Early one September morning, eight scouts from Troop 78 set out to climb Quandary Peak (14,265′). In Colorado, 14ers are a Big Deal and all Coloradans remember their first climb of one of these lofty summits the way other folks remember their first kiss. Quandary is often mentioned as one of the easy 14ers, but all this really means is that it’s a safe route, the trail is good, plenty of parking, and it’s not too far from the Denver area where most of the people live. However, even an “easy” 14er is a hard climb! To gain the summit, you have to climb 3400′ of elevation in 3.7 miles while gasping air with 1/3rd less oxygen than even most Colorado folks are used to.
5 am is no one’s favorite wake-up time, but we were on the trail at a chilly 7:30 just as the sun was coming up. The expectation was that we’d try our best, but that probably not everyone would make to summit today. We hiked as one jolly dozen up a mile and a half of trail to tree line before pausing to shed layers, apply sunscreen, and load in some calories and hydration.
It’s here that Quandary shows its tough aspect: once out of the trees, you can see the entire route looming above you, complete with tiny, tiny people milling about on the summit nearly half a mile above. It’s intimidating, but the scouts were game! Packs were shouldered and one foot placed in front of the other.
The trail wound higher and higher trending generally up the huge east ridge of Quandary and every footstep brought better and better views. The weather was flawless and a great temperature for climbing. We took breaks every thousand feet of trail and were careful to keep eating, drinking, and sunscreening. The final thousand foot climb was the toughest, but everyone could practically smell the summit and no one suggested we turn back now so close to our goal.
Just before noon, after 4.5 hours of climbing, there was no more up and we were on the summit! Summiters were Gavin T., Ben T., Cyrus O., Levi N., Joe D., Brandon D., Tommy C., and James B. — 14er newbies all. Dinosaurs Dan N., Maria K., and myself all had several other 14ers under our belts, but it was a special to see recent Texas transplant Dino Courtenay T. summit her first 14er. We lounged, laughed, and lunched for a lovely hour, soaking in the magical feeling of a mighty task conquered as a team.
The expectation had been that we would naturally split into faster and slower groups of hikers on the way up and maybe some people wouldn’t reach the summit, but this never materialized. Each scout was strong at some points, leading the group, while flagging behind at others. It was amazing to watch the scouts working together to overcome their individual “bonks”.
As the saying goes, the summit is only half way there, so we regretfully started the descent. Looking back down the enormous ridge, it was clear just how far we’d climbed and just how much it was going to hurt. Sure, we had gravity on our side this time, but we also had gravity on our side. It took almost three hours and it was a sore, triumphant group who finally arrived at the cars.
Sharing Joe’s first fourteen attempt, and a successful one at that (unlike my own,! or even my first attempt at Quandary!) was an incredibly special experience for me (probably for him as well, but he’s at an age where We Don’t Talk About Those Things). Once again, all the cliches are true: they grow up so fast, it’s wonderful to see things afresh through young eyes, I just don’t understand kids these days, and so forth. Who knew parenthood was so rewarding?