Peak(s):  Quandary Peak  -  14,265 feet
Mt. Princeton  -  14,197 feet
Date Posted:  07/14/2020
Date Climbed:   10/28/2018
Author:  jvirene
Additional Members:   yvng phil
 Extending the Summer Hiking Season   

Extending the Summer Hiking Season

Philip and I were not ready to let hiking go, until Mount Princeton hit us with the truth... the season was done

Quandary Peak (Climbed 10/28/2018)


Mileage: 6.75 Miles

Elevation Gain: 3450'

Difficulty: 3/10

Preface: It was getting late in the hiking season for Philip and I, since neither of us had any experience with winter hiking conditions, but we still wanted to get out there and hike some peaks, so we figured that Quandary would be good due to the low risk factors and how short the hike was. As many of you might remember, winter 2018 was one of the highest snow years in the books, but that didn't stop us from doing Quandary.

Preparation: Knowing that it would be a bit colder on this hike than many others that we had done, we decided that we needed some extra layers. Philip brought his ski jacket and let me borrow one of his since I didn't have one. We drove out to Quandary via 1-70, taking the Frisco exit towards Quandary. We got to the trailhead when it was still dark and after some initial confusion as to the location of the trail, we found it and began hiking up the mountain. We also were hiking in the dark so we brought headlamps and all of the standard gear that we'd usually bring on fourteeners.

The drive: We were driving in the dark and the trailhead was open all the way, so no extra hiking was required, which was really nice because we hadn't planned on hiking anything extra.

The hike: A majority of the hiking up to tree-line was done in the dark, so I don't have much to report. The trail was very easy to follow and there wasn't anyone else hiking at the time. I never enjoy hiking in the dark because you can't really enjoy much scenery, it's just trees the whole way. We reached tree-line pretty quickly and by the time we did, the sun was starting to rise. There was not much snow below tree-line but above, there was a lot more. Neither Philip, nor myself brought any traction along because we didn't have any, but luckily the snow was frozen solid so we didn't have to deal with any post-holing on the way up. The east ridge definitely gets steeper the higher you get, but we were in good shape so this did not prove too challenging, still though, we felt the hike getting harder as we gained elevation. We were on top of the ridge by about 9:00 and on the summit by 9:30. Again, the snow never gave us any trouble on this hike despite not having traction. I brought my gaiters so that my feet wouldn't get wet but ended up never using them.


Working our way up to tree-line with the sun rising


Nice views on the summit

The summit: Our layers were keeping us very warm, so we decided to stay on the summit for a bit and relax. There were a few other groups that ended up hiking Quandary as well and we saw them hiking up and on our way down. There was only one group on the summit with us, and they were nice enough to get a picture of us.


Philip relaxing at the entrance to Cristo Couloir- not sure what he was doing there...

Notice the extra layers. Sunglasses were a game changer on this hike due to the sunlight reflecting off the snow, definitely an essential piece of equipment. I also wore my boots as opposed to trail runners, which ended up being a good choice.


Pictures of Yvng Phil and I



The descent: Descending Quandary was very fun, due to the snow we were able to enjoy sliding down the mountain on our feet, and glissading the steeper portions. This hike did not tire either of us out so we still had lots of energy on our way down. We got back to the car at around 12:00 and went for some lunch in Frisco.

Review: The East Ridge of Quandary is not a very serious hike, it is pretty short and there is nothing that would hinder the intermediate hiker. The trail is very well trafficked and therefore, easy to follow. There's basically no rockfall on this route, and it is short so you can easily bail if you need to. The only part that you could argue that is difficult is the steep pitch on the ridge, it is sort of sustained and it took Philip and I a bit longer to make our way up this portion. I was really stoked that we were able to complete this hike so late in the season. Winter conditions did not make the peak much more difficult because it was EARLY winter conditions, so the snow was not too deep, but it was harder than doing the peak with summer conditions. Seeing all of these mountains capped with snow was awesome, and makes me want to do more peaks in winter conditions.

