Winter Hike to Quandary Peak (14,265')
Colorado › Quandary Peak Trailhead
Added by Amy Kesic
- Easily accessible 14er in winter
- Class 1 climb
- Low avalanche risk
- Views for miles
- 7 miles round-trip
- ~3500' elevation gain
- Starts at 10,850 feet; ends at 14,265 feet
- Attractive to backcountry skiers, as well
Quandary Peak is a popular winter 14er because of its easy access near Breckenridge, its Class 1 designation, and its low avalanche risk. While the access roads to many 14ers are closed in winter, adding extra mileage to an already grueling hike, Quandary Peak’s access is just off Hwy. 9, and the hike is only 7 miles round-trip.
Park in the lot on Blue Lakes Road, and make your way to McCullough Gulch Road, which is unmaintained in the winter. You’ll follow the road for a short distance until you see the information kiosk. Just after that, the Quandary Peak Trail forks off to the left. Because of the high usage, the trail should be well-defined and well-packed as the season progresses, except after a snowfall. In most cases, microspikes or crampons should be sufficient footwear for the entirety of this hike. However, from personal experience, I strongly advise you to bring snowshoes as a precaution. If you were to accidently get off-trail, as I did, you will wish you had them. Off-trail, the snow is several feet deep.
That said, the hike is fairly straightforward. At a distance of 3.5 miles to the summit and an elevation gain of nearly 3500 feet, you’ll average 1000 feet of elevation per mile, which is what makes this hike a burner. The first half of the hike is forested; the second half is above the tree line. Above the trees, you’ll follow the ridge all the way to the top; even if the wind has scoured the trail away, it is obvious where to go. There are a couple of false summits: one just above the tree line at about 12,120 feet, and another at 13,150 feet. These make good resting spots (remind yourself to drink water). Once you pass the second false summit, the true summit appears deceptively near. It is another mile and 1100+ feet to the top.
To the south, you can see Mt. Lincoln (14,286’) with the other 14ers of the Mosquito Range behind it. In the distance, you can see the Sawatch Range to the southwest. Looking north, you will see the Tenmile Range, with the tall 13ers Altlantic Peak, Pacific Peak, and Crystal Peak featured prominently to the northwest.
Beware of the dangers and come well-prepared when climbing a 14er in the winter. Besides plenty of food and water (bring more than you think you’ll need), you will need to wear removable layers. One of the most common risks of winter hiking is hypothermia, which can occur after you work up a sweat which then freezes. You do not need special mountaineering skills or equipment on this mountain, though you do need a large dose of common sense and knowing when to quit (e.g., if bad weather or exhaustion threatens). The steepness of the grade does make microspikes necessary to keep from slipping on the hard snow and ice. I found trekking poles to be useful as well.
- At least 2 liters water
- Plenty of food
- Microspikes or hiking crampons
- Snowshoes (recommended)
- Trekking poles (recommended)
- Breathable, removable layers (e.g., base layer, fleece, lightweight down, shell)
- Sun/wind protection (lip balm, sunscreen, sunglasses or goggles)
- Warm hat
- Warm gloves/mittens
- Balaclava or scarf
- Snow pants
- Quality winter boots
- Hand and toe warmers
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Fitness, Hiking, Photography, Skiing, Snowboarding, Snowshoeing
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I actually climbed Quandary in winter to photograph a wedding on the summit. Had a blast- agree with bringing the snowshoes just in case, even though we didn't need them. It took us about 4 hours to get to the summit, and we got there with light snow flurries on the summit with spectacular winter views. Awesome day!
Left at 4am (make sure you go to the East Ridge trailhead, not West...oops) and hit the final push to the summit right around sunrise. The lower trail can be hard to follow in the dark, but as long as you're making your way up towards the ridge you should be fine. Spectacular views from the top and SUPER fun glissading on the way down!
Added by Amy Kesic
A mom who decided to get fit a few years ago, I took up running and hiking to keep myself moving. Since moving to the Front Range foothills a year ago, I've spent my free time discovering all the trails I possibly can. I'm in love with Colorado and the Rocky Mountains; I also like to take pictures, and I share my adventures here on The Outbound and on Instagram at @run2themountains.Follow
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