Tag: 14er

Quandary in Snowstorm

October 27, 2014

Last night my wife suggested I do Quandary. It had been a couple months since last time and a few months longer before that. I checked the weather on Mountain-Forecast.com:

Quandary Weather near the bridge
Quandary Weather near the bridge
Quandary Weather at the summit
Quandary Weather at the summit

Looked like it was going to be really cold and windy and a bit overcast. I gathered up a few of the things I would be taking, including my Suunto Ambit 2S and my Salomon Spikecross shoes. I had seem some beta pics on Grays that implied there would be a fair amount of snow up high and I hadn’t used these shoes in a while. Strava says I only had 15 miles on them, but it’s probably more like 100 with all the winter summits I did do in them previous to Strava.

My daughter was already in bed, and I keep a lot of my stuff in her closet, so it would keep till morning. At least in winter you don’t have to beat the lightning. The next morning it was snowing hard. I got the rest of my gear together and dressed then took the kids to school and continued on to the Quandary parking lot. I followed a snowplow much of the way. I assumed they were going to work on Hoosier Pass, because the road was pretty slick. Quandary was socked in good, from this pic at the pull-off near the other road in.

Quandary from the pull-off on Hwy 9
Quandary from the pull-off on Hwy 9

At the parking lot I put on the HR belt and it took a good 10 minutes for the Suunto to pick up a GPS signal. Later I heard from a few friends who also had GPS acquisition issues today, so not sure if it was the weather or the system. For pants, I was wearing a pair of UnderArmour briefs, a pair of REI fleece tights (my favorites for cabin wear on expeditions) and some Pearl Izumi cycling wind/water shell pants. They’re really light and flexible and I wanted to test them out under stress today.

Where the rubber meets the trail - Salomon Spikecross winter trail shoes
Where the rubber meets the trail – Salomon Spikecross winter trail shoes

As I mentioned previously, I was wearing my Salomon Spikecross winter trail shoes. They have carbide spikes that I feel work a bit better than Kahtoola on the rocky sections of the trail on Quandary. Under them I had my classic combo of Injinji liners (the really thin ones) under Point6 Summit Mountaineering Wool Socks (Eddie Bauer brand). I normally don’t wear gaiters if I can help it, though I do have some Mont Bell softshell running ones that I wear now and then.

 

Trailhead sign for Quandary. Still accessible by road
Trailhead sign for Quandary. Still accessible by road

Up top I had on a Columbia Omniheat (reflective) zip turtleneck and a Salomon hybrid softshell/fleece jacket under an OR Goretex jacket. My gloves were a home-brewed combo of Columbia Omniheat Cell-compatible liners inside Mountain Hardwear mountaineering shells. For a hat I’m wearing an Icebreaker beanie (very thin) under a Salomon Swag Cap. Yeah, Swag as in they gave it to me at the finish line of a 10K run. I also have a buff on, though I wasn’t able to locate one of my favorites that I think is in my ice climbing backpack.

Near the bridge, nearly halfway and from here the swirling maelstrom of snowstorm is just visible at tree line
Near the bridge, nearly halfway and from here the swirling maelstrom of snowstorm is just visible at tree line

I wasn’t moving too fast, with a target of about 2 hours for the summit so I didn’t sweat too bad, though I did open up the neck of the two outer layers and the pit zips on the Goretex.

View of the upper layers if you're interested. This is still at the Trail Restoration sign near the bridge. Later in the winter the trail takes off from here straight up that hill
View of the upper layers if you’re interested. This is still at the Trail Restoration sign near the bridge. Later in the winter the trail takes off from here straight up that hill

When I got to tree line, just about 12,000′ I switched the Goretex out for a Mont Bell puffy synthetic jacket and cinched up the hood. It was really windy and cold and blowing snow pelting me. I’d say that 35-40 MPH wind forecast was about right. I passed a couple struggling near the top of the point at about 12,600′ and after a while looked back and didn’t see them. There had been three sets of footprints on the way up and one was still barely visible ahead of me and I followed it up the regular summer trail which was still easy to follow.

