The Breckenridge add-on portion of our Colorado Hot Springs Loop trip culminated in a climb to the summit of our ninth 14er, Quandary Peak, whose trailhead sits just outside of town. We were well aware that this mountain is commonly called “The Easiest 14er,” despite what the sign says.
And we’ve hiked enough 14ers to know that the sign is absolutely, positively correct. Still, I was excited to do a climb that I figured would feel relatively easy compared to many of our past ascents.
Along for the ride was our friend Sam who lives in Denver and had never before attempted one of Colorado’s Big 58 (a name I just now bestowed upon Colorado’s collective mountain peaks that surpass 14,000 feet). Quandary is the 13th highest of the 58, but size doesn’t matter (in this case). Altitude has little bearing on difficulty when the peaks only span the relatively small range of 14,001 feet (Sunshine Peak) to 14,440 feet (Mount Elbert).
What matters in this case is that, according to the Yosemite Decimal System, Quandary is classified as a Class 1, which is a good place to start for the uninitiated.
Class 1: Easy hiking - usually on a good trail. Class 2: More difficult hiking that may be off-trail. You may also have to put your hands down occasionally to keep your balance. May include easy snow climbs or hiking on talus/scree. Class 2 includes a wide range of hiking and a route may have exposure, loose rock, steep scree, etc. Class 3: Scrambling or un-roped climbing. You must use your hands most of the time to hold the terrain or find your route. This may be caused by a combination of steepness and extreme terrain (large rocks or steep snow). Class 4: Climbing. Handholds and footholds are required for upward or downward progress. Rope is sometimes used on Class 4 routes because falls can be fatal. The terrain is often steep and dangerous. Class 5:Technical climbing using ropes, harnesses, and belaying.
With our beginner in tow, we started our ascent.
One thing’s for certain, you aren’t going to get lost on Quandary. The trail couldn’t be more obvious and there are no spur trails or junctions with other routes to throw you off course.
At four hours, the climb up took longer than I was expecting, but our friend required more rest breaks than we would usually take and that was fine. We had gorgeous weather and weren’t dodging any storms. This slow pace also pleased the husband, who says I charge up mountains way too fast and then practically have to be carried down, which is, of course, preposterous.
Unable to power down his teacher self and perpetually smitten with the numerous functions of his smart watch, the husband couldn’t help calling out altitude readings to our fellow hikers. Some were even lucky enough to get one-on-one lessons on the appellations of nearby peaks.
After a brief snowfield near the top . . .
. . . we made the summit.
Some previous hiker had mistaken the official summit for a bathroom stall. Maybe Gregg’s looking to join some version of the Mile High Club that I’m not aware of.
Then it was time to start the downclimb, and this is where things got interesting.
I’d had a headache for an hour or two before making the summit, but I always get those while hiking 14ers. This time, though, I began to feel nauseous and the headache intensified.
We were approached by some mountain goats but, lacking pharmaceuticals, they weren’t much help to me.
It only took 2½ hours to descend, but it was a rough 2½ hours. By the time we got back to the car, my head was splitting. Unlike many drives away from 14er trailheads, which can be very long, slow, and rough-n-tumble, the eight-mile route back to the hotel—though curvy—was on smooth, paved roads, which the husband navigated using the perfect balance of haste and calm. This alone kept me from regurgitating seven hours worth of Powerade™ all over his truck. Once back at the hotel bathroom, though, all bets were off. Post-purge, shivering and pasty-faced, I climbed into bed, weakly begged for the blackout curtains to be shut against the blinding light, and waited for the Tylenol™ to kick in while Sam and the husband went out to celebrate our feat.
So is Quandary easy? These before and after photos might give you an idea.
Let’s settle it like this. Quandary is taxing like any hours-long hike up and down a high-altitude mountain, though it definitely isn’t hard. But if you come down with a case of altitude sickness, even the “easiest 14er” ain’t so easy.
The journey, in universarum: