Located 30 minutes from the heart of Breckenridge Colorado, Quandary Peak stands at 14,265′ and is the highest mountain in the Tenmile Range. Featuring a class 1 standard route it’s a popular Colorado 14er for people vacationing in the area and traveling from Denver. Especially on the weekends and holidays. For those looking for more of a challenge the mountain offers Quandary Peak’s West Ridge. A class 3 scramble, it’s a 5-7 mile hike (depending on your return route) featuring challenging route finding and the crux of the West Ridge. Most people don’t go down the West Ridge. This route is not recommended as a first class 3 because of it’s high exposure at it’s crux, just above 14,000′.
Tips for Climbing Quandary Peak’s West Ridge
This hike starts at a different parking lot from the standard route, several miles away. When you pull into Quandary you’ll take a left to the West Ridge, right to the standard trail. Most people don’t descend the West Ridge due to the crux so you’ll need to take this into account. On the weekends the lake/West Ridge starting path is busy so it’s much easier to hitchhike a ride.
Quandary Peak’s West Ridge can have snow on it year around. Making some parts of the lower trail unpassable without spikes/crampons in certain months.
Your route finding skills will be tested. Trails are unmarked from top to bottom and on the ridge make sure to look for an easier way. There are a few false trails that with a little patience can be passed another way.
Mountain goats climb rental cars.
What to Bring
- Helmet – This route features loose rock and extreme exposure so make sure to protect yourself. Check out the Black Diamond Half Dome here.
- Shoes – I love the Hoka One One Torrents or Speed Goats. But really any good trail runner that you’re comfortable in with good traction will work.
- Day Pack – You need to bring water, food, first aid kit (one per group), and anything else you may want. I’d recommend anything from 12 to 30 liters, this will be plenty for most people. Just make sure it’s comfortable!
- Water Bottle – I’d recommend a water bottle over a camel back. At 14,000ft it’s hard to breathe and drinking water is even harder. Being able to squeeze the water into your mouth makes it much easier. 2 liters is always a good idea unless you plan on bringing your filter..
- Water Purifier – Do yourself a favor and get a Sawyer Mini water filter. The Sawyer makes it easy to fill your bottle or bladder on the trail and can be cleaned and used for years.
- Food/Fuel – Easily digestible carbs, protein, sugar, and salts are perfect for quick energy while on the trail! We typically make a few different sandwiches with 4+ snacks each.
The West Ridge Approach Rout
You’ll start out in the parking lot below the dam. Follow the trail up to the right and continue onto the dirt/rock path next to the lake. Shortly you will hit the post marker, this is the right turn off for the West Ridge Trail as well as the return point for the South Cristo Couloir. This will take you up to your right and around to the valley leading to the ridge approach.
Alternatively in the late summer you can walk along the lake and take the hill up at the very end where the stream is running down. You will see several people on Youtube taking this route. Here is a great photo from our start at the end of the lake at sunrise.
Once in the valley you will be heading uphill through a grass field then onto a crater field. Follow the cars leading the way. climbing the ridge you will want to aim for the lower third hump to the left. We made the trip Labor Day weekend in 2019 there was still a section that forced you to cross a section of snow. A few feet larger and it would have been tough to pass without gear. The rock will form almost a bridge in the center.
Once at the base of the ridge it is possible to cut across the short mountain vs summiting the small peak. This is also shown in the above photo. After crossing you will be at the real start of Quandary’s West Ridge. This is also a good last place to grab a quick bite of food or to change your layers based on the conditions.
Quandary Peak – West Ridge
Facing the ridge you will be looking at a steep climb. It’s very manageable. This incline will lead you to your first obstruction. There will be a few of these large table top masses (that look somewhat climbable) on your way along the ridge. With good route finding you will be able to bypass almost all of these but two. The crack and the last table top peak leading to the crux. Start working to the right and after a while you will be forced over to the left.
The two most notable moves on the West Ridge are the crack and the crux. The crack is one of those things that is a lot easier in person. In some videos it looks like a straight climb, but the grade up the center is good and there are a few ways around. The green path is an easy climb and the one I’d recommend.
The second and most substantial obstacle on the West Ridge is the crux. Located at 14,000+ ft this last move forces you over the last table top (offering incredible views) and then descending into the crux. Only to climb the steep cliffs backup to Quandary’s Peak.
While a lot of videos focus on the up-climb (the large dark wall above) out of the trough. But the hardest part of the ridge of the down climb off of the above picture. On any side a fall will most likely mean death. So take Your time. The up-climb is much easier. The steps are large in person. Also there is a much easier route than the one provided on 14ers.com. I’ve included it in green below:
Once you make it up the crux it’s only a short rock slope to the peak. Quandary is a popular summit so expect there to be a few people on top. Also expect them to be asking where you came from!
I loved this hike/scramble! Starting at a separate parking lot means that this is a remote hike compared to the main trail. You’ll get to enjoy the glacial lake views while following carnes through boulder fields. The ridge offers an intimidating presence overlooking your approach but is really just a hard to track hiking trail with very little climbing. That said I get why people don’t recommend this as a first 14er. It’s a hard route to follow and takes patience. The crux of the ridge is at 14,000+ with cliffs on both sides. If you aren’t sure if this is for you then this is a bad place to find out. And an expensive life flight home. Make sure you are prepared for the conditions, I recommend AllTrails.com which has the West Ridge (listed under a different name).
Here are a couple videos and links about the West Ridge!
14ers.com – One of the best resources for hiking Colorado 14ers. They offer photos and forums so if you have any questions this is a great place to start.
A great video showing the crux of the climb:
Here is one of the of the whole climb:
And one of my favorites because it’s a reminder to be safe. Watch at 2:08 where he almost films his buddy falling off the crux approach. Please be careful.