Quandary Peak - 14,265 feet
Torreys Peak - 14,267 feet
Quandary Peak - 14,265 feet
Torreys Peak - 14,267 feet
|A season of firsts...and soon to be seconds and thirds...|
Start time - 7:30am
Summit - 12:00pm
Left Summit - 1:15pm
Back to the Car - 4:00pm
We have both been eyeing Quandary for several weeks to complete one of our 2015 goals...a winter 14er summit. After weekend plans changing due to weather and/or life, we finally found a weekend for achieving our goal. Since we both already had a commitment on Saturday morning (practicing rock climbing!), we decided to hike Quandary on Sunday and made plans to camp near the trailhead on Saturday night.
After several cups of coffee, and a dinner stop at a tiny café in Georgetown, we arrived at the Quandary trailhead road around 8pm. We drove down the road a little ways, but ended up deciding to camp elsewhere. We drove to the Hoosier pass summit, and found a nice little area where we could set up the tent, while blocking the wind between the car and a snow bank. We had a little more coffee, some dark chocolate and some stargazing before finally settling in to go to sleep.
The next morning, we planned to wake up at 5am, eat some breakfast, and get to the trailhead by 6:30am. This morphed into getting up at 5:30am, packing up, and eating breakfast while watching the first light come over the mountains at the pass...and then going to the trailhead. By the time we were actually ready to start hiking, it was around 7:30am. Whoops!
We started the trip in microspikes, and made our way up the very packed trail. We stopped for some pictures along the way, especially as the sun was coming up.
Once we found ourselves above treeline, the "trail" became more random, and there were several different paths that could be followed. We decided to switch to snowshoes at one of the picture breaks we took once we got to the ridge. At the ridge, the views were amazing, and we became increasingly excited for remainder of the summit journey.
As we approached, we saw our biggest challenge of the day - the steep ascent up the spine. Although we knew it wasn't the summit, we knew we were home-free once we got up to the top. We made our way, slow and steady. Eventually, we got to the area where all the skiers and snowboarder were heading down. The real summit was a relatively short and flat hike from this point. We played around on the summit for an hour with photos, snacks, water, and some Gatorade (electrolytes...it's what plants crave!).
At the very end, we had a few brief moments where we were by ourselves, but then decided it was time to go, as we saw another couple very close to the summit. We didn't venture too far though, and played around on the ridge for some time with some more photo opportunities. The sky and the views were just too good to pass up!
When we really were done taking pictures up there (for real this time), we started to make our way down. It was at this point we realized how steep the trek up really was. We had our microspikes on and began to descend. About halfway down, we decided to actually use the ice axes. After doffing the microspikes and repacking the snowshoes so they weren't dragging, we slid down where possible. Each "glissade" was short, but we still had fun finding the next possible place to slide down. Down we went, and soon the steep incline was behind us. By this time, the show was beginning to get soft, but we continued to test our luck with games of solid steps vs. postholing. After getting increasingly frustrated with postholing, we finally broke down to put the snowshoes back on. It was difficult to tell where the best trail was in this area, since there seemed to be footprints all over the place. We ended up heading down a small hill, where we saw what we thought was the actual trail. We started toward it, but Marisa's snowshoe sunk and ended up getting stuck. At first, digging it out was futile and the snow seemed to cement around it. After 20 minutes of cussing and digging around it, she was finally able to free herself.
Side note - you know what would have been helpful in this situation? A shovel. We each had a shovel, but both left them in the car thinking, "we won't need that!!" Wrong. We were very wrong. Won't make that mistake again.
We found a different path down, and even with a few more post holes, at least we weren't permanently stuck on that stupid hill. We warned some others that caught up to us during this adventure to go around that particular area, cursed at the hill one last time, and then we headed on our way.
The rest of the trip was uneventful (thankfully), and we decided we were ready for food and a beer. We were so excited to see the car, and pumped that we accomplished what we set out to do!! Win for us!
