Climbing my 1st Fourteener

by John Moon on August 20, 2013

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Ever since I laid eyes on the Rockies, it was a place that would forever leave a memorable impression. Mountain life is comprised of people that love the experience of the outdoors and seemingly people that embrace the journey of life.  Sitting at a quaint local mountain town bar experiencing a local craft brew is simply bliss….at least for me and the other pint tipping patrons. It’s just a place you have to experience whether winter or summer.

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I have been visiting Breckenridge, Co for a number of years as one of my favorite destinations.  With a base elevation of 9600′, Breckenridge is one of the higher mountain towns in the lower 48.  I had always heard of people climbing Fourteener’s in Colorado and knew there were over 50 of them.

We had a commercial shoot in Vail and decided to add some time to roll it into a family vacation.  We decided to take 2 weeks, spend them in the Rockies and tackle our first Fourteener. Our mountain of choice was about 6 miles southwest of Breckenridge and it was Quandary Peak.  If you haven’t ever been to a high altitude destination, you will need to keep in mind that elevation can affect you.  At elevation, there is less oxygen so you will most likely notice you get out of breath easier.  If you drive from the low lands to elevation, your body slowly starts to acclimate to the change. It is important to keep drinking water….lots of it.  If you fly, you will fly into Denver and you are at a higher elevation more quickly.   We were in Breckenridge the week prior to our ascent of Quandary Peak and we were able to warm up by climbing a little of Peak 8 and also taking a 2 mile hike on the opposing side of Quandary.  Both of those were a little over 11,000′.

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Quandary Peak is a Class 1 Fourteener but as I talked to some of the locals, a Class 1 by no means should be construed as or confused as being “easy”.  There are a number of factors that make a mountain a certain class.  It involves the distance the summit is from Denver,length,whether you have to use your hands to climb, etc.

Mountain climbing classifications: http://www.alpinist.com/p/climbing_notes/grades

Planning your climb is important and you will need to keep an eye on the weather forecast.  In the mountains, storms can form rather quickly.  In the summer months the weather risk can be dangerous lightning.  A good piece of gear to have is a device that monitors barometric pressure.  A drop in air pressure will give you some advanced warning of a weather front approaching.  Always approach a climb with the mindset that you may have to turn back, no matter how disappointing it might be.

We arrived at our trailhead at 6:00am, which was before sunrise.  The Quandary Peak trailhead is easy to find and you can find more information here:  http://www.14ers.com/routemain.php?route=quan1&peak=Quandary+Peak

It is important to start as early as possible so that you summit early and hopefully avoid any storms that might develop as the air warms up.  We meandered through the lodgepole pines with some areas that flattened out slightly but only briefly as we continued our ascent.  The views are amazing at varying elevations.  I reminded everyone to be sure and look behind you because the mountain range extended and was quite a view.

Your perspective on the mountain is enhanced but also skewed due to the incredible size of the mountain.  Distance is always further than what you think from a visual standpoint.  At about 11,500 feet, the terrain changes as we were now above tree line and the altitude started to slow us a bit along with the loose softball size jagged rocks.  The higher the climb, the less people were talking because it used up precious oxygen.  Climbers on the ridge ahead of us didn’t seem that far away until I saw how small they were compared to the ridge.  Tiny ants.  It was then I realized we were only looking at the false summit.

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Climbing with others is a lot like running a marathon.  Everyone is aiming for the same goal and you receive words of encouragement from those that had already made the summit.  We were down to taking about 10 to 15 steps before needing to stop for a short rest.  We rose above the false summit and the ridge flattened out a bit before a modest elevation change to reach Quandary Peak.

It is such an amazing view.  Gods creation right there in front of you.  The combination of the sun, blue sky, clouds, mountains, cool temps and wind really makes you feel alive.  It took us 5 hours to summit and 3 hours to descend.

You will need to take a small daypack for the climb.  I used the Patagonia Refugio Pack. Items in my daypack: (1) Cotton tee shirt, (2) packable windbreaker, (3) winter hat, (4) small first aide kit, (5) sunscreen, (6) trail snacks, (7) water, (8) rain gear.

If you have children and you want one for the memory books, this is a must climb.

A few tips before you climb.

  1. Get a good nights sleep.
  2. Avoid alcohol the day before.
  3. Protein breakfast
  4. Drink water before you arrive at trailhead.
  5. Layer clothing.  Base layer, fleece.
  6. 5am or 6am at trailhead.
  7. Hiking poles
  8. Plenty of water
  9. Wear sunglasses
  10. Frequent use of sunscreen
  11. Keep a positive attitude
  12. Encourage others
  13. Hit the hot tub post climb

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