Quandary Round Three

Posted on February 23, 2009

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So on Saturday, February 21st, I got my third attempt at a winter ascension of Quandary Peak (14,265 ft). The first time, almost one year ago, we made it to just under 13,000 and had to turn around because of time constraints. The second time, last March, we summited, but then picked the wrong couloir on the south face and had some sketchy skee-side-hilling-in-alpine-boots action. This time, I was up there with the University of Denver Alpine Club to both help out as an officer, as well as try to make the summit myself.

We pulled up to the nearly-full trailhead parking lot around 9:00AM alongside the Pueblo Community College van and almost a dozen other cars. The skies were the bluest of blues, but it was apparent after talking to the guy who had just finished his decent that the winds were more than strong that day. There were 17 in my group, with about 7 on skis and 10 in snowshoes, and everyone followed the rather well-paved trail all the way up to treeline before I got my camera out. Once we arrived at treeline (I’m pretty sure it’s around 12,000 feet, my altimeter’s battery is dead) the wind gusts noticeably picked up and the trail inclined enough to put up the lifter bars on my bindings.

One of the group members displays proper wind-protection clothing as we arrived above treeline.

Once we arrived above the first bowl, we had to take our skis off a few times to preserve our skins. The snow is completely wind-packed and fairly shallow, so there were a few guys up there in straight alpine boots and their skis on their back, sans snowshoes, skins, or crampons, and they made it to the summit no problem.

Some of the crew just before the rocky bench. A noticeably bare Mt. Bross visible in the background.

If you look at this map, pretty much the entire area between the two “ski” areas is almost a mandatory walk both ways if you care about your skins or bases.

Anyhow, at this main bench 10 people in the group decided to turn around due to high winds, and seven of us continued to the summit. The winds were manageable until the top, where they were so strong they blew one of our group members off his feet and swept a pair of gloves off the south face as well. For some reason people thought it was some sort of big deal I left my skins and skis on as I toured to the top, but I only had to do some minimal switch-backing to make it all they way up. I arrived at the summit around 1:00PM, about 4 hours after parking.

Almost there…

5 of the final 7 to make it up.

Of the 3 of us that made it up with skis, two decided not to down hike into the Christo Couloir (which looked totally skiable), so the three of us ripped down the east ridge as opposed to the rock-and-wind scowered face. The snow was as stiff as Styrofoam.

Coming down

Then we had to take our skis off for the nearly-snowless bench and down hike for about 500 horizontal feet. The bottom bowl had a few fresh turns but was as stiff underneath as the upper east ridge. We skied down to the cross-country path and hiked out back to the trailhead where we arrived at about 3:30PM, making for a full 6 and a half hour day on the mountain. The snow in the trees was delicious, and if you’re headed up there I recommend taking the lower bowl far skier’s left and then ripping the trees all the way to the road and hitch-hiking back to the trailhead. It’s supposed to be great weather this week, so I highly recommend you get out there!

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I might be doing some more backcountry this week up in either Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt. Sherman, or Berthoud Pass. This weekend I’ll be down in Silverton for more rippage. Until next time, pray for snow!

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