I was disappointed when I realized that my climbing for the month of April was over before it had even started. Somehow every day of every weekend for April had filled up with something or the other. One weekend it was field trips for my geology course up here at CSU, another weekend it was going home. Naturally I was very bummed that i would have to wait until May to resume climbing. Therefore i was overjoyed when my girlfriend gave me "permission" to go climbing saturday during the day before her sorority formal that night. (I know, what kind of self-respecting climber goes to sorority events...i dont even know myself). Anyways my roommates and I (Dan W., Nick C., and Ryan B.) decided to climb Quandary via the Cristo Couloir and ski down. The only catch was that Dan and I had to be back at the Sorority house by 6pm. We figured this meant being on the summit by 12, so we could be back down by 2pm and back to Fort Collins by 5pm with time to shower and change.
We drove to the Quandary trailhead on Friday, and got there about midnight. The road was closed at the old trailhead up the East ridge. (Its closed for restoration currently, the new trail is about 1/10 of a mile up the road.)We woke up a little late about 5:20 and were off by about 6:15. This was a little later than we had hoped but we made up the time on the way to the base of the couloir. The road was hardpacked but we still used our skis and snowshoes. We traveled the two miles do the base of the couloir and arrived at about 7:45. We loaded up our skis onto our packs and started up the lower section of the couloir.
We started up the couloir without our crampons, however after going about 100 yards up we decided to stop and put them on. Crampons were not entirely necessary, and someone did indeed pass us without them, but we were glad we had them when we got to the more firm areas, and they made breaking trail a little easier. We were certainly the first people up that morning, and we broke trail most of the way up until the before-mentioned climber passed us near the top. The snow condition in the couloir was pretty soft, and we all took turns breaking trail. In some areas we sank up to our knees and had trouble with the steps collapsing out from under us. It was fairly slow going up the couloir, and took us a little longer than expected. The weather was not the best, fairly windy and blowing snow with times of less than 50yd visibility.
Eventually we saw two or three other teams in the couloir below us, certainly benefiting from our labor of love of breaking trail. The couloir was pretty straight forward, nothing steeper than 45-50 degrees. We stayed on the left side of the couloir to avoid any potential rockfall or debris that would get funneled down the center of the couloir. I have read reports saying that the left side is a little more difficult, however there was nothing we were too nervous about.
We got to the area in the couloir where it narrows and forms a bit of a bottleneck with rocks on either side at about 11:45. We were a bit nervous at this point considering we needed to be at the top at 12 to be down by 2. We could see the false summit from where we were and knew we had to be within 200 vertical feet or so of the summit. Nick and Ryan decided to wait at the top of the bottleneck for the ski down, while Dan and I continued on to the top.
The remaining couple hundred feet to the top went pretty quick. After reaching the false summit the remaining 100 feet was rock covered and we took off our crampons and stashed them with our ski poles. At this point the weather really started deteriorating and the wind increased bringing with it prolonged periods of white out conditions. We hurried up to the summit and arrived at 12:20. We took our obligatory summit photos and then headed back down to our crampons, spending at most five minutes on the summit. We got back to the spot where Nick and Ryan were waiting for us and started getting things set up for the ski down.
After getting our gear set up for the ski down we clipped on our skis and board (in Dan's case) and headed down. Dan and I stayed on the left side of the couloir as your heading down as the snow was much softer, although about an inch deep was sluffing off around us. The further down the couloir we got, the firmer and icier the snow got, so the going was pretty slow. At the bottom of the couloir proper Dan, Nick, and Ryan took off their skis and board and hiked down to the base of the dam. I found a skiable line and took it all the way down to the road. We put our climbing skins back on and skiid the road back down to the car. We arrived at the car at about 3:15, an hour behind schedule and understandably a little nervous about our time frame.
The pumpkin ride
After getting our things packed up and ready to go, we hopped in the car, and started the drive back to Fort Collins, hoping to make it back by 6, or else risk facing a very unhappy set of girls at the sorority house. We got out of the mountains at about 5 and still had to drive the remaining 60 miles home, plus shower shave and get dressed in our suits. We pulled into town right at 5:40 and made it to our house at 5:50. We now had ten minutes to get to the house and so the rush began. To sum up, we were able to shower and get dressed and get over the girls house only ten minutes late, where the girls proceeded to dally around causing us to be ten minutes late for our reservation, go figure!