Peak(s):  Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  11/04/2020
Date Climbed:   10/23/2020
Author:  bschallhorn
 Add two new members to the14er club!  

Another pair of first time 14ers here – what an adventure!
For a bit of background, I’m 56 and my daughter 25 and we are both quite active. I am a cyclist typically doing a weekend long ride of 80-100 miles as well as at least one HIT interval session each week. I also have done a number of longer hikes over the summer/fall and a 12 mi/5 hour hike two weeks before this trip with full pack to prep. Having previously bike raced for over 10 years I know how to suffer and push my limits, yet I have to say this hike was the one of the toughest things I have ever done if not physically, for sure mentally!

Since we only had a four and a half day weekend to work with, (Oct 21-25) we identified either Fri or Sat as potential hike days. After a bunch of research and discussing with a friend we settled on Quandary as our target. We drove from Chicago arriving in Denver mid-morning on Thurs. Spent four hours there, then toured Red Rocks, then headed to Dillon stopping at Loveland Pass to take that in. We then stayed overnight in Dillon and since Fri Oct 23rd looked like the much better weather day this was now the target day. (Used this site for weather and found it extremely useful )

We arrived at the trailhead and got started at 8:15 super excited for what lie ahead. I believe we each prepared well, 2.5L of water, food, multiple packable layers and sunscreen/lip balm – don’t forget that! (As an aside it seems to me that late Sept/Oct is a great time for a trip like this. It’s after the summer PM t’storm season and WAY smaller crowds since it’s after peak vacation time.) This proved to be true in that we had bright sun all day and maybe encountered 30-40 people the entire day. Enough for an occasional chat, but never an inconvenience on the trail. Sure, it was blustery at times, but when isn’t it when you’re exposed above the tree line on a mountain!
First mile+ through the pine forest we were feeling good and going at a deliberate pace so as not to get too tired. Next mile leading up to the first ‘summit’ before the saddle clearly was tougher and when the true summit popped into view, it was an aha moment as to how far away it still was! Those people you could see up there looked like tiny ants! Breaks were becoming more frequent although it helped to leapfrog back and forth with some other hikers for motivation. Looking at the true summit while traversing the saddle is when doubt began to creep in… This final stretch was REEEEEALLY hard. I think it’s like 0.8mi and 1200+’ of gain. I found myself needing to stop every 15-20 steps to get my breathing and HR under control. I know my HR well and I would take a rest at 175+ and then resume once it dropped to ~150. It seemed like the rock stairs and overall gradient were unrelenting. (BTW, THANK YOU to those that came up here and worked to build those ‘stairs’ and create this trail for all of us to enjoy!) I was def not feeling like eating and kept on the lookout for signs of altitude sickness in both myself and my daughter. While short of breath and associated elevated heart rates, we had no signs of headache or dizziness. I just told myself, I couldn’t fail her by stopping now, I refused to crack. I led for the full ascent and learned later that she welcomed my frequent stops and found it super helpful to have a ‘target’ to follow for motivation. I knew with all the stops this was taking us much longer than planned, and I set a limit of 1:30 as the point we should consider heading back down. While a first timer, I knew it was wise to continue to listen to our bodies and move slowly and deliberately, this would give us our best chance to summit. Fortunately, there was absolutely no inclement weather forecasted so we had the luxury of time. As the rock started to change to the brownish color near the summit, we ran into someone heading down. We of course had to ask how close we were and their response of ‘you’re super close, you’ve got this’ was super motivating!
We made it!! The wind and the chill at the summit were irrelevant, the feeling of exhilaration and views were spectacular! There was one other person on the summit who was just leaving and my daughter and I were able to enjoy some lunch and we had the summit to ourselves for at least 15-20 minutes which is unheard of! After a good 30 min we decided to head back down. While obvious to some degree, I was amazed at just how much easier it was going down. There was no need to stop and HR was so much lower. To my surprise about ¼ of the way down I was drawing air out of my water reservoir, it was empty, 2.5L gone! Fortunately for me, my daughter gave me her spare Gatorade bottle which made the rest of the descent much more pleasant. Word of caution: Bring enough water!! I think both of us were feeling the effects of the long day and I suspect not enough calorie intake and felt like the forested part of the descent was carrying on much longer than we thought it should. We both agreed that our poles were a HUGE help on the descent relieving our knees and quads.

