| Inwood Arete on Quandary
Climbers: Zambo and Benners
Summary: The Inwood Arete wasn't quite what we were looking for. We were hoping for a great alpine rock route that turned out to be a long scramble with a fun opening pitch. A bit disappointed, however, I suppose these things happen in mountaineering; the best way to learn is to experience for yourself. However, any day in the mountains is a good day, and it was great to get out for an unconventional and beautiful day on Quandary peak.
PS: I can't even say how excited I am to post a TR of Quandary that isn't the stinkin East Ridge, haha.
Report: Ben and I had been doing lots of sport/trad climbing together around Denver for the past month or so, and we both felt it was time to take the ropes up into the mountains. Looking for a straightforward, close, and accessible option for Ben's first alpine lead, the Inwood Arete on Quandary seemed to be the best choice. This route seemed to fulfill most of our desires, and we were looking forward to a fun and challenging day with some great class 5 pitches. We had seen some mixed reviews on climbing sites, but decided to be optimistic and were looking forward to the route.
We got underway right at sunrise from the McCullough Gulch trail head. One of the things we were most excited about for this route was the quick access to the base. Our past few climbs together were mostly slogs up some Sawatch peaks, so we were pretty happy to avoid too much of that on an approach. The base of the route is a short mile up the drainage with great views of the Arete along the way; can't beat with that! We hit the first pitch 45 minutes from the car. Note: We turned for the arete too soon which took us up a nasty gully. Wait for the unnamed lake to turn South towards the arete.
Cool scenery shot off a small pool (photo by Benners)
View of the arete on the approach
Sunrise on Quandary Peak
Upon reaching the base of the first pitch, we got pretty excited for the rest of the route. There are essentially two options to get on the arete: the standard start is a 5.2-5.4 pitch up some slabs on the left, white the direct start is an approx 100ft 5.7 crack further to the right. This seems to be the much more interesting and enjoyable option, so we unloaded all our gear and set up and here.
The crack turned out to be a decent climb, but it did have some protection issues. First, Ben found the protection down low to be lacking which made for an uncomfortably long start. Despite our massive rack of cams in all sizes, the crack just didn't seem to have any acceptable protections spots until 20-30ft up. Finally protected, the climb continues and the options improve. However, another issue we found was the moss. Based on beta from other reports, this crack can get very wet; on our climb this was evidenced by the moss growing all over the place. This was an added challenge. Despite all of that, it was a fun climb. Ben did a great job placing and the first pitch turned out to be a fun climb all things considered. This was Ben's first alpine lead and he handled it like a pro. He did everything correct and made it to the top without any issues: great job man!
Direct start slab
Now, how does this thing work again? (just kiddin)
The direct start crack. There is some debate, but it averages to a 5.7 rating
Ben about to top out
My turn. Pretty cool shadows on the opposing wall.
Reaching the wall crest (photo by Benners)
The next step on the route is several hundred feet of "slab mongering." There were indeed some interesting class 3/4 slabs (occasional low class 5 move if not careful) that offered a bit of fun. At this point on the route, the rock was solid and route finding pretty straight forward. While the arete is not overly defined, there is some decent exposure off to the left (East) side. We stayed as close to the ridge as possible; however, there are options on the right which eliminate the exposure. There are plenty of ascent options. We took the path of least resistance and kept on upwards waiting for the next pitch.
Slab mongering ahead
The slabs are fun, but not nearly as intense as this picture makes it out to be (photo by Benners)
Same deal with this one. It is not nearly as reckless as this looks, although we did occasionally hit a low class 5 unroped move.
The next step after the slab mongering is to look for the three well defined towers on the ridge. At this point we unintentionally got a bit turned off route and missed the second pitch entirely. Essentially it seems the way to hit the second pitch is to stay left (East) of the towers and then ascend them directly for a 5.4 line. However, we got a bit confused on our beta and thought this pitch was a bit higher. Also, we were looking for a well know dihedral a bit off route on the right side.
