Permanent Closure of Quandary Peak Monte Cristo Road Trailhead

13 Aug 2001 - by Doug Cook

In response to recent questions on access to Quandary Peak, this post from last August provides some info on changed parking and trailhead designations.

In prior Winters, there was parking for about 4 cars on the Monte Cristo Road just off Highway 9 where the road to the McCulluch Trailhead is not plowed. Since the old TH has been closed, there will hopefully be more parking area plowed out. Hiking the road closure to the TH adds about a mile (each way) to climb Quandary.

I would be extremely cautious (or wait for well consolidated Spring snow) about hiking up the unplowed Blue Lakes Road which leads 3 miles to the Reservoir and the start of the Cristo Couloir route. This road is covered every year by debris from snow avalanches off the steep West face of the East Ridge.

Quandary is a good Winter Fourteener with a well tracked trail, unless it has recently been snowed under. Snowshoes and poles will almost always be required. Be prepared for very cold, windy conditions. A GPS may be wise, as the North side of the ridge is a steep dropoff that could be hidden in a whiteout. Even though the slopes on the standard climbing route are generally low angle, use cautious judgement. Two years ago I had to turn back snowshoeing less than a mile from the McCulluch TH on low angle snow when the snowpack started cracking and whumping out ahead of my chosen route. The snow can be very unstable even on lower angle slopes.


The "old" Monte Cristo trailhead for the standard East Ridge route on Quandary Peak is permanently closed with official looking signs (including the Forest Service logo) that the trailhead is closed due to overuse and that the trail crosses private property. (It's always crossed private property.) This was the parking area used in the Winter, and is on the Monte Cristo Road right at the snow closure berm. I suspect that the people living there finally were tired enough of the traffic that they took action to physically close the parking area. (Traffic here must be a real nuisance to the people living along the dirt road. The 10 days between August 2 and the 10th, 557 people signed the register on the summit of Quandary - another post will follow on that.) A cable stretches across part of the old parking area and the entire parking spot is covered with dead limbs, tree trunks, and other scrub brush. The signs recommend parking for Quandary is now the McCulluch Trailhead, which is about 1 mile from the turnoff from State Highway 9 onto the Monte Cristo Road. (Some topos show this as the Upper Monte Criso Trailhead.)

There is a sign directing traffic to the new trailhead.

Parking in the Winter could be interesting, since the road to the McCulluch Trailhead is not plowed in the Winter and closure is right near the turnoff from Highway 9. Parking along the county roads is prohibited, as I was informed a couple of years ago by the Sheriff.

For the West Ridge route, before Winter closure you can still drive the Monte Cristo Road two miles to the Monte Cristo (aka Blue Lakes) Reservoir. Sixteen cars were at this trailhead last Saturday morning - at least double what I've seen there over the last four years.


Saturday, August 11th I climbed Quandary Peak along the West Ridge route. Rotten rock, difficult routefinding, lots of deadends and backtracking, and unmarked trails make this one of the hardest Fourteener climbs, in my experience. Although I've completed this climb 3-4 times over the years, I've never ended up on the same route all the way. Working around the complex maze of towers and over notches to cross back and forth across the ridge is a challenge. Even carefully testing handholds, a couple pulled loose when I committed full weight on them. A lady died from falling here in September 1998.

I replaced the summit log which was nearly full. Note that the log had filled up in only 10 days. I am amazed at the number of climbers on this Fourteener - between August 2 and 11, 557 people had signed the log. (At least there are 557 entries - some are for more than one person.) Sign-ins per day were: Thursday, Aug 2: 28, then 38, 110 on a Sat, 93, 32, 46, 46, 21, 52, 91 another Sat. It will be hard to leave new registers on the peaks fast enough to keep up with the demand! Yup, we're loving the Fourteeners to death. Can't imagine the traffic on Grays and Torreys.

The other surprise on the summit was memorials to climbers. A pair of backcountry skis (w/o bindings) are crossed and standing on end, propped up in a pile of rocks. Melted into the plastic near one tip is the name Mike Barrett and his year of birth and death. Also hanging off the skis was a pair of ski poles, a fleece hat, a climbing staff, two bottle openers, a thermometer, and a small Army ammo box which contains the peak register and pens. At the base of the skis someone had left an engraved rock with the name Todd Lewis (or Lewrs?) and his dates. I suspect this may be a trend and we'll be seeing more memorials and mementos on summits than just peak registers. Imagine where this could lead over the years - piles of engraved, rocks, plaques, bricks, and equipment left by climbers. Hopefully we won't see the inevitable advertising - imagine the day when you summit and can pick up an AOL free 500 hour CD to take home... :^}

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