As I passed the flats at 13,300′ it became much rougher going with snow drifted in between the boulders making for difficult footing. Your foot would either hit wind crust and stick, hit crust and punch through into the boulders, or slide down into the powder and bounce around in the boulders until  you either stuck or fell.

At about 13,700′ I saw the owner of the third set of footprints heading down from way off to the North, angling back onto the trail. That implied the trail was hard to follow up high. I’d have to remember that. I ran into her after a bit.

“Windy” nodding her head up.

“Yeah” just nodding

And that was all we had the energy to say in the blustery day on Quandary.

Quandary Summit after 2:45 from the lower parking lot. Very difficult conditions and bad weather.
Quandary Summit after 2:45 from the lower parking lot. Very difficult conditions and bad weather.

Finally after 2:45 I got to the summit. 45 minutes later than goal, but the conditions were pretty bad and I had to face out of the wind braced on my poles several times to stay upright in some of the worst gusts. I made a short video on top then took off for the bottom without eating or drinking. I did that on the way down once I was out of the wind. Footing was even worse on the way down so it was slow going until I got down below about 12,000′ and then it was pretty quick.

So I’m back in training for mountaineering and have plans for some cool objectives coming up. As soon as any of them get past the “how much, what dates, how many climbers” etc I’ll let you all know. Subscribe to the newsletter if you want to be among the first to know.

Winter Hiking for the First Time

I took my 13 year old son out winter hiking for the first time on a Colorado 14er. I selected Quandary for a few reasons.

  • I’ve been to the top in every month, in almost every condition and know the routes well.
  • I’ve helped several other people do their first 14er on Quandary.
  • He’s been up it twice in the summer and knew what to expect.
  • Winter access to Quandary is the same as in summer, so no long approaches.

Winter hiking for the first time can be daunting, but he has seen me preparing for my winter outings. I trail run, snowshoe run, ice climb, and climb lots of mountains all year round. I knew how to prepare and properly outfit him for the adventure. The weather called for temperatures into the mid 20’s with possible winds to 20 mph. He’s a bit smaller than I am, and younger. He hasn’t adapted to winter activities like I have.

Winter hiking for the first time, my son got to meet Alan Arnette
Winter hiking for the first time, my son got to meet Alan Arnette

My son has a few favorite clothes items so I based his outfit around those to make it easier for him. I suggest that if you are considering winter hiking for the first time you do the same. It’s a lot easier. He wore base layers, insulated snow pants like for sledding, a mid-weight fleece jacket, and a mid-weight down jacket. On his extremities he wore a thick knit cap, ski gloves, and on his feet, wool ski socks and some Sorel boots. We brought along a couple pair of snowshoes but I really didn’t want to wear them unless we had to. He didn’t have enough experience with them that I thought it might slow us down some.

At the trailhead we discovered that there was some mountain club group hike going on, the lot was full and the road was almost completely parked up. We parked way down by Hwy 9 and decided with that many people ahead of us snowshoes were definitely not needed. We started out dressed light, with his puffy (nickname for down jacket) in his backpack. Along the trail we bumped into Alan Arnette, whose Everest Blog is quite popular CLICK HERE. We passed through a few deep spots with a bit of wading. I expected these, since they’re always in about the same spots every year. In my opinion it’s worth slowing down a bit to break trail in hip deep snow for a couple hundred feet in return for going a bit faster and lighter the rest of the trail.

Winter hiking for the first time, my son got pretty hot in the sun but below the wind
Winter hiking for the first time, my son got pretty hot in the sun but below the wind

When we got up in the wind I had him put on his jacket and have some food and water. At about 12,500 – 13,500 feet a lot of people run out of gas. Add in slick snow surfaces and cold and wind and it’s very difficult sometimes to convince the newbie to keep moving. We finally hit the summit about a half hour behind my initial target for him, but we did take a few more breaks and 3-1/2 hours is still a respectable time in the winter. We hung around at the top with about 100 members of whatever the group was, eating and drinking and taking pics.