Torreys Peak via Dead Dog Couloir
4/11/15 - 4/12/15
Left car - 7:00pm
Got to Camp (Summer Trailhead) - 9:30pm
Intended start time - before 5:00am
Actual start time - 5:40am
Top of Couloir - 11:30am
Top of Torreys - 12:00pm
Back to camp - 3:30pm
Left Camp - 4:15pm
Back to the Car - 5:30pm
Trip Length - 14 miles total.....3 miles to camp, 8 miles RT Torreys and back to camp, 3 miles back to car
It turns out that the goal for one winter 14er wasn't enough....I followed Quandary with Bierstadt the following week,. The only explanation is that I have become addicted to winter hiking. So when Marisa asked if I wanted to climb a couloir, I was nervous and excited for the challenge, and accepted it. We were both couloir rookies, and although we are in basic mountaineering school, we are trying this a little ahead of the "graduation" couloir climb. Her friend Ricardo agreed to go with us, so we had a veteran with us to help us along. We were led to believe Dead Dog was a good intro, so we made plans for doing this on Sunday, with the intention of camping at the summer trailhead.
On Saturday, 4/11, I had a navigation field day in the morning/early afternoon, and the plan was to leave for the Grays/Torreys trailhead after that and hike in to camp while it was still light outside. I had packed my bags the night before, and I was pretty much ready, except for a few things I would have to transfer after the field day from my day pack to my overnight pack. I completely underestimated the time we would be hunting for flags and how tiring it would be off-route and on the uneven terrain for all day. After 9 miles of "fun", we didn't get back to the trailhead until 4pm, which was much later than we were hoping for. Once we got back, I met up with Marisa, we picked up a togo order at tommy knockers, and then off to the winter trailhead we went. Ricardo was already a few hours ahead of us and headed up the road to camp.
We were able to drive up a quarter mile, and then parked behind a truck (the only other car on the road), since we didn't want to push our luck and end up getting the car stuck. We spent some time getting all of our stuff together, changing boots, and I spent some time rearranging my stuff for the day and try to get my overnight pack under the 45 pounds that it had weighed in at the night before....
As we were almost ready, the owner of the truck parked in front of us was coming down the road. We talked to him for a little while, and we had asked this young fellow if we needed spikes or snowshoes for the road. He was very adamant that we needed something. With this advice, we donned our snowshoes, our 45 lb packs, and headed up the road. After a half-mile of the extra work in snowshoes, we quickly realized we took ill advice from a stranger, and with our hipflexors yelling at us, we went boots only the rest of the way. We noticed several animal prints on the way, and feared there may be some mountain kitties hungry for a snack. We got out the bear (/mountain lion) spray, and walked much of the way singing loudly. We sang bits of pieces of many timeless artists such as Paula Abdul and Ace of Base. We also made up some songs on how we would not taste good for mountain lions to eat, as well as some more contemporary music (a little T. Swift and Frozen, anyone?). Luckily, the local wildlife stayed away, and we made it safely to the summer trailhead.
Side note - I am sorry to anyone camping along the trail who had to hear me sing. I am sure I scared/annoyed more than just mountain lions.
Ricardo had already set up, so Marisa and I set up our tent and got ready to tuck in for the night. I was pumped (and truthfully already tired...), but so nervous for the next day. Even with the crazy wind forecast, we were able to hike up to camp and set up camp in very little wind. We were grateful as we went to sleep and set our alarms for the next day....
....after hitting snooze a few too many times, we got ready and ate breakfast. This was really happening!! We snowshoed out in the dark, and enjoyed the moon setting and sun rising along the winter trail and towards Dead Dog.
This trail seemed to go forever until we were finally able to turn the corner and see the entrance of the couloir.
We didn't take off our snowshoes until we were ready to put on crampons. This was my first time in crampons, so Ricardo was kind enough to help me make sure they were put on correctly and snugly.
The first third of the couloir was getting use to the technique of the crampons and kickstepping. It wasn't terribly steep in the beginning, but I quickly realized what a physical challenge this was really going to be. We set our sights on what we deemed the "halfway" point (a pile of rocks), but the halfway point was frustratingly not getting closer as fast as we would have liked. The snow was already pretty soft, making the trip up more exhausting than I anticipated.
