Nothing exemplifies Type 2 fun than a winter ascent of a 14,000 foot peak!
It’s been a few years since I’ve summited a Colorado 14er, and the pain of high altitude is easy to forget. With Eric in town and my friend Marie always down for crazy shenanigans, we plotted a February 13th ascent of Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s most popular 14er climbs and safer winter climbs. Luckily the weather, despite some wind and cold temperatures, held out and Super Bowl Climb a 14er Sunday was a go!
At 14,265 feet, Quandary Peak is Colorado’s 13th highest summit. Part of the Ten Mile Range, it is just a short jaunt south of Breckenridge. It is billed as an “easy” 14er, but then again, there is no such thing as an “easy” 14,000 foot summit, despite what the crowds in sneakers with 16 ounces of water may lead you to believe. (I’d find this hike to be harder than others 14ers I’ve done, mostly due to the relentless straight uphill trail.) This peak has become so popular there’s a reservation system for parking in the summer season!
A 4:30am wakeup came rudely and we gulped down some breakfast half awake and loaded up Marie’s car to hit the road at 5am. We had long drive to the trailhead ahead of us, with Colorado I-70 ski traffic added another layer of insanity. Marie and I took the chance to catch up on life while Eric “rested his eyes” in the backseat, ha!
Pulling into the trailhead I was a bit surprised to see how full it was, not realizing that even in the middle of winter this is a busy peak. We geared up with microspikes, made final potty runs, and hit the trail at 8:09am on the standard east ridge route. (It was weird to be starting a 14er so late! In the summer months early alpine starts are needed to beat dangerous thunderstorms and lightning above treeline.)
The trail started off steep right away, and I suddenly remembered what a slogfest 14ers can be. Luckily it was all well packed from hundreds of feet, and was easy going. At treeline we took a chance to eat snacks and gear up for being exposed to the wind and sun.
Up and up and up. More up. Brace against a huge wind gust. Keep trudging forward. one foot in front of the other.
This climb got hard for me fast. It had been years since I had been at this altitude, and about 13,000 feet I was feeling it. Which in turn frustrated me, as I didn’t expect to not feel good. I took turns laying on the ground whining, before continuing on. I debated more than several times calling the hike and telling the others I wanted to turn back. Mentally, I was getting destroyed and suddenly I was questioning ALL my 2022 climbing plans. Why did I buy mountaineering boots again!? Even worse, the windchill meant I didn’t want to risk drinking my precious Red Bull while freezing my fingers, which is always my motivational treat (and altitude headache cure) on 14ers.
Then… just like that, after hours of dragging myself uphill, the summit was in view. Suddenly, I was in the best mood ever, had all the energy, and was oh so happy I didn’t quit!
Funny how that happens!
The summit was CRAZY windy, but we took turns with summit poses, including Marie who was brave enough for cartwheels and handstands (I chickened out). Snack time would wait until we were out of the wind a bit.
Marie and I took off yogging down the mountain, and I had to laugh at how fast it is to descend compare to climb, especially with the tailwind. We eventually found a spot where I could drink my precious Red Bull and we could all fill up on snacks before continuing on. I got to try glissading for about 20 feet, which was fun (but I really needed an ice axe to otherwise do more of it to control speeds as the snow was very firm). We also took wayyyy more photos on the way down!
My twelfth Colorado 14er was now complete, and my first winter ascent (earning me my snowflake on 14ers.com)! So happy I elected to do Quandary in the winter to avoid the hoards of the summer months. Also it was total fun to have Eric push me up his first Colorado 14er he’s walked up! The sea-level resident handled this so much better than the girl from 7000 feet!
We picked up our friend Teresa in Frisco, grabbed Mexican food, sat in traffic, and finally made it home after a very long, exhausting, but fulfilling day!
Date Hiked: February 13, 2022
Trailhead: Quandary Peak
Total Mileage: 7 miles per Garmin Vivoactive 4s/Strava
Total Elevation Gain: 3,571 feet
Total Time Spent: 6 hours 40 minutes
Weather: 13-30 degrees, gusts north of 30mph, and single digit wind chills… but sunshine!
Trail Conditions: Packed snow
Special Equipment: Microspikes
Clothing: Mammut mountaineering boots, Smartwool thick hiking socks, Smartwool baselayer tights, Outdoor Research Cirque mountaineering pants, Smartwool baselayer top, Mountain Hardware fleece, buff, Outdoor Research Linchpin softshell, 66North Snæfell hardshell, ski mittens, Smartwool headband, Smith sunglasses (and an Icewear down puffy in the backpack which I never had to use)
Cell Service: Unknown, too cold and windy to figure that out!
Thank you Eric and Marie for sharing photos!
***I cannot stress enough that any 14er hike is a serious undertaking. I’ve seen plenty of unsafe and sketchy choices made on the 14ers I have climbed over the years. It should go without saying that a winter ascent adds more complexity to the climb, and should only be done with those with the proper equipment and experience, and after careful monitoring of weather and avalanche conditions.