I got up a little earlier on Wednesday March 28, so I could attempt the Cristo Couloir on Quandary, a 14,265′ mountain just outside Breckenridge Colorado. I arrived at the main trail parking at 6:45 and spent fifteen minutes changing into my boots, SCARPA Men’s Charmoz GTX Alpine Boot – mildly insulated waterproof hiking boots that I’ve used for similar conditions for a few years. I got some nice pictures of the gully running from about 11,300′ to 13,800′ almost directly South from the Blue Lakes dam at the end of the road.
I headed West up the road, and ran into a van with a couple young guys who had passed and said the trail was closed. I couldn’t even imagine and told them I was going up to the dam and then up the snow. I think they decided to try it too, and they drove on up the road. I passed the next parking lot and sure enough, there was a trail closure sign on it, but I had no idea where that trail went, so I just continued on the road. I made really good time, and the snow got deeper, and I eventually passed them where the minivan straddled the road, digging out a spinning tire with an ice axe.
At the Blue Lakes Dam there were two forks to the ramp of snow heading up into the upper reaches of the mountain – about 2,500′ of snow climbing at a gentle 40 degrees give or take for most of it. I put my Black Diamond Contact Crampons on, swapped out my trekking poles for an ice axe, and took off up the ramp. I chose the right fork, which had a really nice steep spot, but I ended up on dirt for a bit, and had to carefully step (I didn’t want to de-crampon) over to an angled trail of snow back to the center of the couloir and up.
Shortly after I took a small break and looked down and realized I should have taken the left fork (climber’s left). Oh, well. The snow was nice and firm and there were both hiking and snowboard tracks to follow where it made sense. I got to the bottleneck about 13,200′ where there was a short line of not too steep, but very thin, hard, narrow ice in a groove between rocks. Great handholds on the rocks, so not a big deal. Soon after that the snow got softer, and sure enough, snowball missiles about the size of a watermelon started coming down from the cliffs above the center of the upper snow patch.
I watched for a gap and headed left and up to skirt the rocks along the left side and at about 13,500′ was punching through up to my knees on every step, so I waded over to the rocks and looked for firmer snow. It was obvious that the center of the gully was too dangerous, and the left side wasn’t firm enough anymore, so I took my crampons off and stowed them, and followed the many obvious goat paths up along the ridge toward the top, with only about 750′ to go.
The very top of this branch of the ridge skirted along a very deep ravine with steep cliffs and deep snow in the middle. Awesome looking over. A few sketchy moves here and there, but plenty of handholds so for me anyway, Class 3. YMMV. Soon it leveled off a bit, and I was on top. I hung out for about 15 minutes in the warm sun and since the East Ridge at the top was very slick hard ice, I put my crampons back on until I got down to about 13,800′ where I took them off again.
I ran into a few groups of older climbers and chatted a bit. At about 13,000′ I ran into a couple goats, and got some great pics. Soon after I ran into a guy on the way down who had been with one of the groups. We decided to hike sortof together the rest of the way down. He had Kahtoola MICROspikes on, so with his extra traction we leap-frogged down. We managed to get lost again, probably in the exact same spot, but I found the fork to get us back very quickly, and we were soon at the bottom.
It was a really fun hike, in spite of getting lost, and with more food and water in the pack than last time (last time I had a waist pack on, this time I had a hydration pack), it wasn’t too bad for recovering quickly.
Garmin Track of this adventure: CLICK HERE