Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Road Less Traveled....

If you happened to have seen either Brian's or my Facebook posts this past weekend, you have a sneak peak of what this post will be all about, our Saturday Adventure.

It all started mid week last week when I decided that I had conjured up the perfect weekend plan.  We soon learned that the weather, which typically includes an afternoon rain storm this time of year, was expected to be atypical. Instead of a shower or two, there were longer periods of rain predicted, so some of our plans were thwarted.  One item on the weekend to-do list remained, summit another 14er, a 14,000 foot plus peak (Colorado has 50some).

While I chose the activity, Brian chose the specific hike.  We were going to make our way to the top of  Quandary Peak, elevation 14, 265 feet. There is a standard route to the top that consists of a three mile hike directly up the side of the mountain.  That is not how B and A Runnells get things done, so we decided to make our summit attempt via the non-standard route, the West Ridge.  Aside from one man who was on the trail but then quickly made his way far ahead of us (up a different route, perhaps)...blame it on my native Wisconsinite lungs and sub-standard height....we were alone for the entirety of the hike, which was awesome because that, my friends, is a rarity.

those who wake early get to see the sun coming up
over the mountains, and it's grand! 

Our hike to the summit was interesting in that, aside from being alone, we weren't on a trail that was maintained in the same way many of the other 14er trails are.  With no flock of fellow hikers to follow and no clearly defined or maintained trail, we had to rely on the map that Brian acquired online and trust the cairns to keep us heading in the right direction.  While we did get a bit 'off-route' a time or two, it was always short lived and we were always heading in the general direction we needed to head in, which is more than can be said for our ill-fated hike to climb Cathedral Peak a few years back (Rest assured, all, we were able to get to CP on our next excursion to Yosemite, and summiting that gorgeous climb ranks among one of our best adventures together).

Anyhow, back to our Quandary excursion....Full disclosure here, I was a bit nervous going into this hike in that there was a series of obstacles looming near the summit - well, that and the fact that the online info warned that this was no 'gimme.'  The warnings, it turns out, were likely there to deter people from being overzealous or underprepared (remember: unmarked trails, rapidly changing weather, lots of steep terrain and rocks that become dangerously slick when wet).  Brian and I have had our share of outdoor adventures - hey, we climb rocks in tiny little slipper-shoes for fun - so this, it turned out, was No.Big.Deal.

We did have to make our way through a series of three obstacles though, the first of which was a section of rock that necessitated some scrambling to get up (the pros call it Class 3 climbing), the next of which was a chimney one had to shimmy up, and the last of which was a rock step, which, as its name implies, was a series of rocks that formed what loosely resembled a stairwell.

making our way toward the top

the summit is in sight-ish

When we summited Quandary, we certainly were not alone any longer.  Initially, we were met by a local; he was quite the handsome mountain goat looking to make a few friends or find his pals, none of whom were anywhere to be seen. There were also about 20-some hikers hanging out at various rocks enjoying a snack and taking pictures.

our friend, the mountain goat
Can you believe we are summiting
AND we walked right next to that goat?! 

We paired the natural high you get when accomplishing some kind of physical feat with a wonderfully awesome Ale8, the Kentucky ginger ale we drink when indulging in a post-climbing pizza at Miguel's.  It has become our little tradition to snap a summit selfie (and a few other photos) and then savor our Ale8 while taking in the scenery.  I have to say that I really like this tradition.  

our celebratory Ale-8
notice the background (it will come up later)

When it was time for the descent, we had options:  1. go back the way we came, which would require tackling the three obstacles in reverse order 2. take the three mile, straight down hill trail 3. exit the summit via the one mile Cristo Couloir.  For those not fluent in French, a couloir is a steep and narrow gully down mountain terrain.  Guess which route we chose?  Yep, option number three.

While, on the surface, a one mile hike sounds better than a three mile hike, it turns out that slogging down loose rock on uneven terrain is about as much fun as it sounds -- no fun at all!  The descent took us nearly as long as the ascent, which was, according to the topographic maps, more than twice as long.  I won't name who I inherited this gift from, but I tend to be a bit clumsy (ya know, the stub your toe or bump into things easily variety of clumsy), so you can imagine how much fun I had trying to hop from precarious rock to precarious rock.  Attempting to ski down the scree was even more delightful (refer back tot he previous picture for a visual on what the majority of our descent looked like).

My short little legs, try as they may, were no match for Brian's daddy long legs-like limbs, and he was always far, far ahead of me.  I wouldn't have blamed him if he had left me there with the mountain goats and pikas, all of whom would have been laughing at my sad attempts to make forward progress.

Alas, we did make it back to the car, and we did so just as the storm that had been looming for the better part of an hour finally arrived.  You see, as I mentioned before, afternoon storms are a regular occurrence here, and we left our condo at 3:30 am to get to Quandary, summit it and return to the car before noon, when the storms typically roll in.  Thanks be to the mountain gods, the storm held off until around 1:30 and even took a break for us to stop in Breckenridge, which was only about 20 minutes away, and grab a much needed lunch.

back on level ground again - Quandary Peak, via West Ridge 

Once again, we were able to beat the rain; after lunch and just as we were getting into the car, the rain began again, and this time it was bucketing, no doubt.  The Fit doubled as a dinghy on our float ...err... drive back to Boulder, and by the time we opened our front door, more than 12 hours had passed, and I had at least two times that many bruises on my ankles, shins and knees.  Both Brian and I required immediate hydration, which we took in the form of wine and margaritas (maybe not our best choice).  And as we attempted to gather the strength to unpack our bags and prepare a hot meal, well-trained service cats would have been a great assest (we've failed as pet parents, I guess, because our cats simply sat there demanding we use what little strength we had left to feed them and pet them -- selfish much, cats?!)

We chose not to speak of the second half of our hike for the remainder of the evening, but when Sunday rolled around, we both agreed on one thing...

...it turns out that the road less traveled may often be that way for a very good reason.

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