Peak(s):  Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  03/29/2021
Date Climbed:   03/21/2021
Author:  123tqb
 Baby's First Ski Line   

Baby's First Ski Line

  • Date: 21 Mar, 2021
  • Peaks: Quandary Peak
  • Route: East Ridge / East Bowl
  • Mileage: 6.75mi
  • Time: 8 hours
  • Partners: Alexis, Ben, Whit

I debated writing up a trip report on what is likely the single most skied winter line of any fourteener, but in the end I decided that contributing to the shallow pool of ski beta is never a bad idea. There are surprisingly few mentions of this line on 14ers.com, I'm guessing because it's just not hardcore enough for all of you guys! As for my group of wannabe ski-mountaineers, we haven't yet quite developed a taste for the extreme. Anyhow I haven't written a good trip report since last summer, nor climbed anything super notable since then, so I'm excited to be getting back into the swing of things! Our story begins with the all-classic alpine start...

You'd think that after weeks of waking up at 5:00 for physical training I'd be used to getting up early, but I still got called out the minute I was within sight of the car at 5:02. "Whit and I were just discussing that, for being in the Army, you're pretty well known for being late." Thanks Alexis, I'll work on it. After picking up Ben, we were all on our merry way down to the Quandary Trailhead. Our early alpine start turned into a "sub-alpine" start as the sun began to rise, making for gorgeous views on the beginning of the ascent. What wasn't all that gorgeous, or sightly in the least, was the amount of bare rock and ice along the trail. Not only did Whit fall right on his ass while in the parking lot (sorry to expose you my guy), but Alexis' skis slipped out beneath her about five or ten times in the first ten minutes of skinning. We chalked it up to the spring skiing experience.

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Though edited to fit my Instagram, this is one of the coolest photos I've taken. So far.
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We were the first party up the trail. Those tracks? Icy remnants from days before.

We were cruising for the first section of the ascent, and it felt great! Or, at least I thought so. I was quickly required to fall to the back of the line, as I forget that I sometimes come out of the gate running, so to speak. It was a beautiful morning. Not at all the windy, cloudy day that we had expected it to be. Both Alexis and I had checked the forecast the night before, and both seen it predicted to be overcast and cold. That was luckily not the case, and we discovered the reason soon enough. There was an interesting cloud hovering just to the north of us, right over Breckenridge and Blue River: the locations we had checked the weather for online. Somehow the cloud stayed out of our way for the entire morning, making for a very cool view (that I didn't seem to capture very well digitally). We made it swiftly to treeline and into the lower east bowl, where the snow changed from slippery sun crust to crunchy wind crust, making our uphill skiing efforts much more efficient.

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Photo courtesy Whit, this is about where I was ejected from breaking trail.
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Crappy sastrugi in the foreground and cloudy Blue River Valley in the background.
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The gang all headed up into the lower bowl area. The snow was looking great!

If there's one thing that Quandary is known for, other than being super well-trafficked, it's the wind. Up until this point we hadn't experienced almost any, but I had known from previous experience that the gusts were only just beginning. Once the last tree had been passed, the wind began to increase, but not unbearably so. Upon reaching the top of the bowl, however, Ben reminded us that the wind was only going to pick up the further we went, and so we stopped to take a snack break and to layer up while soaking in the vista.

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Thanks again to Whit for capturing my "I'm a park rat" vibe.
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Even though wind-blasted, it was easier than the ice we had to skin up on the way!

So we prepared to crest the lower bowl and head up on to the ridge. We skinned a few more meters... and it wasn't bad! The wind increased a bit, but I was perfectly happy just wearing my obviously-not-windproof flannel shirt. Now we had a full view of the upper bowl and our eventual ski objective, and boy were we excited! We had already been passed by two pairs of skiers that day, one towards the beginning and one just at our snack break. As we neared the spot where we would have to traverse back onto the ridge from the bowl (beta: if you don't do this, you end up cliffed out at the bottom of the bowl, far from the ridge), we got the pleasure of seeing the first pair of skiers take turns getting fresh tracks in the shallow powder that had been deposited the night before. I had really been hoping to ski Cristo Couloir, but after seeing the wonderful conditions in the bowl, I had no doubt in my mind that I would be content skiing a much safer route. (This turned out to be a good call, as Cristo avalanched not a week later due to skier activity. Thanks to the forum for reminding me to be considerate!)

