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.

Take note, people!

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.

Quandary – an odd name for a very straightforward hike

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).

Approaching treeline

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.

Looking for a good time? Call Gregg.

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.

Never mind those two fresh-faced freaks who look like they’ve just returned from a leisurely stroll. Note my post-hike face.
Pre-hike, I was all smiles. Post-hike, the sign became my support beam.

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:

38 thoughts

  1. Ugh, I feel your pain. Being a northeast flat lander I got a horrible case of altitude sickness when we were in Arizona. Spent our 35th wedding anniversary in bed. Alone. Except for a puke bucket. So romantic.
    Wonderful pics though.
    😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yikes. At least I got to finish my activity. The only thing I missed was dinner at our favorite Breckenridge burger joint, but I went the next day so I didn’t really miss it at all. Here’s hoping all your past and future anniversaries don’t involve vomit.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Despite the altitude sickness, it was good to do another peak. This was near the end of the trip, so maybe our 8th or 9th day in Colorado. However, the first five days or so were in Glenwood, which is only 5700 feet in elevation. Usually we stay in Leadville which is over 10,000 feet, so that could be it. I also wondered whether our slower pace somehow contributed to it (more time up high) but I didn’t suffer from altitude sickness when we did DeCaLiBron, which is peak after peak after peak, so much more time up high. Since then, I’ve heard that it can strike out of nowhere. My eating the previous days hadn’t been great, so that may have contributed. I’ll probably never really know what caused it…

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    1. Thanks and thanks! Yes, I was lucky to be off the mountain before it got even worse. Apparently a poor Floridian we’d been leap-frogging the whole time had vomited at the summit. Glad that didn’t happen to me. I much prefer vomiting in toilets. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay for making it to the summit! I’m curious as to how many 14er patches you will be able to fit on that jacket. Also, ugh with the altitude sickness. That sounds awful. It hasn’t gotten me yet, but I’m sure it will at some point… after all, I have 51 14ers to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apparently it strikes randomly, which is kinda scary, actually. You’ve done seven 14ers already? I’m certain I haven’t seen seven 14er posts from you. Maybe they’re part of your coming attractions? As for the jacket, I’m not sure, but I’m sure I won’t be getting 58 patches!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I was 90% better by bedtime and 100% better the next morning when I woke up, so it wasn’t too protracted. As for the lesson, au contraire mon amie. This was my 9th 14er but first real case of altitude sickness. I think the lesson is that “easy” fourteeners give me altitude sickness and I should do harder ones – haha. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a daring hike! Sorry to read that you didn’t feel well afterwards: those high altitudes are no joke! All the same, you lived and you conquered! Hope you add more 14ers to the list later on!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I spent way too much time playing with the arrows on those pics, toggling back and forth. I haven’t used those before (but you know I’m going to have to bust them out every time I post now, right?).

    That photo of the hubby trekking up the snowfield almost made me dizzy just looking at the steep drop-off. I doubt I’d do very well hiking these 14ers given my fear of heights, but well done to you both! And Sam. Good job, Sam!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, there were no steep drop offs here. Must have been the camera angle. You could EASILY do this hike (so long as you don’t get altitude sickness).
      As for the toggling, you must have missed this post. This is where I busted out the “compare” feature in a big way. And sorry to keep sending posts for you to read. But you have nothing to do these days, right? 😉
      https://thetravelarchitect.wordpress.com/2021/06/05/home-construction-yes-during-a-pandemic-no/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely the angle. It didn’t look that bad when you were shooting it from the bottom.

        I’m still reading a few posts from August, so feel free to send me any links you want. I’ll get caught up eventually!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. It sounds like you are my hubby are similar kinds of hikers. He will charge up a mountain at a pace that no one can keep up with and then want to recover for a couple of days after that. Thankfully I’ve not had to carry him back down the mountain as that would not end well for either of us. Loved following along on your hike, I would take those views over being at my desk any day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I was hoping to get your take. What’s your experience with high altitude sickness? I was freaked there for a while thinking my 14er days were over, but several people, including our friend who summited all 58 14ers, said it may never strike me again – that it can strike randomly and possibly only once.

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      1. Yep, don’t let it deter you from going up again. I’ve had it 3 times – twice in Colorado on double peak days and big time (to the point of vomiting) on Cotopaxi in Ecuador. Some days, your body just isn’t feeling it but that doesn’t mean you’re done done.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. So sorry you were stricken with miserable altitude sickness… surprised it hit you after so many days in the high country (but not that high). Next time pick up one of those small oxygen containers, I believe they have them at the Georgetown visitor center if not elsewhere, might help. Congratulations, anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

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