Around the halfway point and where the slope was significantly steeper, it seemed like many of the kicksteps were crumbling and we were getting increasingly frustrated. About ¾ of the way up, we had some people start to pass us since we were not going very fast. Ricardo continued to encourage us, and we somehow got our second wind to finish the couloir and get to the top. I was very excited to finish it and had a few minutes to look back down and grasp the magnitude of what we had just completed.
While up there, the wind began picking up quite a bit, and it was starting to get really cold really fast. I knew Torreys was only another 100 ft of elevation gain or so, but it was a very steep trip to the top. This was the first summit I was not thrilled to do. I just wanted to start heading down, but I knew that summiting Torreys was our way down.
Once at the summit of Torreys, we spent a whole 2 minutes up there, as it was apparent there was a storm rolling in.
Note: I wanted to eat something, but decided to wait until we were out of danger. Some skiers up on the summit had a bag of M&M's and they offered to share some with us. Those M&M's were delicious, and I thank you very much for sharing.
Ricardo was already ahead of us, and we headed back down the ridge, and our goal (obviously) was not to be stuck up there in a white out. Coming down Torreys, we switched to microspikes because it was very rocky until the saddle, and I feared I would injure myself since our pace was a little hastier because of the storm coming in.
Ricardo was ahead to show us where it was safe to cross, and when we crossed below Grays over to the standard route, I wished I had my crampons on.....slipping and self belaying was common on this stretch.
Once we were past this part, the storm seemed to subside a bit, but the wind stayed ferocious as we continued down. We caught up with Ricardo, and kept heading down at a reasonable pace.
When the adrenaline had finally come down, I think the fatigue and pain all set in at once. Ricardo continued on, and Marisa stayed with me while I ate something. Once I had some more calories in me, I felt a little better, but the constant mix of slipping, belaying, and some postholing just made it worse. I started to feel the horrible blisters from my boots, my tired hipflexors, Achilles, and quads, and my misery just kept increasing on the way down. When we finally got to the open area along kelso ridge, we needed to switch back to snowshoes. The last mile to camp was sheer torture to my feet, but Marisa kept me moving and mercifully we made it back to camp.
It was disheartening to know that camp only meant packing up to walk another 3 miles with a 45 lb pack, and I wasn't sure if I could do it. We ended up spending some extra time at camp where I was able to take my boots off for a little while and do some damage control to my toes and feet before we packed up and finished the trip. My down booties were the most amazing thing for that 45 minutes...
We eventually packed up and got ready to head down. Based on the condition of the road the day before, I chose microspikes on the way down. Marisa wore snowshoes in the beginning, but ended up taking those off about a 1/3 of the way down the road. The trip down was slowgoing (my fault), and we were both in pain, tired, and ready to be done with this long day (and get the packs off). We were relieved when we finally heard the traffic on 70, because we knew we were close. We were both relieved when we made it back to the car. It was like a 45 lb weight was lifted off our shoulders (literally).
Even though it was cold, I have never been so happy to switch into flip flops. We packed up the car pretty quick, because we were very ready to GTFO. We were both in desperate need of caffeine and salt (wondrous combination of coffee, beef jerky, and combos). As slow as we were on this first couloir, we still finished it. Now we know what to expect, and we will get more comfortable and faster every time. This trip was just as mentally exhausting as it was physically exhausting. I fought with my inner self on much of the trip, but never quit, even though my feet wanted me to. I will spare you the pictures of my feet, but let's just say it wasn't pretty. In hindsight, the 9 miles I did prior to this trip did not set my feet up to succeed and definitely made this experience that much harder. Even so, we are already planning our next couloir.
Last note: If you want to see more awesome pictures of our adventures, you should check out Marisa's pictures on Instagram, @marjar147. She has awesome night shots at camp as well as some that really capture the victory and struggle of these adventures.
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