I went hiking since I had Presidents Day off. I watched the weather all week and wasn't very optimistic. Breckenridge, Colorado, and Leadville, Colorado, were both showing snow, so I decided just to make a last minute decision. When I woke up Monday morning, the forecast had changed to a few snow showers in the morning with things clearing up around noon. As a result, I decided to try Quandary Peak. I left my home at 6:00 and was at the trailhead by 7:45. The roads were icy, snow was falling, and I wasn't certain what the day would bring. I decided to go as far as I felt comfortable and at least get some exercise since made the drive. I strapped on the MSR snowshoes that I rented from REI and headed up CR 851. After a couple of hundred yards, I made a sharp left and followed some steep tracks to the west. The tracks had a couple of inches of fresh snow on them, but were easy to follow. I gained a couple of hundred feet in elevation when the tracks I was following tied in to what appeared to be the main trail. This trail intersected a couple of spur routes, but I simply took the westerly route that gained elevation.
The snow continued to fall and snowshoeing in the trees was actually very pleasant. I didn't notice the wind, and was having a good time. As I got to tree line, I decided to take a break and see how things would develop. I ate, drank, and put on another layer as the wind was stronger. At this point, I heard some noise from the south. Another snow shoer appeared and I asked him if he thought the weather was going to hold. He laughed and simply stated that at this elevation you never know. Seeing someone else gave me a boost of confidence so I gathered my gear and began to follow him. Despite the wind and cold, it didn't take long before I had to shed a layer due to overheating. The MSR's I rented had a descent crampon and also traction blades for traversing, I thought they worked well on the steeper terrain.
The weather didn't clear and the wind remained strong. My visibility varied greatly depending on wind gusts. At times I thought it was going to clear, and the next minute it was less than a quarter of a mile. I tried to hang with the solo climber, but he slowly pulled away from me. At times, I could barely tell where his tracks were. I caught my last glimpse of the other hiker as I sat at 13,200' just before the final steepest 1,000' of the hike. On this shelf at 13,200', I decided to trade in the trekking poles and snow shoes for an ice axe and crampons. The snow on this final section of the ridge was wind-packed and hard. After climbing for only a few hundred feet, I was happy with my decision.
Given the increasing grade, unrelenting weather, fatigue, and elevation, my pace slowed considerably. I finally passed the other hiker as he descended. We introduced each other and visited for 5 to 10 minutes. It turns out that he has his own business in Breckenridge, Colorado, as an adventure guide. After learning this, I didn't feel as bad for not being able to keep up with him. We said goodbye and I was on the summit in another 30 minutes. My time on top of Quandary Peak was short and miserable. The views were limited and it was very cold. I took a few photos, put on my shell, ate a PowerGel, drank some water, and started my descent. At approximately 13,400', I ran into a pair of hikers making their summit bid. I found my cached snowshoes and trekking poles and continued my hike out. By the time I was back at tree line, the skies had cleared and I imagine that the second group I ran into had a pleasant hike down. Although the statistics on this trail aren't too impressive, and Quandary Peak is considered an easy 14er, this was a difficult hike for me. A winter ascent of a tall mountain is much different than going in July or August. It took me 4 hours to reach the summit and 2 hours and 15 minutes to return.