We then headed down the trail, which was a little bit more slippery. I didn’t have any spikes to fit his Sorel boots, so I didn’t wear any either. It went okay though and in about 2-1/2 hours we got to the car. One funny thing was that having parked at the mouth of the turnoff to Hwy 9 we could see our car almost the entire way down. That was a great incentive to keep moving. His adventure with winter hiking for the first time was a great success and on the drive home he asked me about ways to improve his time and beat it the next time out. That makes a dad proud.

Video of my son winter hiking for the first time

Suggestions if you want to try winter hiking:

Winter hiking can be dangerous. I am very experienced and knew the route well. I knew the local weather patterns and what to expect. I’ve also had several sessions of outdoor training. I’ve been up Quandary with a handful of friends, some having never done a 14er before, some having never been hiking in the winter. I recommend that if you are going to try winter hiking for the first time that you find a mentor to help you.

I suggest that you also have snowshoes and/or microspikes. I’m used to running on winter trails in running shoes, spiked running shoes, and running shoes with Kahtoola Microspikes. In general you want to be safe and prepared. Snowshoes are a bit clunky to haul around, but microspikes are pretty light and great insurance. They would have been handy on the way down.

I recommend trekking poles. They will help you stay up when the going is slippery. They’ll help you stay in balance on the way down. They can help you transfer some of the work to your arms on the way up and down, taking a load off your legs.

I can’t stress enough the importance of going with someone experienced, so I’ll say it again. An experienced friend can monitor you for signs of exhaustion and cold injury. An experienced friend can help you remember to eat and drink and adjust your layers for your body’s thermal state – too hot or too cold. An experienced friend can keep you from being lost. I’ve had to help people find their way down Quandary a few times now. For some reason there are a couple of spots on the way down where people make wrong turns on a regular basis.

If you need any more information about winter hiking for the first time let me know in the comments. I want your first experience to be a good one.

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 …

Climbing the 14ers – Gray’s Peak

There is a lot of training value in climbing the 14ers of Colorado. Especially in the Winter season, when conditions are much like they would be in Alaska or other cold windy places. My friend Todd came up from the Front Range to spend the night. Saturday December 29 we woke up to below zero temperatures, but sunny skies. The forecast called for high winds near evening.

Prepared to climb one of the 14ers in Winter
In the hall, dressed and ready for the climb of Gray’s Peak in Winter

To climb the 14ers in Winter you have to consider cold and wind. You should think about protecting all exposed skin surfaces from wind as well as sun. Reflected sun off snow can give you severe sunburn before you realize it. I’m wearing a Powerstretch Fleece base layer shirt and bibs. Mammut soft shell ski bibs. A pile jacket and thin windbreaker on top. For boots I’m wearing Scarpa Phantom 6000 Mountaineering Boots, since I want to be sure my toes stay warm. These are double boots and were very warm last year for ice climbing. In my pack I have a GoLite Bitterroot jacket.

I normally wear a Buff, a thin cloth tube, around my neck, because it’s very versatile. You can wear it around your neck, up over your ears and nose, or even as a thin beanie. I have a thin Pearl iZumi beanie, and in the pack I have a Columbia Omni-Heat knit cap. For gloves I like the older model OR Extravert glove. It’s really warm, fits well, and has great feel with the leather palm and fingers for managing my trekking poles. In the pack I have a pair of MH Medusa gloves. I used this combination of gloves when I was in Alaska, and it kept me pretty warm.

Winter access for any of the 14ers can be difficult without 4wd
Second parking area for the Gray’s Peak Steven’s Gulch Trailhead

Climbing the 14ers in Winter has many obstacles, one of which is trailhead parking. For Gray’s Peak there is a large parking area near the I-70 Bakerville exit. Unfortunately this parking area is about 3 miles from the actual trailhead. This extra 6 miles added to your round trip hike might make a big difference. If you have a low clearance vehicle you might want to park here anyway. We decided to see if we could make it to the second parking area, about a mile up the road. The snow was packed pretty good, and it was obvious we weren’t the first to try. Todd has a four wheel drive vehicle with good tall tires, so we made it to the parking area with no problems. We didn’t want to try to go further though. We parked the SUV and started up the road around 10:00 AM.

