What a Quandary!

June 18th, 2011 Comments Off on What a Quandary!

As many know, I am an avid outdoor enthusiast. I love anything outdoors. A few months ago while out in Breckenridge, I said that I was going to ascend to the summit of Quandary Peak. I have done a lot of research for this. I have joined the Facebook group “14ers”, joined 14ers.com and read the reports and also spoke to others about making the ascent. I had decided on the seven mile trek called the East Ridge. This seemed to have the least snow according to the reports, had a slow incline, but then also was very long and would take time to do. I was told to guess about five to seven hours. Knowing me and now I like to play around, take pictures, etc… I figured about eight hours. Today, June 17th, 2011 was the day; I was going to try making it to the peak.

With many people saying that I would not be able to do it, that I was not in shape, and outright telling me that I would never be able to do. Well, I wanted to prove them wrong.

Trying to decide what to pack for today was not easy. I am used to having everything with… the Boy Scout motto is “Be prepared” and normally I am. So this was going to be a tough decision. Here is what I packed in no particular order:

  • GPS
  • Cell phone (HTC Evo… awesome camera, texting and email capabilities)
  • Spare cell phone (it gets better service in an emergency)
  • Batteries (for the cell phone, camera, and GPS)
  • 3 bottles of water
  • 6 granola bars
  • Leatherman tool
  • Compass
  • Survival whistle
  • Toilet paper
  • Sunscreen packet
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Hooded sweatshirt
  • Windbreaker
  • Pocket rain poncho
  • Sunglasses
  • Notepad
  • Pens
  • Garbage baggies (in a film can)
  • Ziploc baggies
  • My signature card
  • And a can of oxygen!

Great, so I have a ton of gear packed… but I forget trekking poles, and I really wish I didn’t!

So I was planning on leaving about 4am to make it up there for the sunrise and then also to be lucky enough to not have any post holing. No luck there, I left just after 8am.

Getting a nice start on the trail was great. I had started on the really nice well-packed trail all until I looked at the GPS and found that I was not on the trail. I was still on the road and I walked past the trail. So, I doubled back and found where I was supposed to be, and this was a little harder. I noticed that I had no cell phone signal at all which I have to admit made me a little nervous, but determined I was still going and just knowing that I would not need it.

I decided that I was going to prove to myself in the first half of the way that I was going to make it to the top and push myself practically running to the top. I realized that this was a really bad idea in a relatively short period of time. I was supposed to take it slow and enjoy the scenery, the air and just being away. So I was burning out fast. Wait a minute, water break! I stopped and assessed the situation and had a drink of water and a granola bar. Hey I did not eat breakfast beforehand either!

This is when I decided that I should be taking longer breaks, not pushing myself so hard and then also maybe I should be smiling.

So I was seeing everything so green and fresh, I felt like I was in Minnesota! It was warm and I realized that maybe I should not have brought the hooded sweatshirt. So, I took that off and packed it in the backpack, and then I see snow! Walking around the snow trying to stay dry seemed easy. The snow was in large amounts and it had a path to walk around making the ascent below 12k feet easy. Checking the GPS, Gee I am almost halfway there! At this point I noticed that I was starting to get my cell phone signal back. I had wanted to track the signal so that I could report on it for others using Sprint.





So looking around, I know that I am close to a geocache, I am lost. I start to head off trail and towards the geocache. When heading off trail the distance never really seemed to go down. It seemed like I was walking in circles as a result of the actually climbing in elevation. Eventually I was lucky enough to make it to ground zero and made an easy find. The geocache seemed to make a really nice break, and I wish that we had more. Since I only had three on the journey, I had to use the camera as a break.

At this stop I had noticed that I was really going strong, too strong. I was starting to get out of breathe and the trip was starting to wear on me. The difference is that I have been in at an elevation of eleven thousand feet for longer than most of the people have. So, I should not be that out of shape. I also seeing the hill from this position I think was discouraging since I had seen some people a few miles ahead of me and it looking like a blizzard with fog. Great…

Trudging on, I kept walking thinking that it will be a big relief when I make it to the top; and then I was thinking that I would be thrilled just to make it to false summit. False summit was another geocache, and so another stop. Once here I had met a crew on their way down. Speaking in passing, they had given some advice on the snow conditions and also where to avoid post holing. They also made a comment on the fact that I was in good shape to be climbing this rock and then that I was still in good spirits at this elevation. I think that this advice and the compliments had given me a short boost of energy and actually had me running the short distance to the geocache.

