In a Winter Quandary
In a Winter Quandary
The story goes that in the 1860s some miners had found some minerals they couldn't identify. They were in a quandary about the whole thing. So, as the tale spread to the locals who make up names for things, this place became known as Quandary Peak. It happens to be the only peak to rise above 14,000 feet in the Tenmile Range in Colorado. It's near Breckenridge, a skiing destination mostly for people who don't live in Colorado.
This was the first winter 14er climb for me, January 10th, 2015. It was a group climb organized on 14ers.com, an information and community website for those who climb Colorado mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation. If you are a hiker here chances are you are familiar with this website. Bill Middlebrook maintains the site. He's somewhat of a local celebrity to people who frequent the mountains. He was among those in the group that day. I had a chance to speak with him briefly. Well, it was more like exchanging pleasantries. One of his fans was talking his ear off so I didn't want to add to his building frustration. Some people go to great lengths to get away from people; there's nothing like being in your place of solace only to have someone jabbering your peace away.
Daybreak, that's when we started the climb. The east ridge trailhead (the ridge in the picture above) is right off Colorado highway 9 just a few miles outside of Breckenridge. The trail is 7 miles out and back from the lower parking lot, which was the only parking lot open at that time of year. There is one short diversion near tree line in the winter to avoid a potential avalanche area. There are parts of the climb that are relatively flat, but let's just say that it's all up hill, really. Some parts are just steeper than others.
The wind that morning was absolutely insane on the upper ridge. It was bad enough for me to have a serious battle against the urge to descend. One fellow climber just sat down because he was a bit frustrated with getting blown over. I sat next to him for a while, morale support I suppose. It's funny how much strength I can come up with when people are watching. We both got up and finished the climb. And as the great spirit of the mountain commands its own, a half hour later there was no wind at all.
This was my first real lesson in the value of layering in extreme conditions. I had on a moister wicking long sleeve shirt, a polyester long sleeve shirt, a polypropylene undershirt, a fleece jacket, and a nylon wind resistant and water proof Outdoor Research outer shell. This combination keeps the skin dry (and therefore warm), traps warm air around your core, yet breaths enough so moisture doesn't build up. Of course, if you start to sweat, remove layers - starting with the fleece.
Sunglasses in this wind would have watered my eyes and potentially frozen my eyelids shut. Goggles are important; my very stylish Salomon goggles did the trick. They have great ventilation to keep from fogging and fit well with my Seirus combo clava. The nice thing about the clava is that the face portion is mostly neoprene, great for keeping out the windchill, and the hat is mostly polyester, which breaths very well to keep your head dry and warm.
We didn't need snow shoes that day, the trail was hard packed enough. Although, as the sun warmed the snow by the time I was on the way down, what had been crusted over was turning soft. Microspikes were important on the steeper and icy portions of the trail. It took me the better part of 4 hours to summit and half that to descend, which is typically the ratio.
Also, on the way down I met up with three climbers who were ascending with overnight gear. They were training for a Denali attempt later on in the year. Meeting all kinds of great people is part of the fun of Colorado climbing.
Once again, being on top of a Colorado 14er brought that old familiar feeling of accomplishment that squashes any discouraging or defeatist thought that might have otherwise won the day. I'll probably say this often: it's a spiritual experience being up there - nothing like I've ever experienced in my life. That's why I absolutely love doing this.
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