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Ben and Alexis pointing our where we'd have to return from skiing the bowl.

This is the point on the East Ridge route where the fun changes from Type I to Type II. The grade increases, the rocks stick out more frequently, and the wind starts to hit your face in the wrong way. This is also my favorite part of being on the mountain. Being an Army guy, I love to embrace the suck. It reminds me of how big and powerful nature is, but it also reminds me of how resilient I can be. Even though Quandary is an easy mountain by most standards, it's not conventionally easy. After catching the group ahead of us (to the guy I helped out with his Shifts, no worries! Those bindings are tricky!), our pace slowed down significantly. For once I was glad to not be moving so fast. At the crux of the route, we had finally been covered by the clouds, something I had been anticipating all day. Even so, it only took another half hour or so to finally get to the point where the group ahead of us transitioned. I had already topped out Quandary before, but I'm a slut for summits, so we pushed on. Oh, and this would be Whit's first fourteener. Did I not mention that?

We went on towards the summit ridge, preparing for the gale-force winds I had experienced the last time I climbed this mountain. And... it was fine again! What the heck was going on with the weather today? We made it to the summit, I got to recon the West Ridge and Cristo Couloir for the future, and we got our picture taken by a fellow hiker enjoying this fine day with us.

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Skinning up over rocks is just the backcountry experience!
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The summit ridge looks far more miserable than it was!
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Whit learning to do a kick turn while we pose for a photo.

Moving down to the transition, the clouds cleared, leaving us a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy lunch before skiing down. We had gotten so lucky with the weather! I absolutely don't expect this to be the norm.

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Ben sitting down to enjoy a lunch break before transitioning.
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Just a cool shot.

And so we skied! Dropping into the upper bowl we were initially afraid of the infamous sharks that were guaranteed to be strewn about the line, but we seemed to find a route that avoided the majority of rocks (except for that one spot that Alexis ate shit on, RIP her bases). I made some sweet turns down the slope in the hopes to get Whit's first big mountain line on video, but alas, I'm no cinematographer and forgot that my camera zoom only goes to 4x. I did happen to get the full gang to take a portrait with their tracks on the mountain behind them, so I'll take what I can get. We made our way back onto the ridge surprisingly easily, but upon reaching the cornice on the south side we decided to boot back to the lower bowl (rocky enough to stand up without flotation). We were so happy with the snow, especially in such gorgeous conditions!

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Portrait!
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Booting back to the lower bowl. I forget how popular this route gets in winter.

The snow in the lower bowl wasn't as lovely as it was in the upper bowl, but it was good enough for me to carve ahead of everybody into a rocky patch, thoroughly ruining my ski bases. I waited patiently for Ben, and promptly forgot to warn him of the hazard. His skis unfortunately suffered the same fate as mine. We together decided to warn Alexis of the upcoming ski-shredder, and so she stopped just in time. We began to chat about our descent options, as Whit came soaring into the rocks without warning. Now everybody's skis were equally beat up, at least. The snow in the lower bowl wasn't so great, kind of starting to grip our skis as we descended. We made it to treeline, decided to follow the skintrack back, and immediately regretted it. The snow was steadily decreasing in quality, grabbing our skis more and more, to the point that we had to stay perfectly in the track to even ski. We had to dismount for the last quarter mile or so, as all of the snow on the trail had melted out. We skied out on the road, happy to be at the car but far happier to have skied such a fine line.

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Just chillin' in the lower bowl.
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The summit selfie is the only indicator of a successful trip.



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