About a half mile from this parking area the road passes through private land. It’s very narrow with not too many places to turn around. There are deep ruts and large rocks in the path. As we hiked up the road we found the snow wasn’t too deep, fairly well packed down, and there were quite a few bare spots. It’s just barely possible a motivated, experienced driver of a jeep style vehicle with high clearance, knobby tires, chains, and hopefully a winch, to make the Summer Trailhead today. We were hiking in our boots, without snowshoes or Kahtoola MICROspikes, unlike almost everyone else we ran into that day.

Hiking the 14ers in Winter with snow and ice on the trails
Our first glimpse of both Gray’s and Torrey’s on the trail

We got to the official trailhead by the bridge and parking area in an hour. We hung out for a few minutes to eat and drink and take pictures. The temperature was very cold, but the sun made it feel pretty good. Besides, there was no wind. Yet. The trail was pretty well packed down by snowshoes and skis so it was easy enough to do in just boots. After nearly a mile we passed over a small tree-covered hill to where we could see both Gray’s and Torrey’s, two of the 14ers most easily accessible from Denver and the Front Range of Colorado. Two snowshoers and two hikers in microspikes passed us coming down. Neither had gone on to the summits and wished us well. One suggested we hurry to beat sunset. A great idea actually.

Climbing Gray's Peak, one of the 14ers of Colorado on the switchbacks about 13,000'
On the switchbacks up to the summit of Gray’s Peak

Shortly after the fork to Kelso Ridge, one of the more difficult trails to the summit of Torrey’s, we began the more steep and rugged portion of the trail. It alternated between rock and snow, some packed and some loose. Overall the going was still pretty quick considering we were in boots. We passed over a few long icy stretches and were glad we both had trekking poles. Other climbers above us were now visible on the summit and on the faces of both of the 14ers here. The wandering zig-zag switchbacks on Gray’s were like a spiderweb maze.

trails near the top of Gray's, one of the 14ers on the front range
Zig-zag switchbacks full of snow are a spiderweb maze on the face of Gray’s Peak

At 13,000′ we ran into a large group of climbers descending. They had bailed just a hundred feet further along, and looked pretty miserable. The wind was picking up quite briskly. I pulled the Buff up over my nose to protect it from the cold. We lost the path a few times and I broke trail straight up some snowy chutes to try to intersect the correct switchbacks. This added quite a bit of time to our ascent, and we were both out of breath and had to rest a lot. There were two climbers struggling above us. They didn’t seem to be getting any further ahead of us, so we figured we were having about as much trouble as they.

We watched a climber coming across to us from the Gray’s-Torrey’s Saddle sinking in up to his waist across the wide snowfield. Then I sank in to my waist. Karma? I retraced my steps and stayed closer to the rocks then. Suddenly we were on the correct switchback trail and it was pretty quick going from then on. It was very cold and windy so I stopped to quickly put my puffy down jacket on. I normally wait until the summit if I can, but it was too severe out. One of the hazards of doing the 14ers in Winter. Be prepared for cold and wind. Finally we arrived at the summit of Gray’s Peak.

Winter ascent of one of the 14ers – Gray’s Peak

Gray's Peak Summit - one of the 14ers of Colorado
Todd at the summit of Gray’s Peak – Torrey’s behind

The two guys we were following up the last thousand feet were clearly cold and in a hurry to descend. They advised us not to remove our gloves. They had and were very sorry for it. We stopped to take a few pictures, eat, and drink. Todd set up a tripod and took some pictures. I crouched behind one of the few piles of rocks set up as wind breaks, common on some of the 14ers, and quick stuffed food into my mouth and pockets and guzzled the rest of my first bottle of now slushy water. We had hit the summit at 3:00 PM, five hours after starting. Four hours from the bridge.

summit of one of the 14ers, Gray's Peak
Todd and I at the summit of Gray’s Peak. Torrey’s in the background

Sunset was less than two hours away, so we needed to be very fast in descending. Todd had a headlamp, but I had managed to forget mine in my ice skating bag. We did some ice skating in the dark the night before on Keystone Lake. I also only had my sunglasses with. They’re prescription. When it gets dark I’ll have to remove them. If I can make it to the snow covered gravel road before dark I should be just fine.

