Category Archives: Snow Shoeing
On March 2, 2013, a few friends and I decided to snowshoe Quandary Peak. Being one of the easier summer 14ers in Colorado we believed a winter ascent wouldn’t be too difficult. We were sorely incorrect. This was one of the most brutal hikes we had ever been on.
Quandary Peak is a 14er in the Ten Mile range of the Rocky Mountains and it stands at 14,265 feet. We chose the East Ridge Route, which is considered a standard route on 14ers.com. We choose this route because of the low exposure, low avalanche danger and relatively short round trip distance at 6.75 miles.
We started our hike at 7:00am. The trail head sits at about 11,000 feet, well below treeline. It wasn’t too cold but the previous day’s storm left a few clouds still remaining around the nearby peaks. As we started our hike I snapped a few shots of the guys and the nearby peaks. With a few inches of fresh powder on the ground it didn’t take long and we were stripping layers to cool down.
Pretty soon, we were above tree line and maybe halfway up Quandary Peak. We took a few breaks here and there to get some water and enjoy the views but the wind was picking up and eventually made the breaks less enjoyable. By the time we reached the false summit the wind was fairly constant and was blowing snow, more like ice pellets, into our faces at what seemed like 30-40mph. It was time for balaclavas and snow goggles.
The terrain at the false summit started to get very rocky and the areas with snow were crusted over so we decided to ditch the snowshoes and continue on using YakTrax. The YakTrax were severely ineffective and continuously either fell off or slipped over the top of our boots. The next time I attempt a winter ascent I will definitely invest in a set of MicroSpikes.
About 3 hours in we finally made it to the last pitch of Quandary Peak. It was steap, icy,rocky, windy and basically miserable. It really took all I had to continue on but since I had come so far I wasn’t about to quit. After about 30 minutes of torturous, one foot in front of the other, mental and physical anguish we reached Quandary Peak summit.
The wind at the top of the peak was the strongest of the entire hike and it took everything I had not to be blown over. It was cold, very cold. So cold that when the wind gusts blew over the ridge of the peak I got a brain freeze, even wearing a thick balaclava. We could only stand a few minutes at the peak so we snapped a few pics of our accomplishment and headed back down. I was actually only able to get one shot with my phone because it turned itself off due to the cold.
The trek down to the false summit was generally as difficult as the trek up. One would think momentum going down would help but it was icy and our YakTrax weren’t working. It made for a difficult and treacherous decent. When we reached the false summit we strapped our snowshoes on and continued down the mountain. By the time we reached our car at the trail head it was 2:30pm. We had been hiking for a little over 7 hours or about 1mph average. It was a great hike but very demanding. This adventure isn’t for the faint of heart but the views at the top and the sense of accomplishment are well worth the torture.
If you’re looking for a snowshoe trail that is close to Denver, Berthoud Pass provides numerous opportunities. Jones pass and Butler Gulch are two great snowshoe trails located just pass Berthoud Falls on US40. Both trails start at essentially the same place. Snowshoeing Butler Gulch Trail in Colorado is a great workout, offers fantastic views and is close to Denver. To get there take US40 towards Winter Park and turn left at the Henderson Mine Road just past Berthoud Falls. Follow the road to the mine at which point you’ll veer right following the signs for Jones Pass. Follow Jones Pass Road for an additional mile or two to the parking area.
At this point, its a good idea to decide which trail you want to showshoe. The trail junction happens about a 1/4 mile up Jones Pass Road. Left is Butler Gulch and right is Jones Pass. Since Jones Pass is open to snowmobiles our group decided Butler Gulch would be a better trail.
Bulter Gulch is 5.7 miles round trip with just under 2000ft of elevation gain and is forested until the end where trail goers dance on the edge of timberline. Butler Gulch is a fine snowshoe and ski trail and that fact is well known. Even though we encountered at least 20-30 other people on the trail it didn’t seem over-crowded. There were plenty of spur trails that allowed us to escape the hard pack of the main trail.
The Butler Gulch trail offers some great oppertunities for photographers. The trail itself winds through the forest and across numerous creeks and the end of the trail provides some especially beautiful pictures of the surrounding peaks. You’ll find our pictures below.
Altogether, we spent about 4 hours on the trail, which gave us plenty of time at the top and time to play with the dogs throughout the trip. Try to arrive at the trail head early; we didn’t arrive at the trail head until about 11am and the parking area was crowded. In the end, everyone in our group enjoyed the trail and had a great time.