Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Tale of Three Quandary Climbs

 Sunday, December 7th, I made my third visit to the summit of 14,265' Quandary Peak. Although I usually hike solo, this was the first time on my own for this mountain. The last one was 4 years ago with my wife Maryellen, and before that - almost 36 years ago, when I was 19.                    
They don't make 'em like they used to. I still have these 1976 Alfa tour boots.
Winter 1978-79 I flew back east for Christmas break from Colorado Mountain College/ Leadville, in December 1978. At one of my favorite outdoor shops, Moor & Mountain in Concord, Mass., I found this pair of shearling-lined Alfa XC touring boots for $45. There was just room in my pack for them on the flight back west, where they schussed powder around campus for a few weeks on my new Huski kit-built Nordic skis. Warm!

Sometime in January (or was it February?) of now 1979, a few of us headed out in the pre dawn to go climb Quandary Peak, just over an hour from Leadville near Breckenridge. After a memorable 360 spin-out in a friend's VW "bug" on the snowy roads (car and passengers unharmed), we got to the very buried trailhead. Everyone was on skinny skis, 6 or 8 of us, mostly "light touring" with wood edges- although there may have been a pair or two of the 10th Mtn. type with steel edges screwed to the heavy white wood, and I think one pair of the new Fischer Europa 76 fiberglass/steel edge backcountry models. There was a LOT of fresh powder on the ground when we parked along the road at the trailhead (I don't think there was a parking lot yet).

So much powder that we all skied happily right to the saddle at 13,200', just below the final summit slope of about 1,000'. It was cold, maybe single numbers, with some breeze. Snow stuck to our wool ski pants, hats , and mittens. My feet were getting cold even with the furry lining, but not as cold as some of my friend's were. My roommate Dan & I resorted to the classic mutual-feet-to-abdomen warming technique with mixed results: he got frostbite and I didn't. Guess the shearling helped! We all ditched our skis and headed up.

We were in the clouds on the summit and for much of the climb. I remember seeing the cliffs of North Star Mtn. across Monte Cristo Gulch through the snow filled air and thinking it all looked very alpine. The ski down was a hoot, all the deep fluffy snow making up in fun what we lacked in finesse. The only tracks were ours. There was no one else on the hill.

Mountain goat on Mt. Evans, July 2010
  8/2/2010 -    In the summer of 2010 we made our first trip back to Colorado from where we lived in Vermont. After rambling all over the state , we settled on Quandary for one last hike before heading east. We'd heard that significant numbers of Mountain Goats had moved into the area over the years, and having already seen some on Mt. Evans we wanted more.
On the summit, in the soup
 At around 13,200' on the false summit we had a pow wow. We hadn't seen any goats yet and the mountain was socked in. The altitude was affecting Maryellen enough that we figured she should call it good at the ridge and head back. We used our little walkie-talkies to keep in touch while one went up. and one went down. A short time later some descending hikers said they'd seen some Mountain Goats "by the glacier".  I passed a snowfield, but arrived on top without seeing any goats.
I was happy to see this Pika up there. If he was going to be the only animal I saw today, at least he was friendly.
The West ridge from the summit
The weather was continuing to build toward the forecast afternoon thunderstorm as I started down. Maryellen was still hiking, and I thought I might catch her before she got down (she got there first, and waited 'til I arrived- with the car keys- just before the rain hit- oops!), Ten minutes down the ridge I saw movement just below, to the right.
While focusing on this pair several others started strolling over...
Pretty soon there were about a dozen of these guys grazing tundra nearby. They seemed unconcerned by the people hiking by a few feet away.                                                                   
Except for a wary glance from this one:
They aren't always so docile- on Mt. Massive the following year a poppa goat let me know to stay clear of his little family group. But this day on Quandary they seemed curious, and I was amazed by how close they came if you stood still. 
Eventually they all drifted over the lip, out of sight. as one last sentry kept watch.
I hiked down through a stream of upbound hikers, maybe 50 or 60 altogether. There was a local trail runner who did            
the summit almost daily. There was a middle-aged guy wearing an oxygen mask (I'm serious),             sweating heavily and moving slowly.The experience was so different from our "79 winter                    trip that it seemed like a whole other mountain.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                              December 7th, 2014 - Late Autumn! 
Last week's early December conditions made for easy foot travel on Quandary. Below treeline, the trail was packed solid- snowshoes stayed in the car, in the Winter parking & overflow lot. Above the trees, everything was windblown, including me since there was a good breeze. There was one climber ahead.  I barebooted right to the saddle, where my microspikes went on just to make it easier on the harder windpack. Much better traction than my Alfa XC touring boots!                                                                                            
Clouds were blowing by, obscuring and revealing nearby peaks. I caught up to the person ahead and walked the last few yards to the top with them. The wind was 30-35 mph on the summit.                                                            
Looking into McCullough Gulch from the summit
Bundle Up!
Nary a Mountain Goat to be seen today, but I know they don't mind winter above treeline.
Top of Quandary Peak, 14,265'
I counted 9 hikers, including myself, on the mountain today. Pretty tranquil for a weekend.
Two guys from NYC ditched their skis about where we did in "79.
Quandary's reputation as an "easy" fourteener doesn't bother me. It's a beautiful, classy mountain. I 'll be back to climb it again soon.                                                                                                                

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