Solo Summit of Quandary Peak via the West Ridge — 1st CO 14er

The following is my recount of my climb of Quandary Peak the other week.  It was an awesome experience.

Quandary stares at me every morning when I wake up since I have a really incredible view out the front window of the house that I’m currently staying at. I break out the binoculars each morning to see how the “rush hour traffic” is doing. Knowing this and having read the West Ridge intel here on and my desire for challenging terrain, I had been planning on ascending via the West Ridge and descending via the East.

View from the front of the houseView from the front of the house

The weather the past week or two has been fabulous. Mostly clear blue bird skies each morning, and the afternoon thunderstorms have vanished. I decided earlier this week that if the weather was good, then I’d go for the summit. Things looked good.

Alarms set for 4:00am, 4:05, and 4:10. First one rings out. I wake up. Disconnect the phone. Hit the bathroom. Back into the bed waiting for the other 2 alarms. Generally, that’s not a problem, except that the alarm clock isn’t usually my phone, and I can’t tuck it into the covers with me. So, 6:25 rolls around, and I finally rise indignantly upset that I didn’t get an early start. Breakfast. Bag already prepared. Grab the camera. Out the door. In the car. Short drive to Blue Lakes Rd.

Since I planned on ascending west and descending east, I planned to lock up my bike at the bottom of the East Ridge TH, drive the car up to the dam, and then ride the bike from the TH to the car when I descended. Locked up the bike, and got to the dam. Up the scramble to the lake, and I hopped the barrier and hit the trail.

I had studied the route many times previously, but my plan had been to print out the route description and pics from 14ers.come. BUT, thanks to Comcast(!), my internet connection disappeared last night when I got home from the gym, and I wasn’t able to do this. I had Roach’s guide book to CO’s 14ers, but imho, the details there aren’t as good as what is found on this site. So, I set out on the trail to the west basin without knowing exactly where to pick up the trail, and this became a problem. I spent about 1hr20mins bushwhacking around the trails down near the lake thinking that the trail up to the basin started further west. I had actually committed to calling it quits for the day and coming back another day armed with better/more intel. However, as I’m crossing the creek coming down the mountain, I found a path that followed alongside. I decided to follow that up a bit thinking that it might be an easier path back to the car than bushwhacking back the way I came! Fortunately, I came upon the actual trail leading up to the basin.

Finally found the trail!Finally found the trail!

Back on course, and I really enjoyed the view and hike up and into the basin. I continued up, but again, without more intel, I simply followed the cairns. Yet, they took me up to the ridge further west than I needed to go. I got to the ridge west of the bump that the description tells you is not necessary.

Once I got to the ridge, the route description was accurate as it was easy class 2 hiking. The route started along the south side, but then it switched to the north. It continued along this side for a longer stretch than I anticipated, and at that point, I was getting disappointed that there wasn’t going to be enough challenging class 3 stuff. It looked like the summit was close already. Both of these beliefs were wrong! I did begin to venture closer to the apex of the ridge when I believed that the class 2 stuff along the north side was continuing on for too long. I am not sure, but I actually think that’s about the point where the trail did venture back closer to the ridge. Continued along, and the route finding difficulty began to increase, and the climb was really getting fun. Exposure at this point (maybe 1/3 to 1/2 way along the ridge?) wasn’t a concern — for me.

Finally up on the West Ridge and looking towards the summit, but viewing false summitsFinally up on the West Ridge and looking towards the summit, but viewing false summits

Nice view looking down the north side at some tucked away alpine lakesNice view looking down the north side at some tucked away alpine lakes

Things were going good. Felt fine. Taking my time. Taking in the scenery. Behind my intended schedule, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky for as far as I could see, so it was “go” all the way.

Then I got to more technical stuff. I got to the point where there is the big crack right up the middle of the rock. I climbed down to it, and I wasn’t sure how to go. At the top of the crack, there is a large rock that basically covers it and creates a ceiling so that you can’t climb up the crack and out the top. It was the first time that I really had to ponder if this was the right route and how to get past this point. As it turned out — having now reviewed the route description again upon returning home — I was at the right spot. I grabbed, wedged and back stepped my way up ~1/3 of the way. I reached over to my left to grab a rock that juts out. I held on tight, as the exposure here was pretty good. I matched my feet, hugged the rock and I stepped around to a ledge with my left foot. At that point, I was able to bring myself up easily. The route finding the rest of the way was definitely tricky. I was on the lookout for cairns, which I found sometimes, which was also reassuring, but there were also points where I could look down and to my left on the north side and see what I thought was a trail. It was odd, but I believe, again after reconsulting the route description here, that I was on the right path.

