Thursday, January 17, 2013

Quandary Winter Climb

North Star Mountain
I start classes next week so I wanted to get out on a climb or two before hand.  Weather looked decent for a trip up Quandary Peak; a nearby 14er that I previously climbed this summer so I put a message out on the 14ers board looking for a partner.  Since it was a Wednesday climb I didn’t have much hope of finding a partner, but lucky for me Paul responded and we made plans to get out on the mountain.  The forecast was calling for a high of 20°F with winds in the 20mph range resulting in wind chills as low at -20°F with clear skies.  As far as winter climbing goes, these are pretty good conditions.

The hardest part about winter climbing is deciding on clothing and gear.  I’m a real pussy when it comes to cold feet.  My regular boots which are just full grain leather and no added insulation which get cold quite quickly, so I opted to go with my heavy plastic mountaineering boots this time.  The good part with plastics is your feet are toasty warm all day even with temps dropping into the high negatives, but the downside is they weigh a ton.  I'm not sure how much they weigh, but they feel like 10lbs each and when covered in snow they feel even heavier.  I wore my thick thermal plants and had three layers on top and bottom.  This turned out to be way too much.  With the movement up the mountain I was quickly sweating.  I didn’t even wear a hat most of the day, when the wind kicked in I just used my thin buff on my head instead of my heavy snow cap.  Then the final decision that hurt me was leaving my snow shoes in the car.  The beta I found sounded like a hard packed trial the entire way so we just put on micro spikes at the car as we left the trail head.

Wheeler Mountain
There was a light snow coming down and a low cloud cover.  I guess considering we were at almost 11,000ft the cloud cover wasn’t really that low.   Hiking from the car down the summer road I could already tell the boots I selected were going to be too much and end up hurting before long.  As we started through the trees there was a nice hard packed trail with an inch or two of fresh snow.  It didn’t take me long to get out of breath since I have not been as active as I was during the summer.  Soon we were both shedding hats and gloves as we were both sweating pretty good.  After the first hour and 1.35miles we came to a split in the trial where the summer and winter trails head in different directions.  We got a good glimpse of the ridge to come and decided a break was in order.

The fog/cloud whatever it was, was still really thick at this point.  But every now and then we could get a view of what lay ahead of us, and it was quite intimidating.  From this point I really wished I had packed my snow shoes.  With my big moon boots I found myself post holing to my knees as we worked on gaining on the small shelf around 12,080ft.  This was definitely the hardest part of the climb, very very exhausting.  It was only a few hundred feet…or that’s at least what it felt like to the shelf.  From the shelf on the snow was much more wind packed now being above the tree line.  Spikes worked in this area, but many times I wished I had my crampons to get a better bite into the snow.

At this point I knew I would not be going to the summit today and I think I knew that before we started.  I told Paul to take off and I would go up as far as my body allowed.  He took off like a jackrabbit, I was very impressed!  I kept my slow trudge up the ridge and my hip flexors were starting to cramp up.  I’m sure the post holing earlier just destroyed them, and the rest of my legs were quite tired so I knew it wouldn’t be wise to press myself up another 1,000 vertical feet of thin air.  I think it is a very wise thing to know our limits and I hit mine around 13,100ft so I called that a day.

I could see Paul high on the mountain and all looked well for him so I took my time enjoying the amazing views above the clouds.  The wind had picked up by now so I took out my puffy down jacket and gloves and warmed up quite quickly.  I started heading down about a quarter mile at a time, just enjoying being high up on the mountain.  You never really want to leave, but usually the cold wind changes your mind rather quickly.  Skis would have been nice, but my skill level is still that of resort style skiing.

After I got back down into the tree line I finally found a nice log to take a seat and wait for Paul.  Since I was on a snail’s pace coming down it did not take him long to catch up.  I waited there eating Oreo’s and drinking water for about 20-30 minutes till Paul arrived.  He is a machine!  We rested for a few when he arrived then made the last mile back down to the car.  I’ve never had a failed trip in the mountains and this was not going to be the first.  Every trip brings its own beauty and experience, just because you don’t summit a mountain doesn’t mean it was a failure.  The only time you fail is when you don’t go on a trip.  Everyone stay safe in the cold of the winter, but get off your butt and enjoy the season!

GPS Track
Date: 1/16/2013
Starting Elevation: 10,825ft
Quandary High Point: 13,120ft
Total Gained Elevation: 2,300ft
Distance: 4.90 miles
Time: 3:50 moving, 3:22 stopped. 
Climbing Partner: Paul

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