Tuesday, March 10, 2009

McCullough Gulch Snowshoe

Distance: 3 miles round trip
Elevation: 10,300 to 10,995 ft
Elevation Gain: 695 ft

Quandary Peak as seen from the right side of McCullough Gulch

It is impossible to get lost in McCullough Gulch unless you are blind, dense, or both. The imposing side of Quandary Peak is your constant companion on the left heading up the gulch and should be on right, amazingly enough, on your way out. This gulch is also home to Quandary Falls, but that is on the far left side of the gulch and is normally reached via McGullough Gulch Road, which in turn is reached by taking Road 850 off of Hwy 9 out of Breckenridge and then almost immediately making a sharp right onto Road 851. The winter trail on the other hand starts in a plowed parking lot right on Hwy 9. This lot is several miles before the turn off to Road 850.

Lush forest and open meadows at the beginning of the gulch

Dogs head up the trail

The trail starts out in a Ponderosa forest but quickly segways into open meadows with occasional stream sightings. As I mentioned before, Quandary Peak is always present, but as the trail gains altitude, the views behind you of Red Mountain (13,229 ft) and the Continental Divide become increasingly expansive. At the apex of the route, the view to the east is quite stunning.

Old cabin at 0.84 miles

The view begins to expand to the east

There are several milestones on this trail. At one mile is an old cabin, and at 1.5 miles is the intersection with the Wheeler National Recreation Trail. Another tenth of a mile beyond this is the intersection with a spur road that heads off to the left across the gulch and intersects with Road 851 heading to Quandary Falls. At this point you can head across the gulch if you like or continue straight for another 0.4 miles up a broad shelf that dead ends into a rock wall. We chose the latter. If the given the choice between going up and going down, I invariably want the up.

The trail ends just ahead

The last quarter mile is steep (150 ft up from the intersection), but the views will have you sighing with contentment, or perhaps sucking wind, depending upon how fast you bolted up that last bit. Pull out your linen tablecloth, the fois gras, and feast! This is the kind of view you see in travel brochures.

Looking back on the final pitch

While McCullough won’t get you trained to climb Quandary, seeing folks on the peak, even in winter will motivate you. If you are staying in Breckenridge and want a short outing with continual payoffs, some solitude, and the sense of really being in the back country, then this trail may be just the ticket. Unlike Baker’s Tank on Boreas Pass Road, you won’t find the hordes here. Perhaps the snow is too deep, perhaps the altitude gain too intense, or perhaps it is just unknown. Either way, give it a try on a nice day or when the wind is blowing tendrils from the summit.

Final view to the east

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