We were done! Clock read 4:15 which meant we were gone for 8 hours and actively hiking for like 7.5, at least 2+ hours more than planned. I’m a competitive person and not gonna lie, a bit disappointed in the time it took. In fact, I think this is the longest hike time I recall seeing in any of these trip reports. Considering the level of effort and associated sense of accomplishment, we found ourselves almost annoyed when reading that this hike is ‘easy’ and ‘for beginners’! However, have no doubt, this first 14er was an absolutely amazing adventure, made incredibly special by being able to share it with my daughter!! And rest assured, while being our first, this will definitely not be our last, we're hooked!

The big question I have is… Was the time spent in Denver, Loveland Pass and overnight in Dillon (9100’) just not enough time to become even somewhat acclimated to the altitude? Based on our level of fitness going in, I am inclined to believe this was the case. Or do you believe that there are some people who just do not adapt well to higher altitudes? Is it likely that spending a few more days in Dillon and maybe even doing some smaller hikes at 10-11k during those extra few days, would have had a material effect on how we felt on this climb? Maybe we were just too aggressive in trying to get a climb like this in considering the relatively short vacation window we had.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

Well Done
11/04/2020 07:29
Thanks for getting this Trip Report posted. You will come to realize how much people appreciate them. Keep it up


Great job!
11/04/2020 10:08
It's never too late to starting your 14er journey. Congrats on making the summit!

Nice report
11/04/2020 13:27
Great report with wonderful photographs.
Congratulations on your 1st Colorado 14er!!
Thanks for posting this.


11/04/2020 14:54
Congratulations on tackling your first 14er!! Props for doing the research and being as prepared as you could and for hanging in there. I'm about your (dad) age and live in Maryland and come out to hike 14ers every year. I do an acclimatization plan similar to what you did (although I try to get that first night more in the 7-9K range vs Denver's altitude). But I also notice that my first one each year is just so tough. The breathing should get easier as you do more peaks on the same trip (... but 14ers are never 'easy'). I think it takes about 3 weeks to get fully acclimated.

Keep it up!! Quandary is a great one but as you advance, it will get even better!!

Chicago Transplant

11/04/2020 17:30
Congrats! I did my first 14ers while I still lived in Chicago. I flew into Denver and caught a Rockies game on Day 1 staying in the Denver area. Day 2 hiked around Red Rocks and drove up and packed in to Chihuahua Gulch and climbed Grays/Torreys on Day 3, packed out and stayed in Frisco then drove down and flew home on Day 4. I thought hiking and packing in higher would be good for acclimating but I don't think it really ended up helping much as I was getting headaches on the way down Torreys. Of course I was packing over my full pack of backpacking gear as a loop hike (such a noob, lol!) which might have had something to do with it? You might find you benefit from some lower elevation hikes with sleeping at 9k?

I never had issues sleeping at 9k and skiing Breck/Vail when I came in from Chicago before that trip so it might have been that I had slept at like 11,500' the night before. With the overnight and the hike, I am sure I was over 11k for 18+ hours which may have been the problem. Anyway, you may still find 14k a struggle, but maybe mixing in lower elevation hikes the first couple of days would help

Thank you
11/06/2020 08:14
A big thank you for the kind words and advice each of you provided. Very much appreciated!

11/18/2020 08:43
This was also my first 14er and I was blown away once I got to the top! I'm glad you and your daughter got to experience it! Thanks for the report!!

Old VT Guy
Good Report!
11/21/2020 15:50
Just by way of comparison I'm 58 and came in from VT (driving) this fall and stayed in Dillon. Next day I rode my mountain bike up to 12,000 ft and was totally gassed but still did a fun 25 miles. Next day I climbed Mt. Elbert and felt really fine all the way until 13,500 and suffered a bit after that but otherwise cranked out the hike in 6 hours or so. I think for me I need a minimum of 36 hours ahead of a 14er.

I think everyone is different on how they acclimatize but I do think the older you get the more sense it makes to take a few days at 9,000+. Cant wait for my next one and see you on the trail!

Good Advice
11/21/2020 16:34
Thanks @Old VT Guy for the frame of reference. I am looking forward to a trip out next year and am definitely planning on making it a full week. It'll give a good chance to do some 10-12k elevation activity in advance of a bigger climb. It'll be interesting to see what difference that may make.

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