An easy tower climb, but class 3 and route finding is getting better!An easy tower climb, but class 3 and route finding is getting better!

I remember having read that the route never dipped more than 100′ below the ridge. I used that as a guide for my route selection. I would also add as a personal comment that if you are in doubt, stay to the north side of the ridge. I explored the south side a couple times, but I would climb to a certain point where the view would be obstructed. Without a clear view of how I could proceed with a route on that side, I turned back. Note however, that personal comment is NOT to say that the route NEVER goes along the south side. It does several times, but if you’re route finding, I’d suggest sticking to the north side.

Continuing on from the crack, I could see people outlined against the sky standing at the summit. I was getting close, but I came to a point — the final crux — that didn’t scare me, but I was concerned that I had chosen a really bad path. I was along the ridge on a tower-ish section, and I was looking down at a dirt area that set the base for the final. However, I couldn’t descend down directly in front. I couldn’t descend lower to my left. It appeared that climbing higher up was not the right choice, because at the time, I believed that it was too close for there to be any climb down. However, climbing up and to the right was the right choice, which is what I had decided to do. At this point, I was at the area where the route description describes some white rock, which I remember seeing and thinking that it was interesting. I descended down, and approached the final crux. I actually think the up and down prior to the final crux is more requires more caution and thought than the actual climb up the final crux. I ascended the final crux up the middle and then to the left and up. It was straightforward and juggy just like 98% of all the other hand holds along the ridge.

The final 100yds to the summit is easy as many say, but it did bring a roadblock. Mountain goats — 3 of them. Passed them with some caution, and I had my first CO 14er.


Lunch: Clif bars, apple, tangerine, and a bottle of Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA. Stripped some layers, sunscreen, relaxed, enjoyed the views, pictures, signed the register, chit-chatted, got my stuff together and headed down the east route.


You risk imprisonment for messin'!You risk imprisonment for messin’!

Mmm. Summit beer. Nothing better. Dogfish Head 60minute IPAMmm. Summit beer. Nothing better. Dogfish Head 60minute IPA

I love trekking poles. I don’t care what anyone says. They don’t ALWAYS help with the ascent, imo, but they DEFINITELY help with the descent. I felt bad for everyone going down who didn’t have them. They looked almost exhausted after only having left the summit behind about 1/4mi.

I am actually unimpressed with the hike along the east ridge. I can’t think that it’s a great hike, and I am not sure how it is enjoyable. Yet, when the hike gets further down below tree line, the shade and scenery is decent.

Upper Blue Lake ... looking WSW from lower on the east ridgeUpper Blue Lake … looking WSW from lower on the east ridge

Back down and amongst the treesBack down and amongst the trees

Finally done. On the bike. Rode 2 very long and tiring miles back up Blue Lakes Rd. to my car at the dam. It turned out to be a fantastic day after initially starting off on the wrong foot and thinking that it would have to be another day. Beer dreams filled my head as I soaked my feet in some cold alpine stream water at a secret location.

It's not really that hard to find, but I'm not telling.It’s not really that hard to find, but I’m not telling.

The sun has gone down, but there is just enough light from the horizon far out my sight to the west that silhouettes Quandary at this very moment. I’m satisfied and happy.

Hoping to do a 3-4nter at Maroon Bells, Crestone or Holy Cross in the very near future.  But, that may have to wait if there is more improvement with my ribs and breathing.  Then I will have to put that time to training.

~ by jerseyquaker on August 29, 2009.

2 Responses to “Solo Summit of Quandary Peak via the West Ridge — 1st CO 14er”

  1. Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs everyday.

  2. Great write up!! Did this route with my brother and his friend. He is west coast and this was easy for him. Myself on the other hand am is east coast and this route kicked my butt. I just followed my brother where ever he went but at one point he did a crazy down climb and I froze in fear. He continued on not going to wait for me. I had no choice but to continue on or be left frozen in fear. Thank God for my brother or I would have never made it to the summit. At the summit an insane lightning storm hit and I lost it. I thought I was going to die. I told my brother I was jumping off the summit and heading straight down the scree field to the car parked at the dam.
    He said that was insane and we should follow the ridge down the east side. I didn’t listen and down the scree field I went. Craziest descent I have ever made. My brother continued down the ridge as well as his friend. I have no idea how I was not struck by lightning. Quandry west ridge will always be a hike I will NEVER forget!!!!!

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