Quandary Hike with 8 Mountain Goats
The drive from Colorado Springs was quick in just under 2 hours. Six of us had made plans for several weeks over Christmas break and after much debate Quandary stood out as an excellent choice. Two of us had done the climb before. One in winter. So we were pretty sure we had good experience and information and that we would not be getting in over our heads for a winter 14er hike. By most accounts, even in winter, this hike is no more than a class 1 or class 2. Of course, anything can happen anytime condition-wise, especially in the winter.
But that was not the case on this day. We hike on Dec 28, 2009. We left Colorado Springs around 5:45 a.m. and arrived at the trailhead just before 8 a.m. and there were already 4 or 5 cars there. I figured it would be a busy trail but assumed that climbing on a Monday would reduce the traffic. Wrong. We actually ran in to about 30-40 other hikers on this day. A group of 18 were teachers and students from Hotchkiss. Pleasant folks. We also passed a father with his 9 year-old son. The boy had previously climbed a few other 14ers. I was impressed. We took the standard route up the East Slope ridge.
We were prepared for deep snow and all brought snowshoes. But looking at the condition in the trailhead we figured we would most likely NOT need them. We were correct. Combined with the low amount of snow along most of the trail (4-5 inches) and TONS of previous ascents in recent days, we left the shoes in the truck. Actually 2 of our group brought them all the way up and down the peak and never used them.
I had read that the trail might be confusing but that was not the case. There were signs EVERYWHERE saying "TRAIL" and pointing the way. The weather was PERFECT! Around 17 degrees but perfectly clear. Not a cloud in the sky. No wind. It stayed this way the whole day making it an awesome winter day to climb.
The lower trail had anywhere from 3-8 inches of trampled snow. We did not break new trail all day. It winds back and forth and quickly gains elevation for the first 15 minutes and then turns into a steady incline for the next 15 minutes or so until you reach treeline and start shooting up the first part of the ridge.
We quickly grouped up into 2's. I was in the middle group. Paul Smith and Eric Gresse were up front. Myself and Ramsey Ross were in the middle and Jeff Boutwell and Jordan Christopher were back behind. It stayed like this most of the day with each group summitting serparately.
Once above treeline the path was very clear to see. In fact, from pretty low on the mountain you can see the summit. It was just a very steady uphill snow climb the whole way with a fairly steep slope dropping off to the left on the way up and a vast gentler open slope to the right. It was easy to see the route you would take up the valley to the south to access the West Ridge route. If I do this peak again I will try that route as it looks pretty fun. Class 3 I believe it is.
As I mentioned, snow conditions were very easy. I received a pair of Kahtoola Micro-Spikes for Christmas and wore them ALL day. I was skeptical at first but these turned out to be the PERFECT choice for the snow conditions we were one. I watched as some of my buddies slipped a few inches with each step but my Micro-Spikes were just enough to prevent that. I love those things!
About 3/4 of the way up the ridge we ran into a guy descending from the summit. He had met Paul and Eric up above and they had all discussed a strange find up above us on the trail. It was a set of skis with broken tails, a nice backpack and a large black sack that contained a skiing parachute. The guy descending saw no one that morning so it must have been left there the day or night before. Strange. There was a first-aid kit in the pack but no identification so we just left it there hoping it`s owner was safe and would be back to pick it up.
We started at around 8:30 and arrived at the summit around 12:30. We were hiking at a leisurely pace. The last little piece gets a bit steeper but not bad. The summit is a long runway about 150 feet long and 10-12 feet wide. Plenty of room for our surprise guests!
After sitting on the summit for 5-10 minutes and snapping some pics, we see our buddy Paul running up the summit and motioning to us to come over. We all scurry back east along the ridge and quietly slow down as we behold in front of us strolling up to the summit a pack of 8 Mountain Goats! What a sight! I have seen these on Grays and Torreys and Belford at lower elevations but these guys were on the summit of Quandary at 14,265 ft! What a treat. Of course we gave them some room and snapped many pics and some videos.
We stayed on the summit another 5-10 mins. and watched the goats descend off the ridge to the south. From the top of Quandary you can see TONS of other 14ers. We counted at least 12 that we could clearly identify from our vantage point. The trip back to the trailhead was fairly uneventful except for one incident.
There were 2 guys that had summitted about the same time as us and descended before us. They were up ahead of us on the way down and about 1/2 way down I heard some commotion up ahead and just caught this guy accidentally slipping off the steep ridge to the south. He initially fell face first and hit several sharp rocks but after a few seconds and maybe 15 ft was able to get his feet downhill and slow to a stop by grabbing some rocks. What a scary moment. He wasn`t badly injured but it did shake him and others up a bit. I hated that feeling of watching something terrible happening but not knowing how to stop it.
After that we descended quickly and even got some little short sections of glissade on the ridge. Back at the trailhead we had to help pull a few trucks out of the snow that were stuck and we caught an early dinner in the town of Alma at the Alma Saloon, billed as the highest saloon in the U.S. Good burgers and onion rings. We got back to Colorado Springs around 7 p.m.
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