Thursday, August 14, 2008

Quandary Peak

Distance: 6.75 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,850-14,265 ft
Elevation Gain: 3,450 ft
Dogs: Off leash
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Date Hiked: 12 August 2008
Tags: #14er, #peak, #mountainpeak, #Breckenridge

Quandary Peak (14,265 ft) viewed from the East Ridge
Quandary Peak near Breckenridge, CO is technically one of the easier 14ers. There is no large talus dome at the top to navigate and minimal exposure. There are also large rock steps placed frequently along the route so that at times it may feel like Stairmaster instead of a mountain. There is, however, a lot of loose skree that will make coming down a chore. Quandary Peak is also known for its numerous false summits.

The lower part of the trail is in the trees.
The elevation gain on Quandary is nothing to laugh at, but given a nice day without pressure from the weather, anyone who has either exercised regularly or who is very determined can achieve the summit.

Quandary Peak look like a giant snowboard ramp. The route stays to the sides of this ramp or ridge rather than ascend directly up the middle of it. Because of this, the views are spectacular the entire way.

Northstar Mountain viewed from the left side of Quandary's ridge
The trail to the summit is low enough that it begins in the trees. It takes you to the right, northern side of the ridge (McCullough Gulch), but then quickly winds back towards the southern side (Monti Cristo Gulch) where it will stay for the rest of the journey.

Monte Cristo Gulch and Blue Lakes
Around 12,000 ft, Blue Lakes deep in Monte Cristo Gulch come into view. This gulch is bordered to the south by a jagged ridge line that joins North Star Mountain to the east and Wheeler Mountain to the west. The dam at the end of the Gulch is the starting point for the West Ridge route up Quandary. This route is much more exposed and should only be attempted by more experienced climbers. At the time of this posting, renowned chef from Missouri died on this route another climber nearly died after a horrible tumble down the Monte Cristo couloir.

Summit viewed from the left
Heading up to the ridge at 13,150 ft
Quandary Peak is unique in that you can see the summit and much of the route from a road that many people travel getting to and from Breckenridge. The sharp rise in the "ramp" is clearly visible and looks enormous.  From its base the summit is only one mile and 1,100 ft of elevation gain away. The trail in this area is still mostly skree but is occasionally dirt. It is here that the false summits begin.

On the East Ridge, a little farther up
On the narrow portion of the ridge
Each succeeding pile of scree blocks the upper portions of the ridge and gives the illusion that it will be the last. Alas, you will be able to see the last pile and the summit just off to the left so until you do, don’t be fooled.

First large scree pile on the upper 1,000 ft
The last false summit
There is no large boulder field at the top of Quandary Peak. The top can be strolled across with ease. The views to the west are by far the most dramatic. Mount of the Holy Cross and Notch Top Mountain can be clearly seen to the west. Closer in, just across the West Ridge is the Fletcher Mountain and the backside of Mayflower Gulch. To the north is the cone-shaped Crystal Peak. To the south is Mt. Democrat, Mt. Lincoln, and Mt. Bross, and can even see some of the trails that connect these three.

The summit is in sight.
The journey down from the summit can be an exercise in drudgery. Loose rock requires more concentration than you would image. A joyous strain may just fill your heart upon reaching terra firma.

View from the summit looking northwest towards Crystal Peak
View from the summit looking at a hiker coming up the West Ridge
Back down, looking at the green hills of Summit County
Hiking to the summit of Quandary Peak will give you a fantastic sense of accomplishment and a great calf workout. It is close to Denver however, so expect crowds.

The trailhead to Quandary Peak is accessible via a normal passenger car. From Breckenridge, drive 8 miles south on CO Highway 9. Turn right (west) on the 850 (Blue Lakes) Road. Drive a few hundred yards and turn right on the 851 (McCullough Gulch) Road. Drive 0.1 mile to the signed trailhead and small parking area.


Nina said...

These are some amazing views. I wonder how I would do at significant elevation since I don't have the opportunity to experience it in Michigan (unless you count the staggering heights of the Porcupine Mts, of course). A few years ago I was in Phoenix for work and hiked Camelback which is not tall but I nearly died. Of course, it was 102 degrees that morning and there was no shade anywhere.

Regarding your nose-blowing comment: I would need to devote some serious practice to that technique or I would probably blow an eyeball out all over the trail!

Anna said...

Great write up!

That hike sure does look different in the summer time.