15 July 2014

Quandary Peak

White River National Forest

Locate the trailhead.


With the morning free to "look around" and having noticed that there is a 14k mountain a few miles from where I am staying in Breckenridge, I had to check it out. There are a number of routes, but the most common is a trail just 3.3 miles in length that starts at 11,000 feet. There was a moment where I realized that although I have been up a 14er twice, it was in the first half of my life. Williamson (14k) became Cloudripper (13k) when the permit did not work out. It is well past time for another. The car seemed to have a bad time of it over the 10,666 foot pass, but seems to have acclimated a bit just like me. Or it might be the lower gears used when not driving the interstate. At 6:30AM, there are more than half a dozen cars already parked at the trailhead on the county road (851), but still good parking out of the way of traffic remains. There is also a big lot just off the highway on 850 that does not add more than a couple tenths of a mile to the hike and seems to be used much less than it ought to be.

Quandary Peak Trailhead
The sign at the bottom of the trail as it leaves county road 851.

A sign on the trail just after the one saying which trail it is points out that there are no easy 14ers. Between the thin air and the ability of big mountains to make their own weather, it can take longer than expected and quickly become more dangerous than expected. Today, the afternoon thunder storms are expected to start up a bit early, maybe 11AM. There are thick trees initially. None of the trees seem to be very old. The trees thin quickly with the climb. Many seem to have bunched up fibers collecting on them although the usual suspects for dropping such things do not seem to be growing nearby. Some maps record a few other trailheads and some old roadways come up to meet the trail, but none seem to be in use and it looks like there is a standardization on the signed trailhead for the least disturbance of private property in the area.

lump of rock ahead along the trail
A first look at the peak up ahead.

The fingers of civilization reaching into the mountains become visible as I get higher. Roads twist around the mountain on the other side of the valley with houses far separated along them. A little higher and the reservoir becomes visible. Other than the reservoir, the development seems to stay in the trees. A few cars are parked near it, possibly for the more challenging but shorter climb up the mountain. I pass a few hikers on the trail including one set that looks like a man in his 70s helping his father up the trail. The younger man seems quite capable of doing the trail himself. The older man is very slow and seems not entirely aware, but very determined. The younger man is hyper-aware and resolute.

looking down over the treed foothills that are also quite high mountains
Looking down as the trees thin to meadows, there are many roads and houses tucked into the trees below.


a couple making their way up the trail where it is mostly meadow
The meadows widen as the trail climbs.

a bowl of mountains with a reservoir below, cascading into a smaller lake below it
The rock dam on the reservoir provides a single straight line in a mass of slow curves of the bowl of the mountains. The water from it cascades into a small lake below.

The meadows yield all to soon to rock. The footing is more difficult on the rock. The trail has been made much smoother than it might otherwise be by the effort of trail builders and many many feet. As the view ahead becomes most of the mountain slope, it becomes apparent that there are quite a few feet daily, at least in summer, to help break the corners off the rocks each day. Coming the other way on the trail is a mountain goat. People are not the only feet working on smoothing out this trail. The mountain goat is shedding a winter coat and suddenly I know what those fibers in the trees below are from. It does not seem worried about the people until they are just a few feet from it. Over the next little hill is another practically tame mountain goat using the trail to go down the mountain.

looking up the slope to many groups of people
At least six groups of people working their way up the slope to the mountain top.

looking down on the pass the highway uses
Looking down on the highway with county road offshoots as it goes over the pass far below.

mountain goat walking past a large cairn on the trail
The mountain goats like to keep to the trail too.

mountain goat on trail with people nearby further up the trail
The mountain goats seem to be not very wary of people, but do not treat them as if they are tame.

mountain goat very clearly on the trail
The second mountain goat. Some mountain goats can be found halfway up a class 4 chute, some can be found strolling the class 1.

The trail levels out for a section and where the trail is level, the wind is stiff and cold. As it turns back to climbing, I find one fellow who has decided to finish his hike already. The wind vanishes on the climb. The trail gets sufficiently indistinct to lose over and over again. The rocks get bigger and the footing is less firm and then I come across the trail again and continue up its easy path until the next diversion. There are really a number of trails making the same route up the side of the mountain.

The top of the peak is full of people. The peak register is quite insufficient to allow all to record their names. Currently, the only blank spot is on a loose sheet of paper that turns out to be a sign someone brought up to hold in photos two days before. A couple women have brought up their own sign for today and are letting everyone else pose with it as well.

crowded peak
A whole lot of people enjoying the fact that everywhere else is below them.

standing on top of the world
Show off the wild hair or wild hat? It is easy to find a photographer on a crowded mountain.

The ridge extends over the mountain and down toward others on the other side. To the north, another bowl of land holds more lakes. The benchmark along it is easy to find and has reference marks to help point the way if help is needed. I take a while to enjoy the view even though I have to get back for lunch and am a little late already.

many lakes in the bowl to the north
Below on the north side, there are a few lakes collecting snow melt in the bowl of the mountains.

station mark on Quandary
The station on Quandary. The monuments were set in 1951.

ranges of mountains to the west
The ridge extends off to the west and down to a few more peaks and eventually, to the right, Tenmile Ridge around Breckenridge.

Eventually the pressure to leave is enough and I start down the trail. There are even more people coming up the trail now. There are more mountain goats now, too. There are five on the way down, which may or may not include the same two that were using the trail on the way up. There are a couple of youngsters that are more skittish.

valley below and to the north
Looking down in the valley toward Breckenridge.

more trail users along the spine of the mountain
People coming and going along the trail up the east ridge.

yet another mountain goat
A mountain goat looks on warily as I pass on the path.

reservoir from above
Another mountain goat that is a little more wary of people above the reservoir to the south, Green Lakes.

I pass the slow moving pair of men still climbing up. The younger asks me about the clouds seen at the top. I can only tell him that they looked about as threatening from there as they do from here. They do not seem to have gotten far enough from when I last saw them and I wonder how early they started to be this far along. His resoluteness is tinged with concern, but it is the former that is still winning. I pop over to a second path on the way down which affords some more wildflowers, but turns out to be rather steeper than desired with loose footing. At the bottom, it also turns out to be the area closed for restoration.

flowers along the old trail
Some purple beside a bit of paintbrush that is just starting.

green flowers
A green flower that seems quite common. Some are also purple or white, but green seems the most common.

Back down into the trees, it seems longer on the way back than before. There are still people starting even as the weather begins to threaten. One group asks if I saw the mountain goats. It is a zoo down at the road as I finish with many cars deciding that the road really only needs one lane for travel. The cars do not extend all the way down the road to the junction as seen in the current satellite photo, but it still seems a bit much for a Tuesday.

trees along the trail
Back down on dirt and easy travel among the trees. The weather did not come as soon as predicted.




©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 28 July 2014

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