After scrolling through my Instagram feed a couple of months ago, viewing pic after spectacular pic of the magnificence that is Colorado State, I decided I had to witness it with my own eyes. I booked a ticket post haste and 2 months later, I was sitting on a flight from Perth to LA (Actually Perth-Sydney-Auckland-LA), in gleeful anticipation of what was to come. Not only was I going to going to be immersed in the beautiful landscape of Colorado, a bucket list destination for years, I was meeting up with an amazing girl who I could not stop thinking about. Yeh, it was a long flight.
After spending a couple of days in LA with a mate from previous Cambodian escapades, I was back at LAX, Colorado bound. On the flight into Denver, I could not keep my eyes off the window overlooking the spectacular terrain we were flying over. I may have actually been drooling slightly, a combination of nature-lust and sleep-deprived delirium. I met up with the gorgeous girl previously mentioned and we hired a car at the airport, crashing in Denver for the night. We were ready to head West in the am
Cruising over to Breckenridge in the morning, we were greeted over the first ridge by large timber estates perched atop the rolling landscape. These were mingled amongst pretty pine and grand oak trees. Prime real estate in anyone's book. Then it started snowing … Neither of us had ever driven in the snow before so a bit of excitation kicked in as usually the case with fresh experiences.
First trip in 'Breck' was up to the beautiful Hanging Lakes which only took a couple of hours return and was pretty crowded the whole way. The highlight for me was having a 'shower' under an ice cold waterfall at the top. Cold is a pretty decent understatement, that shit was bone-chilling.
The next day I passed up an amazing opportunity to go white water rafting to climb one of Colorados infamous' 14ers', mountains reaching above 14,000 '(4,240m for those of us who use the correct form of measurement). Even though the weather was sketchy at best, it was what I came to Colorado to do, I could not let the opportunity pass. I chose the East route on Quandry Peak as my target due to it's reliably straight path and lack of technical challenges.
Calling in at a local outdoor recreation store the morning of the climb, I picked up a pair of snow-shoes, what I was informed to be a necessary piece of equipment with conditions as they were, I was well prepared ..) It was mid-May but the snow had lasted and hung around, falling well passed the traditional ski season. Unusual weather patterns appeared to be a common trend on this trip, Hollywood Boulevard was flooded and Texas also had a combination of deadly floods and a tornado upon my arrival.
I was dropped off at the base of Quandry mid-morning and off I went (This is really not recommended as an early start routes to avoid the storms that develop later in the day). There were a couple of people in the carpark strolling around but otherwise I was completely alone on the mountain for the entire duration. I guess that's not a good sign for what's considered a fairly popular hike. Luckily there was a fairly well snow-packed path leading up the first half and I was able to follow at least some form of tracks right up to the top.
30 odd minutes into the hike it started snowing and did not really let up until well into the descent. It was not overly heavy but combined with the wind which kicked up beyond the tree line, it made for a chilly journey. When I did reach the treeline, I was confronted with a fairly ominous looking scene. The neighbouring peaks to the south were veiled in dark cloud and it would not be too long before Quandry too, was engulfed.
Pushing on, I and managed to reach the top around 2 1/2 hours after starting. By this time the cloud had well and truly roled in and the top portion of the mountain was in the middle of a pretty decent white-out. I've heard plenty about this phenomenon before (mostly advice to avoid them at all costs) and I was a little giddy to have another new experience under the belt. That lasted until I realized, I could hardly see my feet.
It was hard to follow any of the tracks I left on the ascent so I was left to blindly stumble down, hoping I was going in the right direction. Luckily the Eastern route on Quandry is a fairly gentle slope void of any cliffs or drop-offs, so I was fairly safe in that regard. I still wanted to avoid getting completely lost however, as I had no inkling where I was or where any other roads or paths lead that surrounded the mountain. Not much luck in that regard ..
I managed to get down off the ridge and was back to having a vision of the world surrounding me. Realizing I was off path but thinking I might stumble back across it at some point, I reached the tree-line again and found some ski-tracks I thought would lead me to where I wanted to go. Wrong. They took off in another direction entirely, by which time I was so lost, I kept following them anyway, hoping they'd always lead to a road or the start of a different route.
The problem was, nobody had been walking this way so there was no snow-pack. It was also early afternoon, meaning the snow was getting all soft and slushy. Excellent hiking conditions. It really is terrible stuff snow. It gets you all excited and joyful when you first see it again, but it does not take long for reality to set in and to remember what a bastard of a substance it really is.
It was a constant battle getting back down the mountain. I was potholing every step, often falling waist deep into the white slushy goodness. Several times I had to reach down and pull my snowshoe out by hand, it having been lodged a meter or more under the surface. Yes I was wearing snowshoes, that's how soft it was. Luckily there were a few small trees I could use to pull myself out with, I have no idea how I'd actually managed otherwise.
The ski tracks eventually led me back down to the start of the route I came up on and I wearily walked out onto the road to wave down a passing car. The descent had taken me just as long as it had to get up originally. A nice old lady picked me up and after a very enthusiastic rant on the Amish, dropped me straight off at a local watering hole. That proceeded to be a very messy night.
* Be sure to check out this article with pictures at 7summitsproject.com