Inspired by Chris Davenport’s project (www.skithe14ers.com) I decided to do one of those fourteeners as well. Now the conditions seemed to be perfect. We had a few weeks of warm spring weather behind us and the snow pack is very stable in the mornings. So I looked for one of the easier fourteeners. Quandary Peak is recommended for a first-time 14er ski/snowboard descent. Quandary Peak is 14’265 feet high (=4350m). This peak is just a few miles south of Breckenridge. The East Ridge approach can be easily scoped out from highway US-9. I did this the week before after snowboarding the closing day in the Breckenridge ski resort. Originally I was planning to descent through the Cristo Couloir on the south face. However we opted to do the easier East Ridge.
Picture 1: The object of desire (picture taken the week before)
Click to enlarge
Picture 2: Descent route on the East Ridge (picture taken the week before)
My co-workers Doug and Stefan, Stefan’s roommate Chad and my wife Jaya joined me for this venture. We started at 8:30 from the trail head. That is a little later than the norm, but since the temperatures were forecasted to stay quite low it would not be a problem. We only wanted to make sure to be back at the car before some late afternoon snow was supposed to move in. But that came quite a bit different than forecasted, as you will see…
Picture 3: Getting ready at the trail head
Picture 4: Jaya and Doug hiking up to the tree line
Picture 5: The whole crew: Stefan, Doug, Jaya and Chad
During the first mile hike Jaya felt a blister building on here heel. We found out that her boot was actually soaked with Gatorade since one of the Camelbaks was leaking in the car. We noticed the empty bladder back at the trail head but we could not find any gear that was wet. Nice surprise to find this out now on the trail !! We taped her heel up and continued.
After we gained the tree line the wind started picking up and some light snow started falling.
Picture 6: That wind makes the snowboard feel heavy
Picture 7: Chad searching for some wind protection
The conditions deteriorated quickly. The wind was howling and some dark snow clouds moved in. Jaya was not too excited about fighting through this weather and feeling the blister on her heel. She decided to turn around and Doug accompanied her back to the car. Stefan, Chad and I pushed on.
Picture 8: Breaktime: For a German nothing tastes better than a brat on the mountain
After the quick break the weather really started to move in. We had to fight near white-out conditions. The snowboards were acting like sails in the wind and we had a tough time to stay on our feet. Stefan and Chad tried to talk me into turning around, but we were almost 2/3 up the mountain. I really would have regretted to abort it. And since Quandary is a straight forward ascent there was no risk to push on. The ridge is very wide and easy to navigate even in miserable conditions. Luckily the weather gods heard me and during the discussion the sky suddenly cleared somewhat.
Picture 9: Preparing for the snow
Picture 10: Near white-out
Picture 11: Stefan enjoying the snow
Even though it stopped snowing the wind was still blowing very hard. Chad and Stefan decided to leave their snowboard behind for the last big climb and pick it up later on again. I wanted to snowboard it from the exact summit and fought the hard winds. However I made a big mistake: I drank plenty, but forgot to eat in all that weather. So the last few vertical feet were extremely tough. I thought it was just the altitude, or that I am out of shape. I only realized on the summit that I simply ran out of energy due to lack of food. We made it all the way to the summit without snowshoes. I put my crampons on for the last climb and right on the summit we post-holed through waist deep powder but otherwise the snow was quite firm.
Picture 12: The last climb was tough
Picture 17: 360deg panorama
After eating and drinking to get back some energy we took the summit pictures. Than I strapped into my snowboard. The upper part was quite wind-blown, firm snow but it got better in the lower section.
18: My line of the summit
After those first few turns I met up with Stefan and Chad and we made our way down. We had to navigate through a few rocks and even take our snowboard off for a few feet. The lower bowl however was a blast. We got rewarded with some great turns. It is relatively a low angle terrain but the nice snow made it worthwhile.
Picture 22: Oliver’s last few turns
This easy fourteener turned out to be quite a bit more challenging than originally thought. The weather made a big difference. You have to be prepared for everything and like so often you can not trust too much the weather forecast when you are in the mountains. Our roundtrip time of almost 7 hours was quite slow. But nonetheless we were proud that the weather could not stop us and we were finally rewarded with a nice descent.