TRIP REPORT: Quandary Peak (14,265′) Snow Climb

Patience was the key to this peak… in so many ways.

After FLYING up Bierstadt last fall, I made the mental decision that I wanted to complete some of the “easier” 14ers in the snow to add a bit of a challenge. Quandary was one of those peaks. For anyone looking to do their first snowflake, this is definitely a solid choice but be prepared to wait, and be patient.

I originally had planned to climb it in Febuary which would’ve made it a true winter ascent, but living in Utah there are a dozen factors that come into play before I decided to make the drive to a 14er. The weather for my drive has to be good, the avalanche conditions need to be safe, and the liklihood of a sucessful summit need to be realistic. When an artic blast hit Denver the week I was supposed to drive out, I decided to postpone. After that came the massive storm and avalanche cycles. I waited, and waited for the perfect weekend, and I think I chose pretty well!

I headed out Easter weekend. A fairly warm week had firmed up the snow, the high pressure was staying solid over the rockies, and there was little to no wind in the forecast. The perfect spring day!

We started at sunrise, which I highly reccommend doing at or before if it is supposed to warm thruought the day. This allowed the snow to be cold and firm first thing in the morning. We only needed microspikes and did not have to worry about postholing (until later).

As this was my first 14er of the year, and I really hadn’t done any uphill training this winter thanks to avalanche conditions, I took it nice and slow. The trail started out on the summer road, nice and mellow and quickly steepened once we officially started on the actual trail. It flattened out within 20 minutes or so having a nice lesiurely stroll through the scattered trees to treeline. We came to the inevitable fork where the winter route heads straight up the steep ridge rather than following the summer path into avy terrain. This is the most avalanche prone part of the entire climb so hitting it before the sun did was crucial. It is very RARE that the upper east bowl will slide because of how packed down and windblown it gets, but it HAS happened. See this thread on 14ers.com for more info. All in all it was about an hour to get above the trees and top out onto a flatter zone where we could now see the remainder of the route.

This is where it got long and slow. This is where patience was tested. This ridgeline feels like it is never going to end….. I would break down the remainder of the route into 2 sections. The first false summit, and the last 1000′ feet. Both of these sections were like an optical illusion, they just kept going! Every time you looked up above you it appeared no different. The perfect curvature of this ridge made it never ending.

My partner at this point was well ahead of me as I took my time. I finally top out on the false summit and can see the final climb. The short ridge walk to the base of the final 1000′ is totally flat and then it’s ALL uphill from there. much like the previous ridge, it seemed to never end but this was MUCH steeper. There are no switchbacks like it supposedly has in the summer to it is straight up. Sucking wind at 13k, and feeling mild nausea during the last 500′ or so made this the longest part of the climb. I was getting pissed bu the end, I was so over it. Eventually you come to yet another minor false summit, BUT you can see the true summit off to the upper left and catch your second wind. This last part was not nearly as steep and ultimately flattens out for the summit ridge and viola! You’ve made it!

For an April climb I was pleasantly surprised how warm it was on the summit. I did Elbert in June last year and was freezing! Proof that you should always be prepared for any and all weather conditions in the Rockies!

Going down was fast but it came with some interesting complications thanks to how slow I went on the ascent. The snow was getting warm, FAST. descending the steep ridge from the summit, my microspikes were clumping snow underneath so I took them off and just walked down the softer snow. Steps were about ankle deep so it wasnt that bad. The second ridge section (mid mountain) had been baking in the sun and was getting really wet. The postholing ranged from ankle to mid calf deep and it was honestly wearing me out a bit. I stopped like halfway down this hill to just let my legs sit, and replenish with some snacks before continuing on.

Finally we were at the pitch just above treeline. This is where it got really funky and honestly wish I hadn’t left my snowshoes in the car. postholing got deep. the steep pitch was actually easier to come down than the flats in treeline. Many of us were getting stuck waist deep in random postholes. It was nearly impossible to avoid unless you had skis on. Even the snowshoers got stuck! It was simply just too warm. The rest of the trees weren’t bad. they were sheltered in shade and the snow was much more solid but definitely slick. Rather than putting my microspikes back on I just went with it and slipped and slid my way to the trailhead.

Despite the annoying ridgeline. This has to be one of my favorite 14er climbs so far. I LOVE the snow and the snowy views made for a very unique experience! I have done some snow peaks here in Utah but there is something special about being that high in the snow.

**NOTE ON AVALANCHE SAFETY** If you are considering a snow hike, please make sure you are carrying avalanche gear with you, know how to use it and check your local avalanche forecast. As the day warmed, our avalanche danger actually increased from moderate to considerable because of the rapid warming. Wet slides were reported all over the Rockies. A resource I HIGHLY reccomend if you are new to winter backcountry is the Know Before You Go course created by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the Utah Avalanche Center. This course is COMPLETELY FREE and is a great introduction to avalanch awareness and safety. Ultimately, if you plan to do more serious backcountry adventuring, please take a level 1 certification course from your local avalanche center. The things you learn in those courses are priceless and could quite literally save your life or someone elses life.