I left Boston on a Friday night after work. By Sunday evening I was pulling into a Wal-Mart in Frisco with plenty of daylight to spare. After picking out some Cliff-Bars, I headed down to Breckenridge for lodging, only to find that the town was home to fancy resort inns and nothing else. Thus, a quick return to Frisco towards one of the motels near the interstate and farther away from the trailhead.
It didn't matter much anyway; I could've have slept any more than a half wink that night. By 3 AM I had given up, and was deliberating whether to hang around the room for a few hours, or pack up and leave the hotel in the middle of the night. Since Quandary was going to be my first 14er, I was very much hesitant about starting off without even the barest hint of sunrise, but by 5 AM - 5:30 I was already on my way, making use of my flashlight.
Sunrise over neighboring Bald Mountain
Since this was literally my first day at high elevation, and also the fact that I was (and still am) quite out of shape, I paced myself, taking large, deliberate steps. The sun peeked out from across the valley just as I passed the scattered meadows that indicated timberline. I found the trail to be highly pleasant, none too steep, with nice rock steps cut in. Compared to the steep, direct trails of New England, it was pretty easy going for the most part.
The sun casted some nifty shadows on North Star | |
Wheeler Peak from East Ridge
Gaining the crest of the East Ridge
I still felt pretty good by the time I gained the crest of the East Ridge around 13,000'. It was on that section when I ran into a family of mountain goats, sitting on the trail and enjoying the clean, crisp air. I hesitantly cut around them; they were definitely aware of my presence, but didn't seem to think much of it.
Goats around 13,200' | |
The last 1,000 feet of climbing stared me in the face now. It seemed like a real breeze, but I knew that this was the steepest section of the trail. I took a breather just a little bit up this final homestretch when I noticed the 3 goats following me on the same trail I had taken. They approached me warily, as I had done before, and cut off-trail around me before finding some good grazing on the south slopes. My Monday morning traffic jam concluded, I got up to finish the massif before me.
It was around 13,500 feet that I think I finally began to feel the elevation. Nothing major, just a little fatigue, light-headedness, and a slight headache that lasted about five seconds when I felt tired. I took a lot of rests, and the last section seemed to take forever. I was surprised by how loose the trail was, as I definitely sent a few small rocks tumbling down the ridge.
A small strip of snow signaled the summit, and I felt pure elation at gaining my first 14er, on my first day in Colorado, on no sleep. The views of the neighboring Ten-miles were surprisingly pristine for such a well trodden area.
I had not seen a single soul from trailhead to summit, and I had the summit for a good 45 minutes to myself. The views were amazing, the temperature was perfect (wasn't windy at all), and there was not a cloud in the early morning sky. Wait, a few scattered ones. Wait, they're kinda building up.
I wanted to soak in this amazing experience forever, but I was not naive to the possibility of thunderstorms, so I reluctantly began my descent. Just a bit below the summit I ran into the first person of the day. Then two, then three, then the entire conga line from Breckenridge. It might've been my first fourteener, but I was the first person these people had seen descending that morning, so they assumed I was a grizzled veteran and many asked me questions, which I tried my best to respond to. Everyone was really friendly (compared to back East, where making eye contact on a mountain is illegal, I'm pretty sure), and I had a few nice chats with some people.
The hike down was uneventful. I was surprised to see people still heading up even after I had descended below timberline, even with the sky darkening and thunder grumbling from the Sawatch area. Maybe they knew something I didn't. After all, I was still a rookie to this 14er thing.