Monday, November 15, 2010

Trip Report-Quandary in November

Another trip report from the soon-to-be graduate, and hopeful instructor, of Wilderness Trekking School. Marco is no stranger to 14er's; however, this was his first winter ascent of Quandary(14,265') with his WTS class to obtain part of their 'extra credit' C Classification.  Most students are looking forward to earning the C Classification to go onto Basic Mountaineering School(BMS).


Hey there, this TR comes to you at a time in Colorado when I typically do not climb high peaks.  I am making a foray into new horizons regarding mountaineering, and am excited to do so with new friends that share my enthusiasm for the mountains.


I wake up at 2:50am and have given myself 5-6 hours of sleep the last two nights, so falling asleep at 10pm on a Friday is easier.  Leave the house at 3:10am.  Make my way to the Wooly Mammoth parking lot just off of I-70 (Morrison exit).  I was surprised to see all of my team members ready to rumble, all 10 of us throwing it down and meeting at 3:30am Saturday morning….money.  More and more my comfort level with my team is growing, these folks love the mountains as much as me, and I can not express how happy it makes me.

I drop off my car at the park n’ ride, struggle to smile when everyone at different intervals shouts to me “good morning”, I am late for everything except hiking.  I ride with Wayne and Rich O to the trailhead.  We stop at a 7-11 in Frisco because our original destination was closed.   I got a coffee, banana, and some big red bubble gum.  Chatted with KD for a bit and took advantage of the restroom.  One thing that has become evident, when hiking with the WTS team, you should take advantage of every “bio break” you get.   I have had to struggle through the WTS course on the hikes because I am so used to doing things when I want to do them.  I sacrifice that convenience for safety by hiking with my team.  

After the pit stop, we travel to the trailhead and get there at 5:40am.  The team has delivered on time, one of your best advantages at gaining the summit. 

We have a quick briefing at the parking lot and start the hike of Quandary at 5:50am.  About .75 miles in, with headlamps rockin’, I encountered a very icy steep spot on the trail.  I was able to make a move and get passed it but slightly slipped when I did not think I would have.  Someone following directly behind took a slip on that same ice.  After that, the instructors told us to apply our micro spikes or yak trax if we had them.  I had bought my micro spikes on Thursday and was dismayed at the price tag.  65 bones eh?  I gave a little guff to the salesperson at the downtown Denver REI. 

“Do you feel these are worth 65 dollars?”
“Yes, we had some employees come back from the Ouray ice festival this year and they insisted we must carry this product.”

Holy Bojangles! These things worked great.  Micro spikes fit in this hiatus between a good hiking boot and crampons.  Absolutely ingenious!

So we all throw on some traction on the boots, except a few folks.  Those people would definitely rely on their trekking pools.  With the Micro spikes I had the luxury of putting up my trekking poles for a large portion of the hike.  Especially going down a peak, I do not like trekking poles, even though they are supposed to save your knees.  I like having my hands free so I can balance myself with my arms, much like a gymnast on a balance beam. 

Our lead instructor Wayne set a great pace.  We stopped about .5 mile before gaining the ridge.  At this point, our group split up into two groups because some folks wanted to rest more and others wanted to get moving because it was cold.  My personal preference is to keep moving as much as possible.  This is one thing I am learning about a team atmosphere, that I must control my pace in accordance with the team. 

Bruce, Jason, Dick, Kristina, Brandon, and I start making our way to the ridge crest with Kristina leading.  I got behind my original group trying to keep tabs on the folks resting.  I was getting a bit anxious because I wanted to summit with everyone.  Once we gain the ridge we hike a little ways to a saddle, and we take a good pause and were surprised when the next group arrived quicker than we thought.  Sweet!  Bruce had created a “Tiki Bar” in the snow beside the trail while we waited.  We had Mai Thai’s, Martini’s, you name it.  Bruce is a great backcountry bartender! Hehehe.

With the entire team together again, I am feeling good.  We make our way up to the summit.  We hike for around 45 minutes and Wayne pulls me aside to tell me to hike ahead and get photos of the team with Bruce’s camera as they are approaching the summit.  I had taken a GU shot about 20 minutes earlier and was feeling high energy. Started hustling my way up and was able to nab great shots of the team on Quandary’s ridge.  Had to use the pounding temple rule to take break!  Hehehe. At higher altitudes, that is my signal to take a break. 

I reach the summit and set up shop to take pictures of my team coming up to join me.  Bruce wanted to make Karen Dean and Karen Joos first 14er summit special.  We had a “Knight” ceremony for both of them.  While I took the picture, the team formed two lines facing each other and held up their trekking poles while Karen times 2 walked through.  I think I enjoy witnessing other peoples’ accomplishments in the mountains more than I do my own.  

One of my proudest moments of being a mountaineer so far, was smiling at my wife (Becky) and our wonderful friend (Regina) on the summit of Longs Peak back in September.  I had climbed Longs two other times, but never felt like that.

We have a wonderful weather day in Colorado. We sat up there for an hour and soaked in the views.  I have climbed Quandary before with no snow, but looking in every direction, the views of snowcapped peaks were different than the views I am accustomed to.  I think I am sold on winter climbing, even though it makes me more anxious than summer ascents.

While we are chilling up there, I run into Stacia.  I met her and Alan climbing Mt. Toll a month ago.   My goodness, do you want to know how many times I have told some random person hiking “See you on the trail again soon”.  I have met some awesome people that I hope to run into again.  Seeing Stacia, this was the first time running into someone I have met before on the trail.  She was a bit flabbergasted as well.  I took down her cell number, and now officially have a new hiking partner.  We chatted for a while and then she headed off.  Our team decided to descend not long after.  

Before we left the summit, I have this habit of snapping pictures of folks when they do not know.  Sometimes it is not in the most flattering light for some individuals. This one photo shows Karen D., Jason, and Brandon all admiring the view of the summit in different directions.  No matter how many photos I take of myself, I can never get that same embodiment of pure wonder.  Hello folks that do not hike, this is why we punish ourselves. For that picture where we all daze off into different directions of the horizon, marveling at the planet we live on. 

Anyway, we head down and the sun is beating on us.  You factor in the albedo from the snow and you are just getting blasted.  I was very conscious of this and applied sun tan lotion a couple times.  I did because sometimes I’ll miss some little spot and get burnt to a crisp on a segment of skin on the side of my neck or something.  I did well with covering my skin with clothing and sun tan lotion. 

I was getting so hot, that close to tree line I sat down with Kristina and Jason under a small tree just to get a reprieve from the sun.  It felt so good in the shade.  I chatted with Jason and Kristina a bit about a variety of subjects.   They seem very motivated to climb high altitude mountains.  Good for them, and I hope they are successful in their endeavors. 

Since I have started taking this class, it seems my goals with the mountains seem to change weekly.  Eventually, I figured out I just like to be outside man.  There is no rhyme or reason. Hiking gives me the motivation to wake up early and get out there and live a lifestyle I have long admired from the hottest doldrums of Texas.    

We bushwhack a bit to navigate to the pervious trial of Quandary (this has been closed for restoration purposes).  Quandary is definitely a high traffic peak.  The winter months will cut down on the amount of people, but it is still popular.  We make it to the cars!  Sweet!

We all head to Dillon Dam Brewery for beers and burgers.  We had a great time and as we were leaving you could sense the vibe that everyone knew we only had one more planned date together (Snow Day in December) and we were being slightly more sentimental than usual (maybe the beers).  It was poignant for me; these are my types of people in every way.  I respect their opinion, they respect mine.  They love the mountains and so do I.  They inspire me.  Those three things are all I need from someone.  

One note: I am thinking about doing the Leadville 50 race just because of Brandon on our team. He did it last year and I have been picking is brain regarding this “ultra”.  The Leadville 50 is a 50 mile race in one day that has an insane amount of elevation gain.  I want to try it.
I hope to have the opportunity to be an assistant instructor for WTS in April.

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