Quandary Peak is one of the easiest 14ers to hike in Colorado. As the snow melts in May on the prairie down below, many head to the hill. However, May is a snowy month in the mountains. Hiking Quandary Peak in May takes a bit of special preparation for a safe, successful summit. Here’s what you should know before you go.
Checking the Weather & Snow Conditions
One of the biggest obstacles to spring climbing is the unpredictable weather and snow. Depending on the week, you may find warm weather with little snow, or freezing temperatures and blizzard-like conditions. Planning your hike around “weather windows” where good conditions are expected is key for a successful and safe hike. While there are a few different places to get weather information, I usually use https://www.mountain-forecast.com/ and https://14ers.com/php14ers/weather.php but you can also utilize http://www.weather.com and use a town or city near the mountain. For the weather forecast, consider the following:
- What is the expected temperature, wind, precipitation and cloud cover on the day of your hike? Plan to be ready for them (with a margin for error).
- Are there any major storm systems or temperature drops before or after your hike? If so use caution, as these may arrive early, or come late.
For snow condition reports, there are great government sources for checking snow depth in the Ten-Mile Range. This information is key for hiking Quandary Peak in May. For a map, visit the NOAA Snow Cover map here. Alternatively, you can compare current year snow totals to average and previous years here to get a better idea of what to expect, compared to the past. You should also check the peak conditions report on 14ers.com here. If the sources indicate there will be a lot of snow, consider checking the avalanche conditions here. You should also be prepared with snowshoes and traction gear. In light years with less snow, it is likely possible to ascend with just micro-spikes.
Packing Gear & Planning Your Trip
If you find a weather window, and snow conditions are reasonable, you can begin planning your trip in earnest. This really means three things. First, you need to pack appropriately. This means bringing the winter ten essentials (there will be snow!), along with layers to keep warm. You can read more about packing in my Guide to Packing for 14ers. Second, you should review the route using maps and trip reports. I recommend using 14ers.com, along with my information below. Third, leave detailed written plans, and your expected return time, with a trusted friend or relative back home.
Hiking Quandary Peak in May: The Route
When hiking Quandary Peak in May, the small parking lot can fill fast, so it’s a good idea to get an early start. The snow also begins to melt rapidly during May once the sun rises, which leads to difficult post-holing through deep, wet snow. I recommend getting a pre-dawn start in May so you can beat the melt and conditions that come with it. The Quandary trailhead is accessible year-round, just south of Breckenridge – no four-wheel drive is necessary. Once you park, you’re ready to hit the trail!
Part 1: Through the Forest
Part 2: Up & Along the Catwalk
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.
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!