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Quandary Peak near Breckenridge

trail nearing quandary summit

The highpoint of Colorado's Tenmile range, Quandary Peak's east ridge trail is very popular with easy access for hikers about 16 miles south of Frisco in Summit county. On a beautiful July morning in 2010 my husband Greg and our friend Steve from Michigan were well rested after a stay at the Holiday Inn in Frisco. They started out from the trailhead with excitement at 7:30 a.m. along with many fellow hikers. The weather was ideal for the ascent as it remained calm and about 55 degrees all the way to the summit.

Directions: From Breckenridge go 8 miles south on Colorado 9, then right (west) on Summit County 850 following signs to Blue Lakes. Then make a quick right (north) on McCullough Gulch Rd. (851). The sign for Quandary Peak Trail is here, then a small parking lot for 7 cars on right. The trailhead is another 50 yds. up the road on the left.

Difficulty: Summit elevation: 14,265'; Trailhead elevation: 10,850'; elevation gain: 3,450'. Roundtrip: 6.75 miles. This Class 1 trail along the east ridge has a steady gain in elevation with two short flat spots. If you can handle the elevation gain, overall the trail is easy with a few slippery gravel sections going down.

There were perhaps 100 - 150 cars parked along the road before and after the trailhead that day. The trailhead is on the left in second photo below. The map shows the trail meandering from the east to the west.

Small parking lot on right.

Trailhead on left.

Trail map

For the first mile or so the path wanders through forest. A few overgrown dirt roads cross the path, but signs help you know where to stay straight. Soon wildflowers appeared along the path.

Signs marking trail.

Paintbrush

Below is the first good view of the summit after nearly an hour of hiking. About 300 - 400 people were on the trail. Greg and Steve decided to take a 5 minute break among the wildflowers.

The summit coming into view.

Not long after this area there are sections of scree along the path.

At 13,000' there's a short plateau and they took their third break, enjoying the views. Photos below show views to the north, then the south with the Blue Lakes and reservoir.

Steve takes a break at 13,000'.

View toward the north.

Blue Lakes and reservoir.

Refreshed, they headed for the more challenging portion where it gradually got steeper, forcing them to stop and catch their breath every 50' or so of elevation gain.

Heading toward the summit.

Grueling thin air section.

Looking down the path toward the east you can see the winding road leading to the trailhead.

Looking down the path toward the east.

The last 40 yds. was fairly level as they approached the summit. They were so happy to be done with the climb and soaked in the views for a half hour as they refueled. It was strange how still the air was - barely a breeze. It was crowded at the top with about 100 fellow hikers. Behind Greg in the shot below is part of the Blue Lakes at the southern base of Quandary with North Star Mountain just south of them. The highest ridge in the center is (left to right) Bross, Lincoln, Cameron and Democrat. Having climbed Democrat in the fall of 2009, Greg really appreciated being able to see the whole mountain range.

Greg at the summit with view south.

Next are shots toward the southwest (Massive, Elbert, La Plata Peak and the Collegiates on the horizon), west (Wheeler Mt. and Mount of the Holy Cross) and northwest (note frozen alpine lake).

Southwest.

West

Northwest

Lastly, are views to the southeast toward the trailhead (Hoosier Pass and dark peak is Mount Silverheels with a faint Pikes Peak behind it), northeast toward Breckenridge (ski runs on other side of nearby peak and Grays and Torreys on the horizon toward the right) and east with the summit ridge in view.

Southeast

Northeast.

East.

As they descended, the temperature kept rising to around 85 at the bottom. With the thrill of the summit views behind them, it felt like a long hike down, requiring a number of stops to rest as their knees got sore.

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