We booked it down the switchbacks, following the path of the two guys ahead of us. It was a much shorter and much better path, following what seemed to be the right switchbacks all the way down to the Kelso Ridge fork. We boot-skied a lot of it, slipping and sliding and using our poles for support. We paused for a minute to snarf down some quick food, take a few pics, then continue. It was getting much darker now. Daylight is an important consideration when doing the 14ers in Winter. I need to get a headlamp to keep in my bag. Remind me …

Sunset behind Gray's Peak - one of the 14ers of Colorado
Sunset behind Gray’s Peak

We made good time down the rest of the trail. As we passed the stand of trees on the little intersecting ridge we got a good view of the sunset over Gray’s and the reflected pink sky from the East. I love the 14ers for the pretty views. The view from the summit was magnificent. I wish it wasn’t so cold and windy. It was dark enough now for me to remove my sunglasses, and the going became much rougher. I could make out dark and light patches, so I could avoid holes in the trail. Fortunately the large group we had passed on the way up had beat the trail down pretty good.

Beautiful views like a pink sunset from the 14ers
Sunset reflected in the Eastern Sky

At the bridge we stopped to eat and chug water again. I finished half of my second bottle of water. As cold as it was I was pretty glad I didn’t try to wear a bladder. It would have frozen for sure. It was a little after 5:00 PM. We had descended to here in two hours. We made good time on the road out, even in the dark sharing the light of a little headlamp. Even without my prescription glasses. We got to the car a little before 6:00 PM. We were so glad we had parked at the middle parking area. Driving out was really quick and easy and after meeting up with the rest of my family we went to Kenosha in Breck to eat.

I love doing the 14ers, and have enjoyed my winter climbs quite a bit. In spite of some wind and snow and cold. If you can, try one of the 14ers in Winter. Be safe, be prepared, and enjoy.

Horseshoe Basin Training Hike

I am currently in training for my Aconcagua trip in December, part of which will be via fast hiking on rough terrain at altitude. I selected Horseshoe Basin, a fork of the Peru Creek Road between Keystone and Montezuma Colorado. The entire 15 mile semi-loop I hiked ascends from 10,100′ to over 13,000′ and returns by mostly the same route. I managed to hike the entire 15 miles in less than six hours, with about 2 miles in the middle (7 to 9 mile points) being on rugged technical terrain, which wasn’t great in the running shoes I was wearing, and went very slow – like 1 mph.

I was trying to run with poles, which I’ve done before, but never for this prolonged a time. The trail ends at Gray’s Lake, below Gray’s Peak, a Colorado 14’er (14,270′). I did the off-trail rocky traverse to an ill-defined ridgeline trail, and turned around at 3:09, approximately my turnaround target time. Descending on the stacked boulders/talus was fairly sketchy in my Hoka One One Stinson Evo, though they are really a lot more stable than the Bondi.

Once down to the road I picked up speed again, though I was fairly beat by the rocky section and couldn’t get my speed back up for very long. I finished my water (about 3.6 liters) and my gu packs about a half hour from the car, so perfect timing on that. Hikes like this are a great way to figure out your own needs in a relatively safe environment.

I have a Google Earth Embedded in my old blog – See it Here

It was a great day out in beautiful scenery, including rocky slopes, ice-covered ponds, snow-melt fed lakes, and a few rabbits. Excellent training for any mountaineering adventure.

KPICASA_GALLERY(HorseshoeBasinFastHike)

Late Update: I’m including this in my Elbrus Race 2012 training group.