Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quandary Peak

Quandary Peak
Quandary Peak has been on my list all summer but I have been avoiding the crowds for as long as I could.  I’ve heard horror stories of the hundreds of people that hike this mountain on the weekends because it’s within 2hrs of Denver and any vehicle can make the trailhead.  Brian had already climbed this peak and was out climbing with his Dad this week, so I now had a good opportunity to make my summit bid.  I haven’t done a solo hike since before Brian and I met so I was unsure how my motivation would be today.  When the alarm went off at 3am I kept saying to myself just keep sleeping, but thankfully that didn’t last too long.  I made myself get up and was out of the door by 3:30am.

The drive over was quite boring by myself.  I played some Eric Church and Luke Bryan on the stereo and drank a thermos of coffee to keep myself awake.  The drive over to the TH took around 2hrs, which isn’t too bad for a 14er from the Denver area.  When I arrived at the TH there were two rigs already there where people had camped the night before.  I woke everyone up, unintentionally but that’s what you get when you sleep at the TH.  It was pitch black and I wanted to get up the mountain and down in a reasonable time so I put my headlamp on and within 10minutes I was off on the trail.

Navigating the trail in the dark wasn’t too hard.  I have a Princeton Tec Headlamp that puts out a pretty good beam and was more like a spot light for the first 20minutes or so.  The only issue was the trail starts out up this rocky gauntlet and searching in the dark for the route and spotting rocks at the same time was a little bit difficult.  After an initial climb the trail is really nice, gradual in spots and you seem to climb without noticing it.  That is one thing I love about starting in the dark, it never seems so bad. 

About 40 minutes after I started I got passed buy a guy who was moving pretty good.  Just as he passed I noticed some deer just below the trail.  There were three or four of them and two were bucks, and of course I couldn’t get a good picture in the early morning light.  Switchbacks up the ridge soon started and the tree line was thinning.  I noticed a lot of goat hair in the bushes and trees along this point, so I was hopeful for another Mountain Goat sighting today.  For the time being I just kept making my way up the trail, which now had turned to rock.  Brian warned me about this route telling me how much he hated the rock so I was a little worried about the rock going into the climb.  There was about 2miles of rock each way, but nothing worse than we have seen this year already.

The ridge seemed never-ending at times, but the good thing was the summit was in sight.  Just as I made it up onto the main ridge another guy came blazing up the trial behind me and I watched him create quite a gap between us in no time at all.  The wind on the ridge kicked up and I had to put on a fleece and my gloves so I made a two minute pit stop before my final push up the last 1,200ft.  I started memorizing the rock layers up the last section of the mountain so I could tell how much progress I was making then I took off.

After the first 500ft I had made it past the white layer and was now in the black rock layer.  There was one layer left the rust layer then the summit.  I notice the first person that passed me early in the morning was sitting on a rock for some time and I finally caught up with him.  I asked if he was o.k., because I rarely catch up to people on 14ers.  He was in tennis shoes and his feet weren’t doing so well and he was contemplating turning back.  I convinced him to join me and told him we were close.  His name was Nick so we already had something good going for the both of us.  It was nice talking to him, he is about to head off to boot camp in the Navy so we chatted about my family history in the Navy for a while.  This was also his first 14er, so I was happy I was able to convince him to head up before his journey in the service starts.

The upper trail was perhaps the best part.  Tight winding switchbacks in hard packed dirt, it was nice to get off the rock for a bit.  In no time at all we made the summit.  At almost exactly 3hrs since I started it was just before 9am.  I was able to go over my 1,000ft per hour rate so I was very happy with my progress today.  There were three others on the summit which is a pretty open summit from what I’ve heard with this peak.  The views to the West were smoky, I was guessing from the fires in Idaho since there isn’t any significant burning in Colorado right now.  I was able to get some good recon on some nearby peaks I want to do in the future as well.  I spent maybe a half hour on top then started making my way down.

Decalibron Mountains to the South
The trail down was quite crowded; I would say there was close to 100 people on the mountain throughout the day.  The first 2,000ft flew by quickly as I was making my way down the rock at a much better pace than the mountains we have climbed lately.  Just as I got to the switchback section I saw a large group of Mountain Goats.  I would say there were about a dozen of them and that didn’t surprise me after all the goat hair I noticed on the ascent.  There was a group of three right on the trail just a bit further down and they had no intent on moving.  They didn’t seem to mind people, but I did drop off the trail about 10ft to give them some room.  I always love goat sightings, and this was only my second encounter in Colorado so far.

Mountain Goats
The rest of the trail down was pretty uneventful.  I just had to keep getting out of peoples way as they made their way up.  I never really stopped and just kept moving.  I made the descent to the car in 2hrs and it was just past 11am when I made it back to the car.  I love being able to climb a mountain and be back to my car before noon, it doesn’t happen much so I’ll take advantage when I can.  There were no storms or anything to rush me down, I just wanted to get home and relax before my work week starts on Wednesday.  I would rate Quandary as one of the easier 14ers right behind Sherman and the Decalibron.  This was a nice hike and the scenery and wildlife was great.  My schedule at work changed so I doubt I will get out as often as I have been, but I hope to put out trip reports a couple times a month at least.

GPS Track
 Date: 8/21/2012
Starting Elevation: 10,850ft 
Quandary Peak Summit: 14,265ft
Total Gained Elevation: 3,450ft
Distance: 6.91 miles
Time: moving 4:40,  stopped 1:00

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