Quandary Peak Trip Report – Skiing May 2017
I moved to Colorado in January 2017. I’ve never lived here before, though had visited two dozen times and knew that I’d love life here. My wife lived in Colorado for 6 years, in Colorado Springs, where she went to Colorado College and then worked for a couple of years before heading east, where we met.
I’ve long heard of the fabled 14ers spread around the state, 52 in all. So when we moved here, my wife kept telling me about them.
One day in May, the stars aligned to allow us to ski Quandary Peak. Here’s our fable.
Quandary Peak trailhead is approximately 1h45m from the center of Denver. We live along I-70, so it took us about an hour and half as we approached through Breckenridge.
Because we did Quandary in mid-May, we did not have to deal with really bad traffic coming out of Denver. However, since it was mid-May we also knew that the snow would start to soften around 10am and would be pretty slushy by 11:30, so we had a small window to hit.
And true to our expectations, this is about what happened.
We parked in the parking lot and lashed our skis and boots to our backpacks. Wearing our hiking shoes/boots, we headed off up the trail.
After about a mile or so, we poked up through the trees and had enough snow to where we could put on our skis/boots. We walked for a bit more through the snow until we arrived about halfway up, at which point we found a small bare patch after which there was only snow. We put on our gear there.
Then we started going up. We covered the first mile to mile and a half in about an hour, getting up to around 12,000 feet before we put on our skis.
The next thousand feet was pretty easy. We moved along at a good clip, doing a few kickturns as the slope became steeper.
Once we got around 13,000 feet and really started climbing, things got hard. The sun was warm, but the wind was blowing something fierce from the west so it became quite cold over towards that side. As a result, I had my Ghost Whisperer Mountain Hardwear jacket on with the hood up over my head (I wasn’t wearing my helmet for the climb, because hot!).
This was the first time my body had been above 13k feet in a really long time (except in an airplane of course). As such, as we got higher I started to feel really weird. Not altitude-sick weird, but a little lightheaded. I was really glad I had my water bladder in my backpack, as that kept me hydrated.
Quandary gets steep nearing the summit, up until you come across a bit of a cornice that then flattens out to the top.
I just kept telling myself “Head down, knees up, breathe”. At that point, it was all about energy management and just moving forward even when exhausted and having trouble getting enough oxygen!
Finally, we reached the summit! Here’s the view approaching it:
And of course, take a selfie:
And take a photo at the summit:
We spent about 20 minutes on top to catch our breath, drink some water, and get some calories in our systems. I was definitely feeling a bit lightheaded at this point, so those calories were important before we skied on down.
Finally, we got to the fun part – skiing down!
Remember, backcountry skiing is a dangerous sport and this was definitely not a controlled area. As we worked our way up to the summit we constantly prodded the snow with our poles to check the firmness.
Given this was spring skiing, the risk of any sort of slide was very low, so we didn’t dig a pit. We were unable to push through the snow with our poles and a handful of people had already gone down the south-facing bowl ahead of us, plus the snow had softened a small amount but was not yet heavy.
So we let it rip, and rip we did. It was a fantastic ride down on some amazing corn snow. Weirdly enough, it reminded me of snow on the east coast (minus the ice back east) and was super fun to low down some turns.
Once we reached where we put on our skis, we went around to the left where we actually found some semi-soft boot-grabbing snow. None of us got too hung up, so we skied out about as far as we could.
The only mishap of the trip occured after this. We somehow lost the main trail getting out, so we ended up putting our skis and boards on our packs and beating our own way out to the logging road we began on. I have to say, I was glad to have on my Scarpa Maestrale RS touring boots!
This was a bit of a slog, but it was all downhill so despite all the post-holing we did as we worked our way out, we made fairly quick work of it.
Afterwards, we drove into Breckenridge and celebrated with burgers and beer.
On to the next!