Two hikers from Texas, a 26-year-old female and a 31-year-old male, were rescued from Quandary Peak on Saturday morning after heading out for a hike Friday afternoon. The couple intended on climbing Quandary Peak, a 14,265-foot summit near Breckenridge, on the most popular route – the East Ridge. The East Ridge is a 6.75 mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of 3,450 feet. While it’s a strenuous hike, it is a Class One Colorado climbing route, the easiest of five classes.
This plan was foiled when the couple accidently started at the wrong trailhead. Instead of stopping at the large Quandary Peak trailhead lot, they drove past it for several miles on Blue Lakes Road before embarking on the technical West Ridge. Compared to the East Ridge, the West Ridge is dangerous Class Three climbing, which means required trail finding, exposed scrambling, and a higher risk of injury or death, among other things. While four miles long, the West Ridge still means an elevation gain of 2,650 feet – more than 1,000 feet per mile up rough terrain during the ascent.
The couple made the trip up a significant portion of this route, before turning back at roughly 13,800 feet amid weather concerns. At this point, they were unable to make any moves up or down the mountain due to the rough terrain. This is when emergency personnel were contacted. They started a rescue at shortly after 2 PM Friday and confirmed that the rescue was complete shortly after 2 AM Saturday morning.
This case escalated to a full-scale rescue directly as a result of basic mistakes the hikers made. First, they were unfamiliar with where the trailhead of their route was. This resulted in them embarking on a completely different trail several miles away from where they should have been starting. Second, they were unfamiliar with terrain on the route, as any level of familiarity would have made differences between a Class One and Class Three climb quite obvious. Third, they were unprepared for the typical high-altitude Colorado weather, which tends to mean huge temperature swings. This makes layering and preparing for frigid temperatures – even in the middle of summer – extremely important.
Accidents and mistakes can always happen to anyone, regardless of their skill level and regardless of their experience. However, this case shows the importance of basic planning prior to attempting to summit a peak. If you’re planning to summit a fourteener, do your research first. Familiarize yourself with the route and make regular checks to make sure you’re not off-path. Above treeline, the route isn’t always clear and not following the route can result in death. Thankfully, this rescue operation was successful.
If you’re planning on climbing a fourteener, 14ers.com is the ultimate resource. You’ll find maps, trail conditions, and photos of each route. Our advice is that you do not attempt any climb without checking this site first. Additionally, here’s an article we’ve published with a few of the basics. Keep in mind that this article is just a starting point for your research.
Quandary Peak is the same fourteener where a man passed away earlier in July following a heart attack.
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