I was planning on leaving Laramie early in the morning on Friday, but at 11pm on Thursday, the people who live in the apartment above me were having a fairly loud party which had been going the whole evening and the music was getting steadily louder, so I decided to leave. I rested a bit at the I-25 rest stop near Ft. Collins, and I made it to the trailhead just before 3:30am.
I thought about taking a nap here, but the sky was clear and incredibly dark. This is the highest I had ever been at night (10,860ft), and the thought of hiking under this celestial panorama overpowered any need for sleep. I had planned for this and had my twist-top pocket flashlight and an extra set of batteries. I wasn't sure how long the batteries would hold out, so I waited a bit and headed up the trail at 3:50. The trail is really good considering this isn't a marked trailhead, and with the stars to guide me (and a compass, of course), I knew I couldn't get too lost.
The trail heads north up a hill after which you turn left and head almost due west to the summit. I did lose the trail for about 15 minutes going up the hill, but the forest isn't very dense here so this was no problem. By shortly after 4am, I could begin to see the zodiacal light (I'll explain what that is at the end), but unfortunately, this was behind me as I was heading west. The going was a little slower than usual due to the darkness, but by 5am I had made it to a small grassy shoulder above treeline. As this point I wasn't quite sure which way to go. I couldn't see the terrain except as silhouetted against the stars, and I couldn't immediately see the trail. I wandered around a bit on the west side of the shoulder and stumbled upon the trail. Shortly after heading up, at 5:10, I could see the first light of dawn underneath what was now a very obvious display of the zodical light. At this point, the temperature was around 25-30F, with a light southwest wind.
I was hoping to make it to the summit before sunrise, but at 6:30 I turned around saw the top third of the sun poking above the mountains east of me. Since I was facing the wrong way, I didn't get to see the sun first appear and missed an opportunity to try to see the green flash (although usually seen over a large body of water, any linear terrain can give you a chance to see this).
My altimeter was reading much lower than reality since I didn't give it a good chance to respond to the cold, dense air when I started, but I underestimated that effect and I still thought I had 400 vertical feet to go on the ridge. Just before 6:45, the angle eased and I suddenly realized that what I had been seeing was not a false summit, and I was on top! I was able to take some great pictures of the shadow of Quandary being cast on the terrain in the distance. Looking south was the best view, though. First, about one mile away and 2500 feet down are the Blue Lakes, created by the damming of Monte Cristo Creek. Then another mile south, North Star Mountain, whose long ridge at around 13,500ft marks the Continental Divide. Finally, about 5 miles south, the Lincoln group, the group of three 14ers that I climbed the previous weekend. Quandary at sunrise had the most beautiful views of the thirteen mountains I'd summited. As a bonus, I had the mountain all to myself, and was the first on the register for the day. I was in no hurry, so I spent some time looking at the register. Several people in the previous week or so had done the Lincoln Group and Quandary on the same day. Someone dedicated his climb to his mother who had recently passed away. God was frequently mentioned in people's comments, and although I'm not a religious person, this is definitely a special place.
On the way down, I could see that the aspens were starting to turn in McCullough Gulch. Back at that shoulder I mentioned on the upclimb, I ended up on the wrong trail. I went straight, instead of a slight turn to the right (south). I think this trail eventually goes down to a trailhead on county road 851, but I'm not sure. I knew from my compass that I was making a little bit of northward progress which was wrong. Back down below treeline, I met two people coming up, the only people I saw on the mountain. Finally, after going up and down a four-wheel drive road a bit, I decided that this was not right so I descended straight south down the hillside and after a short while, I ended up near someone's driveway. (There are a few houses on 850.) I skirted around this property and ended up on the road, about 200 yards below my car, which I reached at 9:55am.
The route is rated class 1, but once on the ridge, you can make it class 2 in spots if you're so inclined. This is a great mountain and it made for a great nighttime ascent.
OK, zodiacal light. There's a lot of dust in the plane of the solar system and this dust scatters sunlight in various directions. Some of that light is scattered back towards Earth. This light is seen most brightly near the Sun and it's can be as bright as the Milky Way. It's seen as a thin triangular shaped wedge of light extending up from near where the Sun has set or will rise. It can extend halfway up towards zenith under ideal viewing conditions which occur near dawn near the autumnal equinox and near dusk near the vernal equinox, and under dark skies away from city lights. One thing to note is that it won't point perpendicular to the horizon unless you're in the tropics, but rather it will angle to the south (in the Northern Hemisphere).
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File last modified: 18 December 2004