrees. The rest of the boys were still behind me and I soon lost sight of Jackie as she brought up the rear of the group. I had heard later that Marc never attempted the east slope.
Grant stopped and I caught up with him. We chatted and I headed up the east ridge. From the shoulder, the east ridge looked very steep and long. However, I was ready to try it as I watched a couple of dots high on the ridge. Shortly after, one of the dots began to get larger as I watched Adam heading down the mountain. He had apparently turned around very near the summit due to exhaustion and dehydration. We passed each other and I continued to negotiate the steep east ridge. Behind me, I noticed several of the climbers behind me grouped up on the shoulder. They stayed this way for some time. I could see Jackie chugging across the flat shoulder toward the group.
I looked up and Kane was taking my picture. At first I didn’t recognize him in all his winter garb, but I knew only Kane could be having that much fun at 14,000 feet in winter. Andy was close behind Kane as they made their way down the ridge toward me. Kane gave me some welcomed encouragement and I continued up with renewed confidence. I was still feeling pretty good, but could definitely feel the affects of the altitude. The group was still huddled on the shoulder and soon began to break up. I noticed one climber heading back while at least four continued to climb. By this time, the weather was worsening. Snow and ice droplets were stinging my face from the south wind, the mountain was totally covered in clouds, and it was very cold. I was loving it!
Shortly after, and about 200 ft from the summit, I met Ellen, Jim, and Nelson. They all looked great and appeared happy to see me. We discussed the situation with the climbers behind me. We all agreed that the day was getting late and that the climbers who were far behind were risking not getting back before dark. Jim (colonelpyat) volunteered to accompany me to the summit to take my picture. I was very grateful for the company and knew I wanted to share the summit with someone. My final effort to the summit was without grace, but I made it cheerfully. We took some photos and headed down. Jim tore down the mountain and I made my way gingerly down the east ridge. We soon met Carlos who didn’t look too good or say much. I tried to talk to him with no luck. Shortly afterward, I met Barry and Bill coming up the ridge about 400 feet below the summit. Bill looked tired. He had done Bierstadt the day before, and I could only imagine the difficulty of doing two winter 14ers in two days. Barry was his usual cheerful self and confidently headed up the mountain.
I saw Jackie a couple of hundred feet below just beginning the east ridge climb. As I got closer, she stopped and waited for me. We discussed the worsening weather, the late afternoon, and her condition. She wanted the summit, but knew she was still probably at least an hour from the top. With the afternoon waning, she opted to turn around to avoid a night descent. She had the heart, the will, and the desire, but simply ran out of time. As we turned and headed down the mountain, I looked above me and saw Bill had also decided to turn around. Barry was very high on the ridge and appeared to be near the final section. He was watching us to see what Jackie was going to do because he had agreed to wait on the summit for her had she decided to proceed.
With that, Jackie and I began the long hike back to the trailhead. The weather was about the same, with wind and spitting snow. Bill was still above us and we saw no sign of Barry or Carlos. Jim was already off the shoulder and out of sight. We met a couple of young guys just beginning the shoulder section. They were moving fast. As we reached the bottom of the east slope, a short glissade broke the monotony of the descent. Hiking through the trees, a quick check of the GPS sorted out the confusion of the multiple trail intersections we encountered. The snow was really beginning to come down as we reached the road. Once on the road, a couple of huge dogs ran towards me barking. I yelled at them, then scolded the owners for not having their dogs leashed.
We saw Marc sitting on the bumper of the Jeep when we arrived at the trailhead. He was bundled up and grinning. We waited and napped in the warm Jeep. A few minutes later, Bill showed up, then shortly after, the two young guys. We asked them about Barry and Carlos. Barry showed up a while later who said that Carlos was right behind him.
The next morning we drove back to Oklahoma. The roads were pretty good and the traffic was insignificant. We opted for the I-70/470 route back home. I reflected on our climb during the 13 hour drive home. For some, this mountain was probably pretty easy and was not such a big deal. Although it was not the hardest mountain I have ever done, the conditions made this climb a challenge. However, even during the descent, I was planning another winter trip. I enjoyed the challenge of the difficulty, the weather, and the temperature. The views were beyond my expectations, and even more spectacular than summer. I think Elbert is my next winter mountain. I want to get a winter experience on Elbert so I can accurately give information and advice on the Elbert page.
To me, the best part of climbing a mountain is the ability to share the experience with friends and loved ones. This peak was no exception, and the beauty of this mountain in winter was something I was glad to have shared. Many like to climb alone, but I enjoy having someone around to enjoy it with. SummitPost has given me the opportunity to meet great people and learn from them. Thanks to everyone who showed up and who gave me advice and direction while climbing this mountain. And....as always....thanks to Quandary Peak for a fantastic and safe mountain experience.
Left to Right: Kane, Marc Johnson (marcj), Nelson (Chenkin), Alan (Ellis), Jackie Ellis (cruzit), Jim (colonelpyat), Aaron (Johnson),
Andy, Ellen (mtnhiker13), Bill562, Grant, Barry (Abovethetimberman). Not shown: Adam (Chef007).
Photo by Barry (Abovethetimberman).