When climbing season comes around (June through September), novices look to 14,265-foot Quandary Peak as the way to break into Colorado’s fourteener craze. None of the state’s 54 summits above 14,000 feet should be viewed as easy, but this one outside Breckenridge is considered relatively friendly to fit beginners. That is because it requires no technical skill; the top can be reached on foot, as long as the hiker has the leg strength and lung capacity. Following Quandary’s “standard” route along the east ridge, you’ll reach the summit in just 3 miles. But don’t take the journey lightly.

If you’re not accustomed to the altitude, you’ll feel it immediately. From the trailhead at 10,850 feet, warm up by following the road until you reach the well-marked trail winding steeply west into the woods. It’s essentially a straight and unforgiving trek up to the summit.

You’ll crest above the trees after 11,600 feet, approaching the tundra, which never flattens for long. Despite the crowds – Quandary is one of the most popular fourteeners – mountain goats are common. The higher you hoof, the more you’ll feel the agony of an imposing slope that you think is the final push; that’s the mind game Quandary plays. But triumph is felt by looking either way at the sea of mountains, the jaggedness stretching on seemingly forever.

Trip log: 6.7 miles round trip (out and back), 3,450-foot elevation gain, 14,265 feet max

Difficulty: Extreme

Getting there: Off U.S. 24 west, turn north on Colorado 9 and follow through Alma, down Hoosier Pass before turning left on Blue Lakes Road, then right on McCullough Gulch Road to the trailhead. If the parking lot is full, find a spot nearby along the road or in the overflow lot off Blue Lakes Road.

FYI: The basic rules of fourteener climbing apply: boots, proper clothing, water and food supply. Avoid in winter due to avalanche risks. Go to 14ers.com for more information and recent trip reports.

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