Winter/solo/east ridge/Quandary

11 Mar 2003 - by Mike Roth

I'll try but mere words will not capture the splendor of this experience or its spectacularity.

I followed the plan and once again the plan worked like some kind of clock. I flew out on Monday the 10th, checked in at the hotel in Dillon and set out immediately thereafter to find the parking spot and hopefully the trailhead. Filled with all kinds of doubts about the snow conditions I found the parking spot without problems and began the hike up the unplowed road to the trailhead. Without knowing that the trailhead would be clearly signed, I explored one trail and immediately found myself in postholes up to my hip. Progress was impossible, not even 5 feet, it was that bad. It was a bad moment but one I was prepared for, I know how winter attempts go in the Rockies and Sierras. I got back on the unplowed road and went further now with just a pleasant walk in mind, the prospects of a climb now out of the question. Suddenly, there it was, a sign for the trail up Quandary and the trail was completely packed and consolidated by predecessors just like my research into this route indicated it might be! What a relief! I went up this trail about a half mile almost but not quite to treeline to see if it would really stand my weight without snowshoes - it did so I was set for the morrow.

Next day, Tuesday the 11th. The weather reports indicated that it would be excellent but when I looked out the window there was blue sky only here and there with all the high peaks wrapped in snowcloud. I was a little worried about this but I had my compass and was prepared to use it to navigate my way if need be. I parked then started on my way at 6:48AM, it was light but the sun was not up yet. I made the decision the night before that an ultra-early start was not necessary, it was a providential change in plans that worked wonderfully in my favor. Reached the trailhead 25 minutes later, it was very windy and the snow was reaching my elevation now but it had that quality about it that seemed to indicate this is actually just fair weather snow shower stuff and the sun might just chase it all away as the day goes on. I never would have dared to believe how right I was going to be. 45 minutes later I was at treeline, the winds and visibility were already telling me it was going to be a Mount Washington-style climb. This is where experience on Mt. Washington really pays back some dividends. The wind and snow did not bother me except that the view from the summit would be ruined, what worried me was navigation in the low visibility. The east ridge is not narrow, its broad and if the tracks in the snow were lost in all that blowing snow I would be down to the compass. At treeline, I took my first bearing but it was unnessary because the route ahead was becoming more and more visible. the winds were so high and the route so exposed that snow was not able to cover the tracks I was following, my hopes were rising.

Treeline. I ate, drank, took a bearing, and put on all the clothing I had in a spot I anticipated would be the last wind-protected niche between here and the summit. It was good I did this because I was right. I left the trees, entered the wind and blowing snow and began to feel like I was doing the thing I was meant to do. It was wonderful! Alone with God on a high windswept mountain in winter. I sensed His pleasure as he watched one of His creatures following inspiration in the face of adversity.

The East Ridge. It was long with no shortage of false summits with the true summit all the while in that unnerving cloud but thankfully the visibility was improving, I was able to stay on the trail without problems and best of all the snow was supporting my weight without snowshoes I did not even have. As the hours wore on I began to feel my lack of acclimation, the first climb of the year, but most of all the clothing I was wearing. I was being worn down by the heat I was generating, something I always try to avoid - overdressing. Nothing I could do, you had to be there. There was exposure of an unusual kind. It was steep enough that a slip would have you sliding at a great speed in a moment. Nylon on packed snow, but I did not slip.

The summit. About 45 minutes from the summit a miraculous clearing occured. Not only Quandary but the entire Rocky Mountain chain. In all directions a stunning wilderness of totally snow-clad mirror-bright peaks. I was so glad I am a religious man. Just below the top I could see I was beginning to rise above the summit with each additional step. It was a beautiful kind of summit, a short snowy ridge ending with two crossed skis anchored in the rocks. The bindings were removed but in their place was an army ammo can with a summit log inside with two ball point pens. The ink was frozen of course but I did not mind, it wasn't important at all.


Time to summit: 5hrs 14mins Roundtrip: 8hrs 04mins

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