Mount Princeton (Attempted 11/3/2018)


Mileage: 8.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 4100'

Difficulty: 8/10

Preface: I'll start this report off with a bit of a disclaimer. Having done Quandary only a five days earlier, Philip and I figured that hiking season was still in and that if we could summit Quandary, Princeton would also be achievable. We checked the weather; partially cloudy but no storms so we decided that we would be fine to send it. Just like Quandary, we did not have any form of traction, no snowshoes, microspikes or crampons. What we should have done before going out was check the snow forecast to see if there was a storm that hit the Collegiate peaks in the past five days, to see if we would have needed traction, but hindsight is 20/20 I suppose. This was another important lesson and opportunity for the two of us to grow as athletes and mountaineers.

The drive: We drove out from Morrison down to Buena Vista and immediately got a great view of Mount Princeton, which looms over the small mountain town. Normally we start really early and end up hiking up to tree-line while it is still dark but, for whatever reason we got a much later start on this mountain. The dirt road leading to the mountain had some snow on it, so Philip sent some drifts in his Acura MDX, and he accidentally turned the car all the way around. Just more evidence that we were fooling around too much and having way too much fun! :)


Sunrise from just outside of Fairplay


Our first views of Princeton once we got over the pass


We did not like the clouds sitting atop Mount Princeton, but we figured that we'd have a closer look since we drove all the way out there.


On the dirt road, getting closer to Princeton. Those damn clouds sat on top of the mountain for the whole day! Still a beautiful view of the mountain though.

The Hike: We reached the lower trailhead, and immediately determined that no stock car, not even the tank that was Philip's MDX would be able to make it up to the upper trailhead, as there was too much snow. We deemed it "unlucky" that the road had so much snow, but without much hesitation we started hiking. Again, I brought my hiking boots and this time, I had gaiters as well to keep the snow out of my boots, but honestly they did not do too much because the snow was very deep.

From the beginning, I was unsure that we would summit, with the snow on the dirt road being clear evidence of the storm that hit the mountains. I wanted to try at the very least. We had nothing else to do with our day, and we drove all the way out here, so we figured that we'd give it our best shot, and turn around if things became too sus.

About 1 mile into the trudge through snow that was mostly shin-deep and in some spots knee deep, I mentioned to Philip that this hike may not be worth it and we might not reach the summit. Still though we continued, idealistically hoping that maybe high winds past tree-line would keep the snow off the trail. One of the best parts of hiking late season is that not as many people do this, so we enjoyed being the only ones on the mountain on this day. Being this isolated is a double edged sword. It's dope because you are not distracted by the presence of other people, you get the alone time that in the real world we are so deprived of. There is no dependence on others, and you have more time to be alone with your thoughts. Being isolated like this is also a bit frightening. The idea that if something goes wrong, no one can hear your cries for help.

What's funny to me about this whole scenario is that we knew our chances of summiting were pretty low, yet still we continued because we were honestly just having fun and enjoying a day in the mountains. Sometimes it isn't really about the objective itself, its about the growth and enjoyment of getting there. This picture below shows the beauty of hiking in the forest, the trees have a light dusting of snow, which I found gorgeous.


The 4WD trail in full winter conditions, very pretty but not too enjoyable to hike through. You can see someone else's tracks in this picture. We figured that if they were able to hike up this, we would be able to as well. We followed these tracks to make the hiking easier, but there were spots where this person's stride was like 4-5 feet long, which we thought was a little weird. Past a certain point, these tracks just stopped. We figured that this guy must have just hiked up to the cell tower up there for maintenance or something


Finally, we made it to the top of the 4WD trail and started the actual hike. We realized at this point that the route on is 6.5 miles from here, not the lower trailhead. So all of that hiking we did up to this point, was extra, and it was still 3.25 miles to the summit. This was a bit defeating for us, but still we pressed onwards, insistent upon reaching the summit. The hike up the road made us a bit tired, but we were still enjoying the beauty of the area and were energetic enough to continue. The low snow levels on this part were encouraging as well, and a nice relief from all of the snow that we had just trudged through.

