In the United States, the highest mountain peaks rise above 14,000ft. Colorado has 54 of these mountains, the most of any other state. For that reason, Colorado is the best place to attempt a first 14,000ft summit. Last year, we tried for Pike’s Peak and didn’t get very far. I was sick and Stephen didn’t want to leave me by myself. We never talked about that attempt again. I knew that summiting a 14-er is high on his goal list and I felt horrible that I held him back from that.
This year, he didn’t train for a strenuous climb. I didn’t ask any questions about it and he didn’t offer any explanation on why he wasn’t going to try again. But after we got to our cabin in Breckenridge and saw the sign across the street pointing to Mt. Quandary-14,235ft, we said “we should try this”.
We both read through all the reports on 14ers.com about this specific climb and found out it was a great climb for beginners to 14ers. The trail is a Class 1 which means it is not very technical and does not require rappelling or special equipment unless it is completely ice covered. We could do this.
The trail started off easy. We climbed about a mile with no snow, just a clear trail that eased up in elevation. Gradually, we got into more snow and we lost the east trail and wound up on the west trail which is a Class 2 due to the loose rock. The last mile was a lot of post-holing, which is deep snow that greatly slowed the progress.
Around 13,500, I had to quit. I had an excruciating headache and was very nauseous. I’ve had previous experience with altitude sickness and I knew it wasn’t going to get better. I convinced Stephen to continue without me and I would be fine sitting on the rocks. I could see the summit but 750 more feet was impossible.
After he went up, I got sick and my nose started bleeding so I knew I made the right decision. I just hoped Stephen could get to the top. This was one of his biggest dreams and I wanted him to get it.
It took him a while. I got worried when I could no longer see him and then storms started rolling around. It was only 10:30 in the morning, but thunderstorms above tree line is a life or death situation. He was carrying a pack with metal zips and using trekking poles. As people were coming down from the summit, I asked them about his progress. Everyone said he was close to the top, but had left his pack next to some rocks. That worried me because his water bladder, keys, granola, and phone were in that pack and I knew he wouldn’t have left it if he was thinking clearly.
The storms came all around but I never heard thunder or saw lightening. I got to see a LOT of snow falling, which was great for me. The clouds looked ominous, but they just went on either side of Mt. Quandary.
Finally, I saw Stephen and an older man with a dog coming down the face. He had done it! And he was doing ok but weak and hungry but completely exhilarated. He said it was the hardest thing he had ever done, he felt horrible the last hour, and he wasn’t sure he could finish. That’s what accomplishing a dream goal is supposed to feel like.
Some of these pictures were taken on the way up, on the way down, or while I was sitting on the rock, playing Candy Crush Saga on my phone while waiting to see a mountain goat.