“You know, it doesn’t look all that steep”, I remarked to John as we stared up at Cristo Couloir from Blue Lake dam to the 2500 foot climb above us leading to the summit of Quandary peak.    “I bet we can knock this out in an hour or so and be at a brewery by noon”.  “Yeah,” he responded “Let’s get it done”.   Of course, I knew better than to take any climb of a Colorado 14er for granted, especially a snow climb, and even more so when it’s the first climb of the season and I’ve spent most of the past month close to sea level.

In theory Cristo Couloir is only a mile long hike from the base at Blue Lake Dam to the top of 14, 265 ft. Quandary Peak.  If you don’t know how to read a topo map, it’s just a quick jaunt up, far shorter than the standard route up the east ridge. Once you look at the elevation gain, you quickly realize that it’s going to be a lot more challenging than first thought.  Cristo couloir is normally climbed in spring – early summer when the snow pack has consolidated into a stable mass, and the avalanche danger is low.  It is also considered one of the better and easier to access back-country ski descents in the state.  For this trip, we decided that we’d just climb it using our crampons and ice-axes, and then take the standard route back down.  I’m not quite good enough to ski it yet, and I’m still waiting for John to get himself some back-country gear.

We started up the couloir in great spirits; it was about 8:00 am, and the snow was nice and hard making it easy to kick steps on the slope.  We could see about four or five other hikers near the top, and at least two skiers working their way up ahead of us.  We made steady progress, taking our time, but still gaining on the other parties.  After a while, John was feeling pretty good, so he headed up ahead of me.   Left to myself, I was really enjoying the exercise, alternating 100 foot sprints of elevation gain with a minute or so of resting and letting my heart rate recover.  After 45 minutes or so I glanced at my altimeter and was pleased to see that I’d reached about 13,200 feet.  Over halfway there, and the weather was holding out nicely; gorgeous blue skies, and just a nice gentle breeze.   I kept going for another couple of hundred more feet, and quickly realized that what had started out as a an easy climb was quickly getting tougher in difficulty.  At about 13,500 the steepness of the slope was increasing, and my lungs were definitely decreasing in their ability to get my muscles the oxygen they needed.

At this point I looked up ahead and saw John had caught up to the other climbers and was making his way up to the top.  He’d been running a lot more lately, and the effort he’d been putting in was definitely paying off.  I made a mental promise to myself to work on my cardio, gritted my teeth and kept heading up.  My climbing was definitely getting slower and my rests were getting longer, but I kept myself going with mini-goals on the way to the top.  100 more steps till a rock band, 50 more steps till a pile of snow.  Eventually I got over the main hump at around 14,000 feet and could see the summit proper.  The summit must have had 20 people on it, nearly all of whom had climbed up the standard route.  I forced myself to walk the rest of the way to where John was waiting for me at the summit without another break, and managed a grin as we high-fived.  “That was a little tougher than I expected” I said, and was relieved to see that he thought it was a tough climb as well.

Henry’s hero shot

We hung out for a few minutes enjoying the view and taking summit photos while I started feeling more normal again.  Eventually we headed down the east ridge, feeling better with each step, even as the wind started to increase.  We ran into another climber we knew on the way down and chatted for a few minutes..I’m always surprised at how common it is to run into the same few people out in the mountains.  It’s a small community here.  By the time we got back to the cars, John and I were both pretty wiped out but happy with the way the day had gone.  I’ll definitely call this a type 2 fun kind of day…that’s the type when it might suck while you’re doing the activity, but really glad that you did at the end of it.  Looking forward to the next one!

Total distance: 7.32 mi
Max elevation: 14229 ft
Total climbing: 5915 ft
Total Time: 05:49:12

26 Responses

  1. Reebex | Recovering Hippie

    I loved it when you bump into people you know. It sounds like a nice community of people out there… and congratulations on taking the harder route. It’s always a gorgeous payoff when you take the road less travelled! A great read.

    Reply
    • Henry

      Thanks! It was such a beautiful day that a little temporary inconvenience didn’t really matter at all.

      Reply
  2. Ricci - When In My Journeys

    I can feel your struggle Henry. I just started climbing myself and it was just at 600 masl but no snow, and boy was I so exhausted. You’re right, we must need to work on that cardio some more. Good job for making it to the top! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Sandy N Vyjay

    That was indeed a spirited hike/climb. Kudos to you for your sheer grit and determination to just do it. I am sure the feeling of achievement was worth all the effort in the end.

    Reply
    • Henry

      It definitely was! The first one of the season is always the hardest, but it’ll get easier every week.

      Reply
    • Henry

      Not much sweating! You want to move slowly enough that you don’t do that since it’ll freeze on your body and make you colder. Thanks for visiting. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Marge Gavan

    This is what I haven’t done, climbing a snowy mountain. I don’t do well in the cold so I’m not sure if I can do it. But the view at Couloir is amazing, I think I’d still love to give it a try. Despite not having enough cardio, you still made it so I think it show that you are in good health. Congratulations!

    Reply
    • Henry

      You’d be surprised at how warm you feel after getting started. The first 10 minutes might have been a little chilly but after that you’re working hard enough to stay warm. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  5. Ana Rose | Roads and Pages

    Congratulations on that! It is such a great activity! Definitely tough but I know it is all worth it once you reach the top. I would love to experience it too soon in the future! More mountain climbings in the future.

    Reply
  6. Darlene

    14 thousand feet!!! Wow. That is one awesome feat. I would probably get hypothermia from the snow because of my tropical blood. Haha. But would certainly like to see this in Colorado someday.

    Reply
    • Henry

      There are lots of great climbs here that don’t require quite this level of commitment. If you ever make it down, reach out for some suggestions. Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  7. Only By Land

    This sounds like a tough climb, right at this moment I don’t think I’m in the right shape to do it like you guys. I like how you made it into a workout, that made the ascent sound much more interesting.

    Reply
    • Henry

      I’m awful at actually making it to the gym…doing stuff like this is what keeps me in any kind of shape. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  8. Reshma

    The map that you have drawn looks challenging already. But I love hiking and enjoy the adventure. So I would probably try climbing Cristo If I were to go. Glad that you made it – I know how it feels when you make it to the summit after all that climbing!

    Reply
  9. Chris

    I dont know what to say, just wow! I am not into climbing or trekking but I have done a few (bec its part of my presstrip iti, lol) but what you’ve done is incredible for me already.

    Reply
  10. Riely

    I love the feeling of completing a super hard hike and the joy it brings in the end to reflect on your achievement. I totally understand the type 2 fun element. You are killing yourself during the hike for not being at the top of your cardio game, but by the end when you reach the top you are so proud! Congrats on finishing the hike! I would love to come to Colorado one day and complete some of these hikes.

    Reply
  11. bruceschinkel19

    I love when you find yourself in a community of “your people” … it makes for amazing stories and experiences! This trek looks like a great climb … thought I may not do it as quickly as you did until i get some more experience

    Reply
  12. cathy

    I haven’t tried hiking or climbing on a mountain covered with snow. It’s definitely fun and worth doing again! Plus chatting with people who have the same interest. What a great day! Xx

    Reply

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