Colorado 14ers in January – Quandary

Of all the Colorado 14ers it seems like Quandary is my favorite. It’s only a few minutes away from Breckenridge, and has an excellent year-round parking area with plenty of room. I think it’s my favorite just because I’ve done it a lot more than any other of the Colorado 14ers. I’ve been to the top now at least 15 times over the years, and in every month except January. Last month I did it, and that was my first time in December. Today I set off to get January done.

Quandary Trailhead Colorado 14ers
Trailhead for Quandary, one of the Colorado 14ers

The weather forecast showed that it would be in the high teens at the summit with 20mph winds. I almost assumed it would be true and and dressed for 15 and took a small water bottle bag. Knowing Colorado 14ers weather as I’ve experienced it in the past I decided to take a small pack. I packed a TNF Better Than Naked hoodie (wind shirt), a Mont Bell thin puffy jacket, a Buff and my REI Lobster Cycling Mitts. I figured that would do. I packed a few gel packets in my pants pockets and headed out the door.

Tree line on Quandary, one of the Colorado 14ers
Where the trees thin out by the bridge

At the parking area I switched to my Salomon Spikecross 3 CS Trail Running Shoe (CS is for ClimaShield waterproof fabric). I don’t wear these in the house or car if I can help it. So I switch at the parking area. The new parking area at Quandary is great and helps make this one of my favorite winter Colorado 14ers, with a very easy short approach. I hiked up behind the parking area, heeding the “no trespassing” signs and got onto the road to the trail head. A couple was in the parking area skinning up, but I couldn’t imagine what for, since there’s not a lot of snow.

Colorado 14ers have some great views
View looking toward Breckenridge CO

On the trail I made great time to the sign below the restoration area where the Winter trail heads up the hill and the Summer trail heads toward the bridge. Quite a bit of restoration and trail maintenance work has been done on the Colorado 14ers in recent years. Please remember the Leave No Trace principle “Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces”. Bottomless snow qualifies. I headed up the hill and was pleasantly surprised to find a narrow strip of well packed snow so I didn’t sink too much. Too much. At about 12,400′ I looked around at building clouds and an obvious whirlwind blowing down the ridge from the summit, which was shrouded in dense dark clouds.

Be alert for weather on Colorado 14ers
Whirlwind blowing down the ridge from the summit

I stopped at 13,000′ to put on my wind jacket, and again at 13,300′ to put on my puffy and buff and switch gloves. Going over the bump on the ridge to the flat before the final steep push to the summit the temperature seemed to drop by about 20 degrees and the wind picked up quite a bit. Weather can be fickle on the Colorado 14ers. I had passed a few people on the way up, both above and below treeline. Now I was passing people coming down who said that the top was even worse than here. I trudged on up. My fingers were getting a bit cold and my forehead between my glasses and hat was cold. Everything else was pretty good.

Summit of Quandary one of the Colorado 14ers
Quandary Summit stick. No view from the top today.

Summit of Quandary, one of the Colorado 14ers, in January

Finally, I topped out in hard, steady, biting winds. I got a few quick pictures and took off for the warmer lower elevations. The summits of Colorado 14ers can be deadly cold in the Winter. No real view today with the summit shrouded in dense clouds at the moment. I wasn’t going to hang out to see if it cleared either. Everything up here was coated in thick wind-blown crystals on the lee side (North-ish today). I got a picture of it on the rocks, but the summit pole was even more thickly coated.

Summit Ice formations on Colorado 14ers
Rime Ice formed on everything on the summit

I moved as quick as I could on the descent. My shoes were awesome on the ascent, but the spikes are fairly tiny and a little more slippage on the descent. So I had to be quite careful in spots. For most people I would be very cautious about recommending spiked running shoes for a Winter Colorado 14ers ascent. As I got lower it seemed like suddenly it got warmer and less wind at about 13,200′. I looked around and the layer of cloud was hovering above and behind me. I was out of it. The rest of the way down was pretty uneventful. I stopped by the restoration area and stripped down to my thinner lighter clothes. There was one spot where the other people both ascending and descending couldn’t figure out what path to take, and all were pretty soft sun melted snow so I stepped carefully.

Be wary of weather on the Colorado 14ers and prepare to bail if needed
Looking back at the cloud over my shoulder on the descent

Down in the trees there were bare spots in the trail I didn’t remember on the way up. I was moving pretty quickly, but still if they were there before I should have remembered them. I suppose the sun down here was quite a bit warmer. I got to the car, changed my shoes, and headed into Breck. It was an awesome day, and I achieved a goal – in November I discovered that I hadn’t done Quandary in December or January. Now I have that out of the way. Do I have another goal for the Colorado 14ers? Time will tell …

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