Watch: Bootprints Hiking Guide to Quandary Peak via east ridge
BLUE RIVER — I’d done 14 previous hikes in this summer’s Bootprints Hiking Guide all across Summit County, but with the warm weather holding up into early October, I decided to add on a 14er to make it 15.
Quandary Peak is the mountain — the hike — that many people think of when they think of visiting Summit County. It’s the most scaled 14,000-foot mountain in the state, according to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. But as a sign warns up at the Quandary Peak Trailhead before steeply climbing to begin your hike, “No 14ers are easy.”
Sure, the Quandary trailhead is easily accessible for any vehicle and it’s less than 3.5 miles to get up there. But be ready for textbook 1,000 feet-per-mile steep climbing from the very begging of this hike.
Thanks to improvement work by volunteer groups like the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, the footing on Quandary is about as good as you could expect for a mountain that sees up to 40,000 hikers a year. There are rock retaining walls, water bars and boulder stair steps that make this steep climb a whole hell of a lot easier.
But, again, it’s not easy!
Less than a mile in you’ll gain more than 700 feet, just short of timberline at around 11,500 feet. After a flat pitch about a third of the distance into the hike, you’ll need to gain more than 1,000 feet 1.6 miles into the hike.
Exactly one hour into my hike I reached the tippy-top of timberline, at 12,300 feet and 1.8 miles from my car. With no weather or trees to block the view up ahead, you could see the conga line, as so many hikers put it, of the masses of humans heading up and down Quandary’s east ridge.
Rating: More difficult
Distance: 3.47 miles to summit
Elevation gain: 3,418 feet
Elevation loss: 0 feet
Starting elevation: 10,847 feet
Summit elevation: 14,265 feet
Elapsed time: 2 hours, 59 minutes and 17 seconds
Average speed: 1.16 mph
Average pace: 51.64 minutes-per-mile
Ideal for: 14er hike, demanding hike with dog, 360-degree views
Parking: Quandary Peak Trailhead parking lot on Colorado Highway 9 leading up to Hoosier Pass from Summit County side
The trail is steep through relatively secure talus until the false summit of Quandary, which is 2,300 feet of elevation gain and 2.5 miles into the hike. From the false summit, stay positive, confident, hydrated and fueled. And don’t look up too much! The final 1,000 feet of elevation gain from the flat false summit up to the true summit, with all those tiny humans like ants marching in the distance, can be intimidating. But you’ll get there, one small step and one breath at a time. Trekking poles sure do help. So many hikers on this trail cursed themselves for not having them, especially on the way down.
A Quandary Crusher (an homage to the unofficial community run up this mountain that many Summit county locals, especially in Breckenridge engage in annually) I am not. That said, at my solid pace it took me just under three hours to scale the 3,300 feet over 3.3 miles — pretty much the steep hike standard of 1,000 feet per mile — from my car to the summit. With the crowds in their full glory, it could be better described as a party at the peak.
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