The conversation started with something like “We’ll leave at midnight, make it to the trail head by 3am, and reach the summit for sunrise.”
My response: “Sounds crazy, lets do it.”
That’s how my experience of hiking Mount Quandary started, which led to seeing my first sunrise above 14,000 feet.
As a bonus, I had a pair of MSR’s DynaLock Explore Backcountry poles. They are a high-quality, aluminum, 3 section pole with MSR’s new DynaLock locking mechanism (pictured below). These poles serve as an updated alternative to the now-retired SureLock T-3 Trekking Poles.
The big selling point of MSR’s new poles is this locking mechanism. It is a new system they designed specifically for quick adjustments on the mountain. It has a clicking system and the wheel adjusts the tightness of the clip. The system worked great while hiking, as explained more below.
Hiking Mount Quandary, Colorado
If you are thinking about hiking Quandary, you’ll definitely want to check out the hike on 14ers.com, which is the first place to look when researching a 14er hike. There are multiple approaches to Quandary, but the standard route is the East Ridge route. It is an easy trail and has gentle slopes. It is around 3.5 miles one way and includes a 3,450 foot gain.
As for hiking the peak in winter, it is possible. Be prepared for a winter hike with both snowshoes and crampons for ice. You’ll also want to take avalanche training before attempting the hike. You’ll want to stay mostly on the ridge to avoid being under an avalanche slope.
For us, Quandary was a perfect hike to try and achieve a summit sunrise. The first couple of hours up the trail were mostly looking at what your headlamp could show, which wasn’t much. Basically the trail ahead of me. The moon was not out, so we were unable to see the drop offs (which are minimal at Quandary) and the other mountains.
I wanted to see how the poles helped on the steep hike up the final slopes of the 14er. The first part of the hike was fairly flat, so I didn’t use the poles. They were folded and put into my backpack. The design of the poles (three sections) allowed them to mostly fit into my backpack. This is one of the convenient features of the DynaLock Explore Backcountry poles, they can easily fold into packable places.
Sunrise was slated for 6:30 am that morning. Our hiking was fairly steady. Quandary isn’t a difficult 14er, however, it is still a 14er. That means after passing 12,000 feet, the hiking is slow and steep. When the hiking got steep is when I took out my new MSR poles. The poles were really helpful in keeping my balance on lose rocks and they helped pull me up the mountain.
At around 13k feet, the sky started to glow from the sun below the horizon. That lit a fire under us since we wanted to summit before the sun rose over the horizon.
I remember huffing and puffing and pushing myself to the limit. I had my heart rate at the limit. The poles definitely helped me keep my balance while I was rushing up the mountain. When the mountain gets steeper, it helps to shorten the poles slightly to help get more leverage. The converse is true when going downhill, you’ll want to lengthen the poles to reach the trail ahead of you.
With all my efforts, I didn’t make it to the peak by sunrise. I did see my GPS click over to 14,000 (the peak is 14,265 feet, and 250 feet is around 15 minutes of hiking) feet right before the sun rose.
I must admit, I am kind of a Colorado snob. I’ve been seeing beautiful views for the last 10 years, so I’ve gotten used to them. Not that day though, the sunrise was something worth the effort. The colors, the quietness, the exercise, and the altitude high. It is an experience that pictures do not do justice. If you are able to see the sunrise on a mountain, I highly recommend it. If you ever have a chance to hike a 14er, make it happen. It is an experience you will take to your grave.
After the sunrise, the hike up was pretty uneventful, and slow. Up the mountain (we were the first ones up on a Saturday!), a few minutes at the top, and then we started our track back down.
The poles were very useful on the hike down. Normally, the steep hike down takes a rather painful toll on my knees. The poles helped with this in that they helped me stabilize myself and take a little bit of the shock out of hitting my knees. Again, make sure to extend the poles a little bit for the downward slope. The DynaLock on the poles made this really easy by just unclipping the DynaLock system, extending the pole, and then re-clipping the DynaLock system. It takes only a few seconds.
Oh, and we saw a mountain goat.
If you are looking to hike a 14er, Quandary is a good beginner hike. If you are looking for great poles, make sure to give the MSR’s DynaLock Explore Backcountry Poles a look.