We continued up the trail, hopeful that the snow on the trail would not be too deep, however it really didn't, it just got deeper. Luckily, the weather below 13000' was very nice, it was a sunny day and again, we were not all that tired so we continued hiking through the snow. We reached a steeper slope and the snow was pretty deep around here.


A picture of me wondering why there's snow on a mountain in Colorado in November. (Why would there be?) :)


The higher we got, the colder it became, and I had to borrow Philip's jacket because I was actually getting a bit cold. We topped out at the 13er next to Princeton, I think it's called Mount Tiger but I'm not positive, but here I was at the "summit"


From this point, Philip and I were pretty tired from all the extra post-holing and hiking, which was more than we were prepared for. This was our view to the summit. We assessed also that the final pitch to the summit might have required crampons because it is a bit steep and exposed.


Another point of reference: this is where we decided to turn around, the summit of Princeton is the taller mountain directly to the right.

From these pictures, it does not look very far to the summit, it looks like a pretty easy hike actually, but to us this looked like death.

Here is my assessment of the conditions as I recall it: As I mentioned we were cold on the summit of this 13er, and the cloud cover and howling winds that we could hear on Princeton's summit told us that the mountain was not ready for us today. We were tired enough to where we decided that summiting would be unsafe, because we would not have the energy to make the hike back to the car. It was also getting a bit late at this point, and since it was November, the sun would have set before we reached the car, and we did not have headlamps or anything. I deemed that attempting to summit without any sort of proper winter equipment would be unsafe and irresponsible, and would most likely end poorly for us. We decided to be content with bagging the 13er and throw in the towel. We started hiking down at 4:00 PM, and were back to the car by 6:00 PM.

The descent: Our hike back to the car was a lot easier than the hike up since we had already created tracks through the snow, so we just followed those and it only took us a couple hours to make it back to the car. We got back and we were still stoked about the summit that we had, and the beauty of the Collegiate Peaks. Despite failing to summit Princeton, we were just happy with our judgement and we knew that we made the right call not to endanger ourselves by summiting in dangerous conditions. I think that with snowshoes and crampons for that final pitch, we could have made it. We should have prepared better but again hindsight is 20/20 and we learned our lesson about checking peak conditions. All that really matters is that we were safe.

Review: I can't provide a proper review of Princeton because the conditions that I hiked it in are very different from those in the summer. I can't speak to winter conditions because if we brought the proper equipment, we would have summited. What I will say is that this is a gorgeous mountain and despite all the extra effort, I had a lot of fun on this peak. It challenged me both mentally and physically, and the views were really beautiful. Hiking up the 4WD road, though strenuous was really gorgeous because you could see the dusting of snow on all the trees in the forest and it was peaceful. Hearing our boots crunching, and the utter silence of the mountain gave me the bliss that I search for whenever I go to the mountains. Being the only ones on the mountain gave us isolation that 14ers don't usually have in the summer. I wish that I took more pictures, but honestly my hands were too cold to be exposed to the air so I kept them in the gloves most of the time. Overall, I really enjoyed this trip even though we didn't summit, again it makes me want to get the proper winter gear and ski these peaks (coming soon!).

Winter fourteeners review: I say winter fourteeners with a grain of salt because Phil and I hiked these peaks with the preparedness of summer fourteeners. We got away with it on Quandary, but Princeton gave us a reminder that, in order to do these peaks safely, you need proper gear. Were our attempts irresponsible? I don't think so, I think that we assessed the risk and acted accordingly, and are still alive because of (or despite) our decisions. We successfully and safely ascended and descended Quandary because we knew it was safe. We turned around on Princeton because we felt it would be unsafe to continue. These mountains are gorgeous in the winter and it is because of these two trips that I plan on getting the proper equipment and safety training so that I can hike and ski these mountains during the winter season. These mountains tested us both mentally and physically and I remember both of these trips fondly.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
yvng phil
hi josh
07/15/2020 14:04
i forgot how fun quandary was and how pretty both of them were, good report g

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