In preparing for my Mount Shasta trip (which Mountain Goat recounts), I neglected to tell you about the other 14ers I’ve hiked this winter! (This hike went down on January 19th)
I moved out to Colorado because of how cool it felt being above treeline on the Franconia Ridge on the AT. Unfortunately snow scares me. Avalanches, hypothermia, abominable snowmen…that’s all serious shit you don’t mess with. So of course I turned to google to help me figure out what would be safe enough for me to try out until the weather turns favorable. The top two were Quandary Peak and Mount Bierstadt. So…
Quandary Peak (14,265′)
As you may recall, this past Christmas I attempted Quandary Peak in a crazy blizzard and got my butt handed to me. It was my first 14er attempt and I learned a lot…but in the end got dominated. So in January I got a window of perfect weather and hiked up again. This time with better results.
Quandary is only a 3 mile hike up and a little over 3,000′ of elevation gain. In summer, this is arguably the easiest 14er in Colorado done by a lot of tourists. But as with most things (except sledding and sticking your tongue to things) winter makes everything harder. In addition to the usual 2/3 liters of water in the summer, I needed to pack snowshoes extra layers, microspikes, and some emergency gear just in case. The other difficult part of my winter hikes is that I’m not in as good of shape as when it’s summer.
But those difficulties aside, my hike was pleasant. The trailhead is just a few miles south of Breckenridge, so the drive was scenic and the first half of the trail is in a beautiful conifer forest. Eventually you hit the ridgeline and have a very straightforward hike to the top (minus a few false summits). As stated before, the weight on your pack adds up and about half a mile from the summit I started doggin it pretty hard. To be fair this was my first time hiking over 14,000′ in a few years, but man did that mountain put me in my place. Even the easiest mountains are still ass kickers…I guess it’s just a matter of how long you feel like falling down into the fetal position that is relative to the difficulty.
This attempt, the summit was perfect! It was still cold, which was exaggerated by the slight breeze. But besides that I was able to sit at the top, have a few beers and take in the scene. I even got a chance to pull out my kite for a bit! But that really froze my fingers and was the deciding factor for having to get back to my car.
The biggest takeaway from this hike was the altitude sickness I got. I didn’t feel too bad until I was sitting at the summit, but I started getting a mild headache. Halfway down the mountain it turned to a pretty bad headache with an occasional nauseous feeling. It didn’t go away until I made it home and slept for 10 straight hours.
I should have taken this into consideration when planning my Shasta trip with Mountain Goat. He told me he was trying some oxygen limiting exercises to prepare for the elevation, but I should have been more adamant that he come out to CO and try a few easier mountains to get some elevation practice in. maybe it would have helped him. oh well.