Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Quandary Peak

On August 9th I was in Colorado with Judy and Andrew to do some hiking and mushrooming. We flew into Denver late the night before, and after waiting for luggage, off-airport vehicle rental and the drive to Denver, we didn't get to bed until after 1:30 a.m. After breakfast, on the 9th, we drove through Breckenridge and then about eight miles to the Quandary Peak trailhead. We didn't arrive until about 11:30 a.m. Quandary Peak, at 14,265 feet in elevation, is the 13th tallest mountain in Colorado and the only 14,000 foot peak in the Tenmile Range. 
Quandary Peak - summit in the clouds - viewed from road into trailhead.
Andrew, our mushroomer, quickly found himself in the midst of the sporous fungi. I spent about an hour with Judy and Andrew, hiking slowly up the trail while we looked at scores of mushrooms. We found a few king bolete mushrooms, or porcines, which Andrew says are the most highly sought mushrooms, and many other varieties, mostly inedible, that I can't begin to remember the names of. As we hiked, we were followed by several large gray jays, very unafraid and very close. I suspect that they are used to handouts of gorp from hikers.
King Bolete Mushroom

Amenita muscaria
Gray Jay
Colorado was experiencing stormy weather and we began to get a little rain. At 12:30, near about 11,300 feet in elevation, I realized I needed to get hiking or I would never get to the summit and back. The east ridge of Quandary is 6.75 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 3,450 feet. At about 12,000 feet, I started to see the summit in the distance and one of the Blue Lakes in the distance (to the left).
Blue Lake to left, Quandary Peak right of center.
Zoomed in view of Quandary Peak
Zoomed in view of Blue Lake
The weather started to turn nasty. Lightning started to flash and thunder boomed in the distance. It was on and off thunder and lightning for most of the rest of the hike. There were periods of heavy hail where it was coming down and lightly covering the ground. Then it turned to heavy rain and wind. I zipped up my Northface jacket, pulled the hood over my cap and around my face and zipped up the zipper over my chin to keep the cold wind and rain off my face. I pulled on my gloves. I started to pass people coming down, some had been to the summit, others were turning around because of the weather and lightning. Very concerned about the weather, but hoping to catch a break, I continued on. One man asked me if I knew something he didn't, with reference to why I was going up and he was turning around. Eventually I reached the first plateau where the summit ridge was fully visible. From the plateau I could see a mountain goat part way up the summit ridge, off to the left. It stayed in about the same place and I was able to get some good pictures of the goat as I passed it by.  
Blue Lake is more visible.
Top of plateau is ahead and peak is just visible left of center.
Summit center and trail follows ridge to the left. A mountain goat is in foreground - actually taken on the way back down from the summit.
Mountain goat feeding on grass off to the side of the trail.
I learned a day or two later that there was serious flooding in Manitou Springs (outside Colorado Springs) from the storms this day. I talked to a man while hiking Mount Yale several days later that got three inches of hail this day while on Torrey's  Peak and he had to turn around. So, although we had some nasty weather on Quandary, it was much worse in areas not too far away.

As I started up the summit ridge most of the people were gone. Only a few were still coming down. The last two, a couple of women, commented that I was as crazy as they were (in reference to my continuing upward). It is always best to climb 14ers early in the morning to avoid the afternoon thunder showers, but this was my only opportunity for this peak and I wanted to do it while I was so close. I was anticipating some false summits, but was happy to see that the summit ridge was pretty straight forward: a few rock cairns, some mini rock shelters to get out of the wind, and some beautiful views on all sides. It was about 3:00 p.m. Fortunately, I caught a window in the weather and had no rain or hail while actually on the summit. Another benefit of braving the weather, I was the only person on the summit. Sometimes, usually, it is nice to have wilderness feel wild and lonely, big and overwhelming, instead of like an obstacle course at an adventure theme park.
One of the last people scrambles down from the summit.
The summit of Quandary Peak.
Self-portrait on the summit.
To the south, Mounts Bross, Lincoln and Cameron, all 14ers.
To the north, a beautiful basin full of lakes.
A different view of Blue Lake below.
Leaving the summit and looking down at the ridge trail below. 
I started back down, happy to get some elevation between me, the summit and potential lightning. I realize lightning can strike anywhere, but I like to reduce the odds by not being the tallest thing in the vicinity. The mountain goat I passed on the way up was still there. The weather was less rainy and I spent some time watching him and taking way too many pictures. I continued on and found another mountain goat, perhaps a hundred yards further. This smaller goat allowed me to get within about 15 yards of it. It was stirring to see it pound the ground with its hoof and yank out some sort of sustenance, perhaps grass or moss. To have a greater appreciation for the utility of its woolly coat. To wonder how often they are the unfortunate recipients of bolts of lightning, as they stay while we flee for lower ground. I spotted another three mountain goats much further away out among the green grass on the flank of the mountain. Seeing mountain goats is a thrill. It never gets old. 
Same mountain goat on the way back down.
A different mountain goat - indifferent to me as it chowed down on grass. 
I want to reach out and pull off the shedding coat. Better than pealing a sunburn.
I continued on down. Eventually I passed a few of the slower people. I hit tree line and the weather improved. When I was very close to finishing, I had someone warn me, heading upwards, that a group of about 40 runners was going to start what he called the "Quandary Crusher." A race to the summit and back. The start time was fortuitous as it missed the worst of the weather. It about 5:00 p.m. From a Facebook entry for last year, I see that the record to the summit is about 56 minutes and the fastest descent is 28 minutes. The overall fastest times is 1 hour, 34 minutes (amazing). The physical fitness to accomplish that is beyond my comprehension. In my current circumstance, age and level of fitness, I feel a sense of accomplishment just finishing the hike, even if it took 6 hours or so to do it. 
Quandary Crunchers set out on their amazing journey to the peak and back.


  1. Glad you made it to the top. Down at treeline, it was kinda fun to be mushroom hunting in the hail.

  2. I hope you do a post or two on eating some of those mushrooms.

    I could make a joke about old goats being the only ones not wise enough to come in from the rain, but I'll refrain.

    1. This would not be the first time I've been referred to as an old goat. In my current circumstance, I'm actually quite happy to be referred to as an old goat - of course, only so long as it is a mountain goat and not one of the kind sitting in a barn yard and eating balls of yarn and straw hats.

  3. Awesome post and great info. Thank you for the mountain goat photos :)