06:30-11:30, Tuesday, 8-18-20
CO 14ers: 24 of 53
Distance RT: 6.75 miles
Elevation gain/loss: 3,450′
Starting Elevation: 10,850′
Rank: 13 of 53
Location: Tenmile Range, south of Breckenridge
Route: East Ridge, Class 1
Companions: Stellar & Sandy
This will be a short post since so too was the hike.
As had been our style all summer, we came up with plans the day before. After regrouping briefly in Buena Vista, we decided to go for an easy hike the next morning. Yes, easy as 14ers can get, that is. We also had to be cognizant of the wildfires that were starting to blaze throughout the state. Several 14ers were inaccessible due to road closures on I-70 and 82. We considered Mt. Sherman in the nearby Mosquito Range but it didn’t sound like much fun…too much mining activity and a long dirt road approach. So we settled on Quandary Peak, the only 14er in the Tenmile range. This suited us perfectly because it was on our way towards Denver (ultimately our final destination), had easy access off HWY 9, and it’s only a little over 3 miles to the summit from the main trailhead. Of course, this makes it immensely popular to everyone. Quandary is one of the most hiked 14ers, just after Bierstadt, Grays and Torreys. But we’d be hiking on a Tuesday, which was ideal to avoid crowds. We’d also get a head start by car camping at the parking lot.
We got to the upper lot just as it was getting dark. It’s a really small lot, with only room for about 8 vehicles. There was only 1 other car and the driver was just returning. He said he’d just flown in from Florida the same day, coming straight from the airport to start the hike in the afternoon. I was impressed by his fitness and audacity…it sounded like something I might try. He further explained that he does a lot of trail running. But he was definitely suffering from a raging headache. That’s the one thing about altitude that always gets me, regardless of my fitness.
Another car parked next to us in the evening, the occupant quietly retreating to her backseat before we could even say hi. Then all was quiet until the usual early-morning risings. I slept through most of it, emerging to find the lot packed by first light. The overflow lot was even starting to fill up. We set out with the herds, quickly rising above timberline for nice views. A photogenic pika let me in on her world perspective…
Every rock in a talus field requires a good deal of climbing but at the same time, such rocks afford an infinite supply of hiding places. Notice the double hump of Grays and Torreys in the background? I wondered if a pika ever wonders about what else is out there? What’s it like to be up on those peaks over there in the distance? Could one pika ever make it there on its own? What was this pika thinking as it sat on these rocks? I knew for certainty the answers to these questions as they pertain to my own experience. I’d been to those distant peaks. I’d even walked the distances between them. What sets us apart, me and this pika? So many questions, so many perspectives.
We started up the broad ridge to the summit, taking a few stops to marvel at the line of people going up and down. Suddenly there was a break in the line. Mountain goats were crossing the path, disrupting the flow of traffic. We could see the jam from a quarter mile away. It’s amusing to me, the intersection of people and the animals that live up here full time. Us, doing all this just for fun. Them, going about their daily business of finding food and preparing for the different seasons. The pika doesn’t really have the luxury of thinking about distant mountain tops. She’s probably only wondering if she has enough food stores to last the winter.
The summit was a good time, full of cheery hikers and a few dogs. There was some smoke from the fires just starting to fill the valleys. This would unfortunately become a plague over the entire west coast for months to come. We were lucky to do all our hikes before the onslaught. After some peak-finding, we headed back down. Here, I point to the 3 (4) peaks of the DeCaLiBron that we hiked in the weeks before.
And that’s about it for Quandary Peak! It’s a great first 14er to hike and a very easy grab, if say, you’re already into double digits for the season. There also seems to be an abundance of mountain animals for your viewing pleasure. Cheers!