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Climbing Quandary Peak in Winter

Climbing Quandary Peak in Winter: Advice & Route Info

Quandary is likely the shortest winter 14er, since the winter closure adds only a few hundred feet. Expect a 7 mile trip, with around 3,400 feet of elevation gain. The East Ridge route features one key difference from summer to avoid avalanche risk. Make sure you study the route so you know where to turn. Here’s what you should know about climbing Quandary Peak in Winter.

Before You Go: Prepare Accordingly

Hiking Quandary in the winter requires good preparation to summit safely and successfully. Here’s a few tips on preparing before you go:

  • Check the weather forecast leading up to your trip and the morning of.
  • Check the Avy conditions for the Sawatch Zone Forecast.
  • Make sure you have the ten essentials for winter 14ers.
  • Review the route information on and
  • Leave your plans, a description of your gear and car, and expected time home with someone dependable.

In terms of gear needs, you often need snowshoes and microspikes for this climb. I recommend also bringing trek poles. Crampons and ice axe are generally unnecessary, unless you with to try to glissade down in some spots where possible to do so. Now we can move on to climbing Quandary Peak in winter.


Getting to the Trailhead

The Quandary Trailhead has great access throughout the winter, however on a busy weekend it fills quickly. It’s located a bit south of Breckenridge along Highway 9. To ensure you get a good spot and don’t need to walk up the road, aim to arrive early in the day, ideally around or soon after sunrise. Take a short footpath from the overflow parking lot, and a right down the road and through a closed gate to the main summer parking lot. You’ll find the Quandary Trailhead information here, and a small trail on the left side of the road heading up a slope and into the woods.


Part 1: Through the Forest

During the winter, leave the trail and head up the slope to the right. Make sure you can recognize this slope covered in snow.

The first part of your hike wanders up and through a montane forest. Snow here can get deep and snowshoes are often helpful. If it’s been a long time since a storm, the trail will likely be well packed, and snowshoes unnecessary. Check the snow report to have an idea of what you’ll need. As you near treeline, you’ll need to recognize where to turn right off the main summer route to head straight up the ridge. This turn is critical, as the summer trail passes through dangerous avalanche territory. If you find yourself walking along the side of the ridge, backtrack, and head straight up the ridgeline.


Part 2: Up to & Along the Catwalk

Entering the catwalk portion of the climb.

Leaving treeline and heading up the East Ridge, you may find windswept conditions with varying snow, ice and rock. Microspikes are usually helpful during this section of the trail, unless a storm has come through very recently.

You’ll eventually approach a long, flat, thin ridge I call the catwalk. This is often the windiest spot on the entire trail, so it’s better to move through it carefully but quickly. Once past the catwalk, you’ll face the final, imposing summit climb.


The Summit Ridge – Avoid the cornice that usually forms along it!

Part 3: The Final Crux

The final climb is often totally windswept for long sections, allowing you to pick your way up the slope. Sections of trail switchbacks may be buried by snow for long sections, before being windswept and clear. Take your time and pick your line up the slope, until you reach the long summit ridge. Walk a few hundred feet to the summit cairn, and celebrate your well earned success!


Climbing Quandary Peak in Winter

Of all the winter 14ers, Quandary is likely the easiest to start with. While it requires extra planning, gear and skills, it’s a much more rewarding experience than a busy summer hike. Climbing Quandary Peak in Winter is now within your grasp – get out there and climb that peak!

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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