Eric, Dave and I (Sam), were planning hiking and skiing/boarding Quandary on Friday the 19th after seeing the weather report showing highs in the 30s and zero wind at Breckenridge. None of us had climbed Quandary in the winter and after the recent storms, we wanted to try and climb Quandary and ski/board on the descent.
This adventure began on Thursday, January 18, 2006, at around 9:00PM mountain time in Boulder Colorado. At around that time, a growler of Evolution IPA from Golden City Brewery was consumed at my house with Eric and Adam (Adam did not join the trip unfortunately). They had been at Southern Sun prior to this time and had already downed a few pitchers. We then headed out for the evening and returned right at 2:00PM after way too many PBR pitchers from the Downer.
Our other group member, Dave, was smarter and went home around 10:00PM planning for tomorrow.
After a very slow start in Boulder, we finally rounded everyone and all of their gear up by 10:00AM and left for Summit County.
First view of Quandary from CO9.
Hungover and not feeling all that wonderful, we pulled off CO9 and parked at the large pile of snow blocking the McCullough Gulch Road at noon. As soon as we got out of the car, spirits began to rise as the temperature was a balmy 35F or so, only requiring long underwear tops and ski pants. Dave was alpine skiing and carrying his boots and skis on his back. Eric was tele skiing and skinning. I was snowboarding, carrying my board and boots (I hate hiking in snowboard boots and I needed to get some miles on my new Asolos). We finally got off at 12:15PM.
Getting ready to head out.
From the Car to Treeline
The effects of dehydration and being terribly out of shape were felt immediately. Eric and I were quickly short of breath while Dave took the lead.
Trailhead from McCullough Gulch road.
Mistake #1: No snowshoes. Although the trail was well packed down, Dave and I postholed several times on the way up to treeline.
Crawling like a baby.
We started out slowly and popped out above treeline near 12,200 at 1:45PM. The avalanche report from the Colorado Avalanche Info Center showed low danger with pockets of moderate danger on all aspects. Due to all the recent wind and snow, we were concerned about avalanches and dug a pit to see what the snow layers looked like. The snow was about 4 feet deep with 2 feet of hardpacked snow on top of 4 inches of sugar snow, prime conditions for a hard slab.
Just about at treeline. We dug a snowpit just up the trail from here.
We debated for about 15 minutes whether to continue on at which point we saw a snowshoer come across the slope in question without a single hesitation. Once he arrived at our location, we chatted about snow conditions and decided to continue on one at a time to the wind-blown safe zone. Once all three of us were across safely, we continued up low angle hardpacked snow and took a break near 12,000. The weather was gorgeous, not a bit of wind, not a cloud in the sky.
12,000ft to the Turnaround Point
Snow slopes above 12,000.
After a quick drink, we continued on solid snow to near 12,300 where the snow became patchy and rock hard. At this point, the boards and planks were left behind and we climbed slowly up to the level area near 13,200.
Windblown slopes up to flat section near 13,000.
Another snowshoer was coming down the mountain with the infamous “Horton” at his heels. We spoke briefly and he let us borrow some sunscreen (all of us had forgotten to apply when we left the car). The weather hadn’t changed but the sun was getting lower in the sky. We took another break and had a snack, trying not to crash from being hungry and dehydrated.
Final pitch up the East Ridge.
We pushed on, all of us feeling the effects of the altitude. My quads started to cramp in both legs from dehydration and everyone slowed to a sluggish walk. A man in much better shape than us caught shortly after we restarted. He had on crampons and was moving much faster on the steep, hard snow. At it neared 3:45PM, the climber with crampons reached the top of the closest pitch and yelled down “False Summit.” This was devastating to me as I was reaching the end of my energy reserves, but we all pushed on till right before 4:00PM. The sun was on the horizon, the temperature was dropping fast, and we decided Quandary had defeated us this day.
Turnaround point near 14,100.
The sky was so clear that a section is needed to show the views from East Ridge.
Peak 10 to the Northwest.
Mt. Silverheels and Hoosier Pass to the Southeast.
Bald Mtn, with Keystone Ski Area and Grays and Torreys in the distance
Sun setting over the Tenmile Range.
The Descent: By Foot and Ski
Once we turned around, we moved quickly down the East Ridge, hopping from rock to rock to avoid the steep hard snow. Once we were on the level part of the ridge, the pace increased to a fast walk and we reached our skis and board at 4:45PM in the twilight following sunset. We strapped/clicked in, changed into some warmer clothes, and headed down, making some nice turns on the firm snow. There was a break in the snow that we hiked across and then continued our descent back to treeline. Once in the trees, we loosely followed the boot pack, taking turns off the path to get some nice powder turns. Most of areas right near 12,000 that were exposed to the sun had a little crust on top but once you broke through, the snow was light and fluffy. I had some trouble on a couple uphill sections on my board and made Eric and Dave wait a couple times. As we made our way back towards the car, there were several packed paths and we decided to follow a more southern route to get some better snow and hit the Blue Lake Road. The decision paid off and we found several stashes of great powder and ended up on the road several hundred yards uphill from the car. I sat on my board and road back to the car, trying to keep up with the skiers. Shortly after, Horton came back to say hi again, and left promptly after we offered him no treats. The time was 6:00PM and we headed back to Boulder.
1. Don’t drink several pitchers the night before attempting to climb a mountain.
2. Start relatively early. Even though there aren’t any thunderstorms to be worried about, you have to worry about your own out of shape butt and the sun going down. We would have been fine if we left the parking lot at 11:00am.
3. Unless you have kept up with your same summer workout, you are less in shape now during winter so realize you will move somewhat slower.