In a Quandary

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The main hiking objective of our recent trip out west was to summit Quandary Peak in central Colorado. At 14,265 feet, Quandary is the 13th highest peak in Colorado, and the highest mountain in the Tenmile Range.

According to the peak’s name comes from a group of miners who were unable to identify a mineral sample found on its slopes in the 1860s. The group was in a quandary over the exact nature of the mineral, and ended up naming the mountain from which it came, “Quandary Peak.”

Arriving at the trailhead near Hoosier Pass that morning, the temperature gauge read a chilly 36 degrees. After a long and very hot summer, this was a bit of a shock to the system.

Although it’s a relatively short hike, and has less elevation gain when compared to other Fourteeners, the trail still packs a punch. Much of the climbing occurs in two relatively short sections. One climbs 1300 feet over a 0.9-mile section roughly midway through the hike. The second climbs 1100 feet during the final 0.8-mile push to the top:

By the time we arrived at the summit the sun was already high in the sky, making the thin air feel relatively warm.

Although the views from the summit were quite spectacular, the highlight of the hike was coming face to face with a family of mountain goats. We first saw them from a distance hanging around the pathway several hundred yards up the trail. However, as we got closer, although curious, they didn’t move. In fact, the largest Billie (male goat) decided to lay down on the trail just as we got close enough to look into his eyes.

You could say that we were now “in a quandary” as to what to do next. We were just about to go off trail and walk around the road block, but noticed a group of hikers approaching from behind us. The sight of their dog provided the motivation for the goats to finally move out. Because we were on a fairly narrow ridgeline we basically followed the goats for about a quarter-of-a-mile until a group of hikers descending from above effectively forced them off the trail, and out of our way. Moving towards the edge of the ridge allowed me to get some great shots:

After our hike, on the way back to Buena Vista, we stopped in the town of Fairplay for an ice cream at an old-fashioned soda fountain joint. The town is an absolute hidden gem. Although it plays up its association with the popular South Park animated sitcom, it’s really a small, laid-back rustic town with an old west vibe. There were no signs of over-commercialization, nor do I recall seeing any national chains of any type. We really wished we could’ve spent some more time there, but Kathy was nursing a massive headache from the altitude and just wanted to take a nap.

Speaking of South Park, the drive though this region is extremely beautiful. There are two main roads that pass through this high elevation grassland basin that encompasses roughly 1,000 square miles; one takes you from Buena Vista to Denver (U.S. 285), while the other travels from Buena Vista to Colorado Springs (U.S. 24). In 2009 South Park was designated as a National Heritage Area.

Trail: Quandary Peak Trail
Round-trip Distance: 6.75 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,450 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 10,850 feet
Summit Elevation: 14,265 feet

The trailhead is located roughly 8 miles south of Breckenridge/14 miles north of Fairplay, on the north side of Hoosier Pass in the White River National Forest.

Jeff Detailed trail information for the Great Smoky Mountains; trail descriptions, key features, pictures, maps, elevation profiles, news, books and more.

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