As a result of our confusion, we continued scrambling and shot through the first and second tower, and soon found ourselves at the top of all three. At this point our frustrations began as we were quickly realizing this route does not hold the climbing opportunities we were hoping for. Quite frankly, even if we had hit the second pitch, we're not sure it would have even been worth it. It is short, simple, and not exactly on route. As for the towers, some people climb them, but we felt they were so short and simple it wouldn't have been worth the effort. It seems that most of the real climbing along this route has to be searched for off route. It is not a well defined arete and it can be easily climbed un-roped in class 3/4 sections. Anyways, I reflect more on this at the end of my TR.
From the top of the towers we kept making our way up the mountain, hoping more pitches would present themselves, but not holding our breath.
The three towers are seen from below
We shot up this gully in between the first and second towers.
Looking down on the three towers (photo by Benners)
We did manage to find a few slabs which others seem to rate as low class 5. We considered roping up, but the pitch was so short, mellow, and lacking of protection spots anyways it did not even seem worth it. A few good elements out there if you look for it.
After these final few slabs, it became readily apparent that the remainder of the route was simply a long scramble. Frustrated and confused about the route, we pushed onwards and upwards. It seemed that the higher we went, the more the route deteriorated. The arete becomes less and less well defined, and the rock takes a startling turn to loose junk. We saw a few more potential climb options, but the rock quality made it so that we didn't even want to dare a fall on such loose terrain.
One of the pitches we found (photo by Benners)
Some more cool shadow action going on (photo by Benners)
Finally, the route parallels the Quandary coulior (which looks pretty awesome by the way) and then merges with the standard route. We joined the cattle trail up to the summit and it was a quick traverse over to the East ridge. But not without shocking quite a few hikers on the finish: "Where in the world did you guys come from!?!"
The final spots on the route with the Quandary coulior off to the right.
Mandatory summit shot. Pretty windy up there yesterday.
From the summit we took a quick jaunt down the East Ridge to just above tree line. From here we cut due North and bushwhacked back to the car. All told it was just under 6 hours to the summit (with plenty of that time being devoted to setting up and taking down), and two hours from summit to car.
Route Reflections: All in all, we were pretty disappointed with this route; however, a large part of that might have been our fault. We were looking for a great 'starter' alpine rock route. The Inwood Arete is not it.
In terms of the climbing options, there really just simply isn't much there. The first pitch was fun, but past that the options diminish quite a bit. We did indeed miss the second pitch, but like I said, we're not too sure how fun it would have been anyways. My lasting impression is that most of the decent climbs on this route have to be forced. There isn't really anything too great on route and you have to really search for anything to make it more difficult than class 3/4. There are no major obstacles that MUST be climbed; there is always an easier way out.
As for the scrambling aspect, there is plenty of pretty decent scrambling on this route. However, in my opinion it could be a whole lot better. The exposure is pretty relaxed relative to other classic scrambling routes, and the rock quality deteriorates higher up the route. My opinion is that the West ridge up Quandary is the much better way to go. It also has a short approach, the difficulty is similar, but the views, exposure, and general quality of route is far superior.
Upon coming home we took a harder look at what others have said from other reports, and it seems these conclusions are pretty much the consensus. A decent scrambling route with a fun opening wall, but nothing overly interesting beyond that. The highlight might be having the hikers gawk at you in admiration and wonder once you reach the East Ridge, lol. Having said all of that, I would love to hear from others if they had a different experience. Are we missing something in terms of the climbing, or is it just really that "blah" of a route? I'd love to hear some other opinions from those who have done it. Anyways, it seems the main reason for our frustration was our expectations. We expected something that the route wasn't; it's no wonder we were a bit put out; to some degree it's really no one's fault but our own.
But at some point I just had to stop, realize the day wasn't going to be as 'fun' as I'd hoped for, and simply remember where I was. One quick look around reminded me just how blessed I am. Any beautiful day climbing in these majestic Rocky Mountains is a good day. Period.
Hope you enjoyed the TR. Happy climbing!
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