14,265 feet (13th highest in CO)
USGS Quad: Breckenridge
Trails Illustrated® – TOPO Map # 109.
Quandary Peak located just south of Breckenridge will provide an exhilarating experience for all who conquer its summit. Considered one of the easier 14ers in Colorado, the route up still comprises about 3 miles distance as it gains over 3,100 feet in elevation. I had two days set aside to go for a winter ascent. Monday the 19th it was snowing hard so instead of heading up into the blizzard I went snowboarding with my friend Jay in Breck, we had a blast and after the lifts closed the snow stopped. Over a few pints at the DAM in Dillon, it was decided; he had to head back to the ‘ol grindstone and I was going to try out my new 1man 4season shelter at the Quandry trailhead and see if the weather would allow me up in the morning.
Directions: From Breckenridge, you drive south on highway 9 about 7.5 miles from the last traffic light in Breckenridge to Blue Lakes Road on your right. After turning right onto Blue Lakes Road (No.850) you turn right again onto No. 851. The Old Quandry trail is approximately 1.1 miles down this road, but when I got there in the dark there was a closure sign with instructions on where the new Forest Service trailhead is which is really at the first immediate right hand turn off on 851. It was a road that wasn’t plowed but is probably accessible spring-fall. I parked there and hiked in to check it out, the Quandry trailhead is just a few hundred yards in. A perfect spot to bivouac for the night!
The powder was waist deep so I stamped out a footprint for my newly aquired Sierra Designs Assailant 1 man shelter and pitched it for the night. I knew I could pack it up and toss it back in the jeep in the AM so I set my alarm for 5AM and hunkered down wondering how warm this dealio would be and what the condensation would be like. The wind was howling around and even being tired from the day of snowboarding I was kind of excited and woke up several times thinking “is it time to go yet?” Maybe it was just the altitude. I could see some snow laying on top and wondered how much had accumulated, but when the alarm actually did go off I found just a couple of inches piled on top. The condensation wasn’t bad inside and I was real happy with how this shelter held up, I’m sure I’ll be taking it up more, hopefully this winter.
It was clear, moonless sky so I decided to snap a shot of the shelter site but was super disappointed to find the cannon sure shot digital camera complained that the battery needed charging. I had just charged it up fully the day before. I knew it was just the cold, that seems to make the camera think the battery is dead, or the cold actually somehow does drain the battery. I put the battery down close to my skin to warm it up hoping I could squeeze off a few snaps on my way, and packed her up back to the jeep and put together a bag to take to the top. I brought the shelter, down bag, crampons, trek poles, GPS, some food, snowshoes, camera, the usual small odds and ends, and 2 liters of water spiked with Gatorade to keep it from freezing right away. I decided to start out with no snowshoes on, there was a relatively stomped trail at this point, and I was on my way around 6:30am!
The trail starts up the long eastern shoulder of Quandry and at this point is in some lodgepole pine. It was packed down with just a few inches of new show so I was able to go a half mile or so until I starting post holing up to my waist. Time for the snow shoes!
That kept me up on top, but now there were multiple tracks from folks who had skied down through the trees and I had to pick my own line, I wasn’t skiing down I was going up. I knew by GPS and map that I needed to stay to the south side of the shoulder while always going up and picked a good line to follow where the tree line ended. I was breaking trail now for there was none visible. The winds above tree line were such that all former tracks were obscured. A great feeling knowing no one was on the route I was taking. I wondered if I would see anyone on the mountain at all.
The shoulder route provided a few glimpses of the summit ridge along the way, and at about 13k’ the snow was so windblown it was hard and crusty. The route flattens out for a piece here and provided dramatic views down the south edge to the frozen lake below. I could catch glimpses of the Christo Couloir which looked like it would be a great early summer snow climb and a direct route up from the lake to the summit. I stashed my snow shoes at a cairn and put on crampons for the final stretch.
The wind was gusting so hard it knocked me over a few times. I could see these snow devils come swirling down and I would just stop and lean into them with my head down. The wind with the blowing snow was biting but not impossible to deal with. One issue with this route is that the weather generally comes from the west, but you can’t see the western horizon at all on your way up, that view is blocked by the mountain itself. The summit came into view but I was only stealing peaks to the west for the wind was mean.
Up on the summit at about 11am the views were incredible. I could see a ground blizzard from the wind on the ridge just to the west with some weather behind it so I didn’t hang out too long, the camera worked, the body-heat warm-up method brought life back. But I think what I am bringing next time for cold, I mean freezing, temps and photos is a $10 disposable film camera that doesn’t depend on a battery.
The way back took half as long and the wind was at my back. I did not see a single other person going up or coming down. All in all a wonderful night/day on the mountain!