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On Walkabout On: The Quandary Peak Trail, Colorado – Part 1

Basic Information

  • Name: Quandary Peak
  • Max Elevation: 14265 ft / 4348 m
  • Where: Breckenridge, Colorado
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Time: 6-8 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 3,468 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • More Information:  SummitPost.org

Route Up The East Ridge of Quandary Peak

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

Topographic Map of the Quandary Peak East Ridge Trail

Quandary Peak Topo Map

If you would like to print out this map please click this link and then save the image file to your computer and print.  Notice that I modified the trail on the topographic map to where it does not include the portion of the hike where I made a wrong turn at.

Narrative

The weather was so good over Memorial Day weekend that I decided that I would kick off my summertime 14er push by hiking up Quandary Peak which is located just a short distance from the popular ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado:


View Larger Map

Quandary is well known for being one of the easiest 14ers to summit and its trailhead is easily accessible by any car since it right off of Highway 9.  Also the mountain is less than a 2 hour drive from Denver which all combines to make this one of the most popular mountains in Colorado to hike.  So I figured I would hike up this mountain while it was still covered in snow in order to avoid the summertime crowds that pack this mountain.  This was the same reason why I hiked up Mt. Bierstadt this past January as well.  I do not mind hiking with plenty of other people on the mountain, but I have heard that Quandary and Bierstadt get so packed with people in the summertime that a que actually forms as you go up the mountain to include having to wait for people to make room for you on the summit.  That is not my idea of fun.

Anyway I left Colorado Springs at about 3:45AM and took Highway 24 heading west until I exited on to Highway 9 that took me through the small town of Fairplay and then up and over Hoosier Pass.  From Hoosier Pass I had a great view of Quandary Peak as the sun rose that morning:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

It is likely that fur trappers were the first European immigrants to see Quandary Peak from this vantage point, but the first recorded sighting was by the 1844 Fremont Expedition that crossed over Hoosier Pass in search of the source of the Platte River.   However, they were not the ones who gave this mountain its name.  According to the book “A Climbing Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners: Twentieth Anniversary Edition this mountain got its name in the mid-1800’s when miners were in a quandary in regards to identifying the various minerals found on the mountain’s slopes.  The book also points out the various names the mountain has had over the years such Hoosier Peak as another possible explanation of how this mountain got its name.

The lower parking lot is located right off of Highway 9 at the bottom of Hoosier Pass.  As I pulled into the lot there was only a handful of other cars parked:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

There is an upper lot that has less parking and some packed snow on it, but I figured I would just park here because it was easier than going up the road.  This distance from the lower to upper lot is about a quarter of a mile which is not a big deal.  From the lower lot there is a small access trail that leads to the upper lot:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

After a short walk I came upon the Quandary Peak trailhead sign at around 6:30 AM in the morning:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

At the trailhead their are these three signs put up by the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI) that provides information about the hike:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

Looking at the map I thought finding the trail up the mountain would be easy:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

At the CFI signs there is a road that leads to the actual trailhead which is designated by this little sign:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

This little sign is behind a tree and since the road was covered in snow I was looking down while walking on the far right side of the road where the snow was not as deep.  This caused me to miss seeing this sign.  So I made the mistake of continuing to walk down McCullough Gulch Road which alternated between sections that were melted or covered with deep snow:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

So the lesson learned for other hikers is that the actual Quandary Peak Trail leading up the mountain begins nearly immediately after where the CFI signs are posted.  Do not make the mistake I did and continue walking down the road:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

As I walked down the road though I did enjoy watching the sunrise over the nearby mountains:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

I also got a chance to spot a turkey running across the road:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

This would be the only wildlife I would see the entire day on Quandary unfortunately.  I have had friends tell me about how they spotted a lot of mountain goats on this mountain before, but likely do to the deep snow the goats are likely grazing at lower elevations now.

As I continued to walk down the road I tried to look for the trailhead sign that I already passed and I knew I went too far when I saw this view of Quandary Peak in front of me:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

So I decided to backtrack back up the road and look for the trail.  I did spot a trail, but it did not have a sign:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

The trail had a lot of deep snow on it so I put on my snowshoes before heading up it.  Even with my snowshoes on I sunk through the snow up to my waist at some points.  It ended up taking a lot of energy to hike up this trail.  As I headed up the trail I felt I was going the right way especially when I saw this sign:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

So I followed the sign directions which took me further up the mountain:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

Eventually the trail reached a point to where a large tree had fallen over and I could see that only a few footprints continued on this trail past the fallen tree.  This led me to believe that a lot of people turned around here.  I climbed over the log and continued, but ultimately decided to turn around because there was so few footprints that this could not be the right trail.  So once again I backtracked down the mountain and came upon this sign:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

So I decided to follow this trail sign and it seemed to be the correct trail because there was definitely more footprints to follow and even had a number of dry sections to walk on:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

As the trail ascended up the mountain it did eventually get completely covered with snow again, but it was packed enough that I did not need snowshoes:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

The trail eventually broke out of treeline and I had my first of many views of Grays and Torreys Peak in the distance to the northeast:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

I plan to hike up both peaks this summer.  I actually tried to summit Grays Peak last fall, but got turned around just before the summit by bad weather.  You can read about my failed summit attempt at the below link:

Here is a closer look at these beautiful peaks:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

From treeline I could also see Hoosier Pass to the south which Highway 9 switchbacks down as it heads north towards Breckenridge:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

Ahead of this is all I saw was an endless steep expanse of snow:

Picture from Quandary Peak, Colorado

Here began my long monotonous push to the summit on the portion of the trail above treeline.

Next Posting: The Quandary Peak Trail, Colorado – Part 2

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