While so many trip reports calls this route ‘uninspiring’, I felt that Quandary’s Inwood Arete was an awesome adventure, and one I would definitely do again! Quandary is one of the most popular 14ers, mountains above 14,000 feet, in Colorado. The normal route is about 6 miles and you’ll be summiting this mountain with hundreds of others. The Inwood Arete is not completed often. When I did it, I only saw a couple people on the trail going to the base. From there, we were the only ones on the route.
Know Before You Climb Quandary's Inwood Arete
Location: Front Range, Summit County
Distance: 6+ miles? I did not have a GPS on for this route. The approach was around 2 miles to the lake, and I would guess the scrambling would be 2 miles. I guess the descent to be 2 miles or more, putting the total mileage at 6, but most likely a little more.
Elevation Gain: 3,160 feet
Summit Elevation: 14,265 feet
Difficulty: Extreme. This is a Class 5 route, requiring a lot of route finding and good climbing skills. Rated 5.4 to 5.7+ depending on the where you start. A fall at any point on this route would most likely result in death.
Season: Summer and Early Fall. Winter and Spring will see a lot of snow, making for very interesting and slippery scrambling and very high avalanche danger.
Summit Date: 09/19/2018
How to Get to the Trailhead
You are looking for the McCollough Gulch Trailhead. From I-70, take exit 203 to Frisco. Follow the road, CO-9 S. You will pass by Frisco and through the town of Breckenridge. After 18.3 miles, turn right on Blue Lakes Road. Almost immediately, take the first right onto McCollough Gulch Road. Drive up for 1.5 miles. You will need park on the side of the road before the gate.
Climbing Quandary's Inwood Arete
I climbed Quandary’s Inwood Arete on September 19, 2018. The weather was clear for the morning with no wind, and it was supposed to only be a little cloudy in the afternoon with no chances of thunderstorms. I went with my friend, Laura, who I met when climbing Kit Carson. We climbed a couple other peaks together after and wanted a bit of a challenge. We weren’t sure how long the route would take us, but the weather seemed to be in our favor for that day, so we decided to climb it before it got covered in snow.
Laura and I arrived at the trailhead around 8:30 that morning, a little later than I like for 14ers, but not too late. We were packed and ready to go at 9. We followed the road up a couple minutes before arriving at the sign for McCollough Gulch trail. Once you are here, follow the trail up until you reach the reservoir, about 1.3 miles in. It is easy hiking with little elevation gain. Don’t cut over to the base of Quandary until you reach the lake.
Once at the reservoir, we went left to Quandary. The mountain towers over you from this point and will be abut 3,000 feet of climbing and scrambling. We headed up to the base of the mountain, deciding which route to pick. There is a 5.7+ and a 5.4 slab. Since we didn’t bring any rope with us, we chose to go the 5.4 route. You can rope up on this route. The couple pitches at the beginning allow for good gear placement. We decided against it, due to wanting to move faster.
The other part of not bringing a rope is that we were very committed once we started. Downclimbing is harder than upclimbing. If the weather looks bad when you arrive, turn around and try for another day. The only way really off the mountain once you have started, is to climb up.
We liked how the weather looked, so we started the climb. The rock was very solid and we moved pretty quickly up to what would be the second pitch. I thought this section was fairly easy. The holds were good and there was good placement for your feet.
If you do not feel comfortable climbing, I would not suggest doing this route however. While everything was solid here, if I fell, I would not have survived it. Make sure you are competent with your climbing skills and your route finding skills. We encountered a lot of route finding from the start to finish. You need it to avoid ending up on rock that was significantly harder than you want, or avoiding rotten rock. While the rock is very solid at the beginning, it got worse through out the climb.
After the first pitch of 5.4, it eases for a couple minutes before you find yourself on another pitch. When we did this pitch, I felt like it was more class 4. However, reading other reports, this second pitch is rating at 5.4 again. It felt easier to me than the first pitch, but it is different for everyone.
After this section, the scrambling got relatively easier. For the most part, it stayed at class 3 with some short sections of class 4 and 5. The rocks do get less stable the further you go though. We made sure to check every rock before weighting it. My favorite part about Quandary’s Inwood Arete, is the mountain is a choose your own adventure type of scramble. You can keep it to class 3 for a lot of it to class 5.
The only time I got a little nervous was when we ended up in a gully with very rotten rock leading to a thousand foot drop. We very carefully scrambled out of here one at a time, leaving enough room in case the rock decided to give way. A little after this point, we found a short knife’s edge that we scrambled across. Right after, we heard rumbling in one of the gullies before: a loud rock slide, which reminded us to still be careful as we went.
After 4.5 hours or so, we finally popped off the ridge, ascending to the east slopes. I still had not completed Quandary. I had tried it 3 times previously and had to turn back due to different reasons: my dad broke his ankle on it, weather, got too late of a start. Laura already had hiked Quandary, but we decided to go to the top from here. It took us maybe another 15 minutes and we arrived at the summit at 1:45pm.
Right as we reached the top, it started to snow the first snow of winter. It was cold and windy, a stark difference to just a couple minutes before. We saw more clouds moving in, so we only stayed at the top for a couple minutes. There was no one else up there, though we could see them further down on the trail heading back. We snapped a couple pictures for our summit selfie and headed back down on the East Slopes trail.
Once we entered the trees, we followed a much smaller trail and started bushwacking our way down to the car, following a topo map I brought. It was autumn in Colorado, and we took our time on the way back, stopping to take pictures of the colors every hundred feet. The mountain felt completely different from earlier and it was hard to believe we were still on the same one. A little under 3 hours later, we arrived at the car at 4:30pm, threw our stuff back into the car, and headed out to get food.
The best way we found to climb this route was to stick to the ridge proper. It allowed us to always continue forward, or at least provided an escape to easier terrain. If you want to climb Quandary, but don’t want to go this route, other options are easier. Check them out by going to the 14ers.com website here.
In town for the week and want to climb more mountains? Read my post about Climbing and Rappeling the Citadel Traverse.
Grays and Torreys, two other 14ers are nearby, if you want to climb some easier peaks. Or check out the town of Breckenridge. You can also bike around the Dillon Reservoir or do some Stand Up Paddleboarding there. If you come to Colorado in the winter, I wouldn’t recommend doing this route, but you can ski the East Slopes of Quandary. For resort skiing, Keystone, Breckenridge, and Arapaho Basin are all very close.
Paid campsites exist all around the area, as well as free camping. Check BLM land restriction for the county before going. There are hotels all around in Summit County as well. Expect to pay a minimum of $80, or more in peak season. AirBnb’s are also really popular or you can stay at the hostels in Breckenridge.
What to Bring on Quandary's Inwood Arete
Climbing Gear: If you choose to use it, being your normal alpine protection. When I do this route again, I will probably bring a short rope and a couple pieces of protection in case of emergencies.
Approach Shoes: I prefer to have sticky rubber, and brought my LaSportiva TX3’s with me for this adventure.
Ten Essentials: It came in handy to have extra layers. I constantly took off layers and put layers on throughout the climb.