My original plan for the day had been to hike the south route of Quandary Peak. However, after visiting with a photographer in Breckenridge, my mind was changed. Having lived next to the mountain for several years, he had been witness to the frequent ambulance calls out to the area. He told me there had been two avalanches since the last time I climbed it, and three deaths in three years. He pointed out the route to me on a map and said that the Forest Service was adding barriers to it to keep people away. I showed him the route I've always taken (and never had a problem with), right up the couloir. "You're crazy." This from a man who had summitted Everest twice. I gave in at that point and allowed him to point me in the direction of Fletcher instead.
The route to Fletcher is via the Monte Cristo trail at Blue Lake. I was promised flowers, water, gorgeous views, and the possibility of seeing mountain goats! I knew the trail wouldn't go all the way to the top, so I was prepared for a little easy route-finding. In the few hours I'd had to research this route, I found mostly information that indicated that this hike was basically a walk in the park.
My dad, Jennifer, and I started out a little later than we meant to, but weren't too worried as it was "only" going to be about four miles roundtrip. The Monte Cristo trail was in okay condition. Since there was still snow melting off the peaks, the trail at times became a creek, and there were a few snow traverses as well. Nothing a little bit of boulder-hopping couldn't alleviate, though. The views for the entire trip were nothing short of breathtaking. We took our time conversing and taking pictures of the wildflowers, wildlife (mostly marmots and pikas), waterfalls and pools, old mining dwellings, and the other mountains in general. When the Monte Cristo trail ends, there is a trail that continues up the gulch for a little ways. This soon becomes a trail-less cairned route, as the climb gets steeper and rockier. It wasn't difficult to find the route; however staying on route was another problem entirely. The snow quite frequently covered the paths that we needed to be on. It wasn't too much of a problem at this point, because it was still early in the day and the snow hadn't melted too much. Easily packed down with feet and walked across, with the help of trekking poles. The only downside: wet shoes and less traction for the constant boulder-hopping. We all moved carefully and helped each other along.
Once up to the Fletcher-Quandary saddle, the cairns stop. Presumably this is because the route continues on to Quandary Peak's west ridge. We continued to the left to find a route up Fletcher. Unfortunately, at this time some dark clouds were moving in on the mountains to the south. We debated turning around but wanted to see what the weather would do. The wind seemed to change constantly. One moment we were headed toward the peak, and the next moment we had decided it would be best to turn back. After waiting around for a good long period of time (felt like an hour!) we finally decided that the rain was going to bypass us and that it was safe to go up. We zig-zagged up the southeast face, doing more boulder-hopping and climbing than we had anticipated. The going was very slow and careful. Finally we reached a point where we could go no farther without crossing the massive amounts of snow present on the peak. I figured it wasn't a big deal and jumped up front so I could trample down a route for my partners. My dad wasn't too keen on this idea. I grabbed a sturdy rock and put a foot down into the snow to pack it down. Instead, my whole leg went through the snow and my foot landed hard on some slippery rock underneath. It was mid-afternoon at this point, and the sun was melting the snow hardcore, effectively turning it into unreliable slush. I looked at the snowfield as it continued to my left and down the mountain, and decided that today was not the day to accidentally glissade 100 feet down a mountainside. It was time to figure out a new route that had nothing to do with snow.
We carefully made our ways down so that we could traverse farther over to the west, where there might be less snow. I told my partners that I was down for any route, so long as it didn't cross over to the north side of the mountain, which was basically one giant overhung jag. After trying route after route and not finding anything reliable, I remembered I'd taken a picture of the peak earlier. We studied the picture and saw that on the westernmost ridge was a slim dry area that might take us all the way to the top, so long as we were willing to traverse a small amount of snow. Unsure about the width of this area, I reluctantly agreed to climb over there and check it out. We continued climbing downward in order to avoid the snow areas. I put my hand on a sturdy-looking rock the size of a small couch, and was surprised when it suddenly moved. And then kept moving. And then gained momentum and fell several feet down the mountain, taking the rock I'd been standing on with it. Luckily, I had been able to quickly move to a different rock that was stable. At the same time, I screamed several obscenities and notified everyone of the impending boulder. Thankfully, no one was nearby when it fell, but we were all a little shaken up. We decided that we were done climbing around on this mountain, and that June was not the best month to tackle such a peak. We made our very slow descent back to the area beneath the peak and followed the cairns back to the trail. Met a couple people on the trail with three small children. They had wanted to take the kids up past the saddle but weren't able to figure out the route past the mining area. Thank heavens for small favors.
Despite all the troubles we encountered, this was an extremely enjoyable hike. I'd like to come back sometime when there isn't as much snow (I've seen reports of it being there still even in mid-July) and get up on that jagged summit. I would like to point out, however, that I did not see any mountain goats; instead several of my family members who hiked the Quandary east ridge got to see goats. Definitely filing this away at the top of my list of complaints when I talk to that photographer again.
Although, I suppose the rest of the glorious scenery on this trip entirely makes up for it. You just don't get views like this from anywhere on Quandary.