Quandary Peak Trail, East Approach
Starting Elevation: 10,995Ft
Summit Elevation: 14,295 Ft ( 3300ft total elevation gain)
Trail Length: 6.5- 7 miles miles officially ( my fitbit said 8 miles at the end) It took us 6.5 hrs; 3:45 hrs going up 2:45hrs coming down
Trail Uses: Hiker, Biker, Horses
Degree of Difficulty: Strenuous
Bathrooms: There are at least 2 parking lots and the first one does have port-o-potties, the one we parked at did not
Pets: On leash
Quandary is really close to Breckenridge where we were staying and one of the easier 14ers you can do in Colorado. I can’t lie in that I wanted to try a really easy one for our first 14er. After our reluctant turnaround so close to the summit of James Peak a few days before, we made sure to not chance weather coming in at the wrong time when we tried Quandary, so we got up at 2:30AM and to the trail head at 4AM. We have also heard that the trail is crazy crowded the later in the day you go and we kinda wanted it to ourselves so we could go at our own pace, breathing as heavily as we needed. Plus we could barely sleep anyway because we were so excited for our first attempt at a 14er!!!!
As we pulled up there were already 3 cars in the parking lot, we got ready in record time and right before we started , there were people in one of the cars and one came over to talk to us. He said that he was a camp counselor that had brought a group of kids to hike Quandary to catch the sunrise and one of their kids got altitude sickness so he was sitting with him. apparently this was a surprise since he had done Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive earlier in the week, just a reinforcement that you never know when altitude sickness is going to hit.
Here are the pictures I took of the parking lot and trail head when we got back down around 11:30AM
There is something weird about hiking with your headlamp on, it feels strangely exposing in that we don’t know who or what is watching us. At the same time, it forces you to only to pay attention to the trail lit up in front of you and not dread what you see up ahead which kinda makes the incline seem much easier, for me at least. Plus it means coming back down will be like doing a loop hike because it will be brand new for us.
We actually made surprisingly good time to get for the first 2-2.5 miles and as the sun started rising we were just at the tree line.
The colors as the sun rises always take my breath away, as we were approaching the gravel we could see the top of Quandary lit up in a beautiful pink gold.
The trail at this point was a nice steady climb with some rocks mostly dirt, it did get steep on occasion but not too bad.
As we moved to the next part of climb, it is through a ton of rocks all sizes and gravel, to me it seemed like the steepest part of the trail. Which coincidentally, is also the hardest part of the trail both going up and coming down. The ground is pretty unstable and then the steep grade, well it makes the trip down more challenging.
After the gravel climb it levels out for a nice comfy traverse which lets you catch your breath and feel more comfortable with the altitude, in fact I felt so good that as we approached the summit climb I figured it would be cake. We hit the summit climb a little before 7AM.
The path up the ridge to the summit is totally hidden until you are on top of it and I was kinda worried we would be bouldering up the 1000+ feet in elevation left to go, but as you follow what you are on, you see it clearly and it is very well planned out. It is steep and you can find yourself bouldering a little on accident, but then spot the trail just ahead. The hardest part was just plain old breathing, we found ourselves stopping every 20-30 feet just to catch our breath.
The last little bit was over a small snow field, it was well used and already slick. Aaron’s issue with heights kicked in here so we did take the time put our yaktrax on but I don’t think they are necessary. It did help us get to the summit, and put Aaron more at peace although once we took a few pictures together on the summit, he sat in a wind shelter and didn’t move until we went back down, asking me like 10 times to watch out….not so close… Trust me the summit is plenty big no fear of falling off.
It was pretty emotional for me when we got to the top, I felt so incredibly accomplished after losing almost 2/3s of the weight and training for a year and a half, we did it! I totally cried happy tears! Then I cried tears of amazement because of the views. I am already planning for our next 14er! We got to the summit right at 8AM, because we were so early we had it to ourselves almost the whole time, there was just one other person who came and went. On the way down, the trail was super crowded, like I am guessing we passed over a 100-200 other hikers. Going early was the best decision we made. After the directions will be our favorite pictures!
Directions: From I-70, take Exit #203 for Breckenridge – Highway 9 and travel south through the towns of Breckenridge and Blue River. Travel 18.3 miles from Exit #203 to State Road 850( Blue Lakes Road) and turn right (west). Make an immediate right on McCullough Gulch Road (State Road 851 north) and travel .3 miles up the maintained dirt road to the trailhead. Spaces are limited, but roadside parking is permitted. There is also a parking lot immediately after turning onto Blue Lakes Road with the port-o-potty but we opted to go to the Official trail head parking.