The geocache at false summit was supposed to be fairly easy, or so I thought! After searching for about a half hour, I gave up. It had to be missing or buried. The geocache did not seem like a break at all! I was running around from rock pile to rock pile with no luck, so I called it and moved on.

Stopping to take a ton of pictures and look around was going to have to be my break. The fog had moved in and really I was started to understand that the fog here was really just the thick clouds. The clouds were amazing too! With the storms rolling in you were able to see clouds swept up into the cloud base and that was pretty amazing. With the sun piercing threw the clouds made for some great pictures.

While taking pictures, I had noticed something moving. Now I have to admit that I did think that I was seeing things. I had setup my camera and noticed stuff moving around but thought that I was seeing small furry little animals. So I setup the camera and waited and then I had seen one again and readjusted the camera only to find out that they were really there and I was not losing my mind. These little tiny things were following me that looked like chinchillas but are known as a pika, or sometimes known as a cony. They were sure fun to watch. Might make a nice pet!

So moving on then to the top after false summit was the worst part, but I felt a new burst of energy being about to see the top and where I was going. The snow did not make it look like fun and this looked like a frozen tundra of wilderness but I was still challenged to make it. I climbed for what seemed like forever only post holing towards the top. I fell in up to my waist even! Then the clouds opened…

The summit seemed to have just appeared like someone turned the light switch on. At the top I was able to find the geocache and met a couple other people. I had to replace the logbook and added a pen and signature item. Some had climbed to the top and descended by skis and a couple others were just leaving the long way down.

The summit was beautiful and impossible to describe. The feeling of making it to the top was overwhelming. I could not stop looking around! While at the top I was able to meet a young guy from Mankato, Minnesota which was interesting. He had climbed this before and when the blizzard started he recommended just waiting it out for the twenty minutes.

I was allowed to catch my breath while sitting out the blizzard, which was well needed. This time also gave me a chance to look around, take some pictures, and also a couple videos. At the top I also phoned some people and let them know that I did make it to the top without dying. It was extremely hard to explain how I felt at the top, the experience and the views.

With everyone gone, and nothing left to do, I started the descent. Going down seemed much easier and still I was able to stay above the snow for most of the way. On the way down I had noticed the pikas again, but I seen another animal. This creature was a little larger and harder to photograph. Getting a couple shots and then later determining this was a marmot. They were not as cute as the pika, but oh well. They were cool to see.

On the way down I had stopped to make a couple phone calls. I had caught up with a group playing at the tree line and did not want to pass them so I had also decided that this was a great spot to grab out the granola bars and water. Never have granola bars and water tasted to good. I could not wait for a complete meal later tonight.

With a storm moving in and the clouds getting dark, I had to get a move on it. Moving down from about 13k feet I had noticed that I started post holing which made for a harder trip. I noticed that someone had slid down. I wish I had a sled at this point! The people below were still taking their time, so I thought that I would take a shortcut and try to pass them. My shortcut led to more post holing which did not make for any fun at all, but I made it to the tree line. At this point I had just looked over and seen a coyote running by… too fast and too far to try to get a photograph.

Getting back to the trail was a little harder than I thought. I had been post holing pretty bad and even fell threw the snow into flowing water. The soaked boots made for a lot harder time on the trail and then being lost I was really hoping to find the trail fast. Looking at the GPS and trying to find where the trail was became harder than I thought. I was paralleling the trail the entire time. Finally I used the GPS to cross the trail and made it to the trail. At this point I was starting to lose my phone signal and made my last calls for a ride. At the bottom I had started down the road when I had noticed Kristie come to pick me up.

Eight hours after I started, I was finished. Once I made my way into the house I had to strip down and get a shower. There I noticed that my hands had a little frostbite. Eating a bagel and going out tonight was going to be great.

Of the many things that I learned, I think that better gloves are needed. Also I think that I would rather bring only a couple bottles of water and maybe a couple purifying tablets instead of three bottles. If I am going to be working out like this maybe a different kind of outer shell (coat). It might be nice in the future to be traveling with someone else and to spread some of the gear around.

Overall, the trip is worth it. I would recommend it to anyone else that plans on traveling to Colorado. More photos on the pix page.

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