What I Did Right and What I Did Wrong
Right: Despite the NOAA forecast of “a slight chance of rain/snow,” I followed the advice I received on the SP forums and went. Turned out great. The first clouds didn’t appear until 12 p.m. or 1 p.m., and there was no precip. Same for the next day.
Departure time: 6:45 a.m.
Right…for the most part: Because it was my first time on Quandary and my first time on a Colorado 14er in winter—not to mention the fact that I was alone—I waited until first light to leave. That enabled me to get to the summit without snowshoes, but things got really soft on the descent. Might have been better to leave the trailhead an hour sooner.
Trailhead: Winter “parking lot” for East Ridge route
Right: It is basically located at the intersection of route 850 and route 851. (Apparently the description for the Monte Cristo Trailhead given in the Dawson book is outdated.) The new area has room for about 6 cars. I was the first person there. Once full, vehicles were parked along the roads leading to the intersection.
Route: East Ridge (a.k.a. East Slopes or Quandary Trail, depending on your book/map)
Right: Walked over the snow bank and up the unplowed road to the signboards with the peak and trail info. Then I followed the obvious trail through the forest.
Wrong: Right after passing the signboard, I noticed that I’d left one of my two water bottles (with a locking carabiner attached) on the ground near the car. That left me with only 1 liter of H2O. I wavered for a moment, then decided to proceed. Also, I wound up not needing much of the gear in my pack, including the goggles, down jacket, fleece pants, Gore-tex pants, etc. But the extra weight made for good training.
Right: Despite an avalanche rating of moderate, the area near the saddle seemed safe. The risk of a slide seemed minimal because snow coverage there was so thin.
Right then wrong: I had the necessary clothing to stay warm (it was 25 degrees F at the trailhead when I left) even after the wind started above tree line. I ascended in only my boots (plastic Raichles—overkill!) using hiking poles. On the final ridge climb, I switched to crampons and ice ax. Crampons were OK, but the ice ax wasn’t necessary. Staying with the hiking poles would have been better and faster.
Right: Got some great shots of two mountain goats around 12,000 feet. Beautiful beasts. One walked pretty close to me, apparently unafraid, but the other sprinted by.
Wrong: After trudging to the top and congratulating myself for having made it in 4 hours and 15 minutes, I made the mistake of watching a dude in a pair of those mini-snowshoes complete his RUN to the summit! Argh!
Beginning of the Descent
Right: I wore crampons and carried hiking poles down the steep part. No problems. Then switched to bare boots and poles—also comfortable.
Wrong: I switched to snowshoes but left the small baskets on my hiking poles. Down low, I got off trail and had to cross some areas of fresh snow. Way too many times I sunk in to my crotch—even with the 25-inch snowshoes! Twice, I tripped while crossing logs and fell face-first into fresh snow. It was really tough to get up, what with the snowshoes “frozen” in place at odd angles, 30 pounds on my back and hiking poles that sank in until they touched the ground, at which point my hands were actually below the surface of the snow. Each time, it took more than a minute to right myself.
Somebody was wrong: Upon arriving at the car 1 hour and 45 minutes after leaving the summit, I discovered that someone had stolen my left-behind water bottle and carabiner. It was the first time in 14 years of climbing that I’d had anything stolen. Lesson learned.
Right: It was a great trip—well worth the cost associated with flying in from California, renting a car, buying food and gas, etc. I recommend Quandary as a first end-of-winter 14er.