With a promising weather forecast, I left Salt Lake and made a trip down to Aspen on June 6th 2011 with the goal to climb and ski some 14ers. The primary objective this trip was Castle and Conundrum peaks. Castle is the Elk Range's highest summit at 14,265 feet, and Conundrum at 14,060 feet, while not a ranked 14er (as it does not rise up more than 300 feet from the lowest point it shares with Castle), is still a worthy objective, especially so because of the gnarly and prominent couloir that splits the peak. This I came to ski specifically. It is a very classic and aesthetically pleasing line.
I camped just outside the ghost town of Ashcroft and began my 4,700 vertical foot ascent (includes both peaks) at 3am. Up the Castle Creek drainage I went in the dark, putting on my skis for the first time a little ways past the first stream crossing. I passed numerous avalanche slide paths (with alot of broken and splintered trees) that looked very spooky in the dark. As I came to Montezuma Basin, the first rays of daylight were reaching the mountain tops. Man, there is still alot of snow up there!
the upper basin at sunrise
I skinned (or booted) up both peaks (covering 11 miles roundtrip), and it was a little on the tiring side. I topped out on Castle at 10am, seven hours after leaving camp. I had ascended the steep and classic north couloir on the peak. The weather was absolutely fabulous, with views that stretched on forever (WOW!) and not a cloud in sight. However, it was extremely windy, so much so that it would knock me to my knees at times.
me gaining ground in Montezuma Basin
first good view of Castle
me and Conundrum coolie
up the north couloir on Castle
on the summit of Castle
there's the objective, in all its glory!
I skied the north face down to the saddle between Castle and Conundrum peaks, and then hoofed it a few hundred feet up to the top of Conundrum Peak.
I was very tired at this point, but after a short rest the excitement of the impending descent was erupting out of me. I clicked into my skis and dropped into the amazing couloir. The snow was perfect corn and the pitch was steep and exhilerating. Each turn would send showers of little snow cookies cascading below me like a surreal waterfall. Just very fun skiing! The skiing stayed good all the way until the lower reaches of Montezuma Basin, when the snow turned to mushy slush. Then it was just a slog back to camp. Talk about solitude on a Colorado 14er- I didn't see or sniff one other person the entire day.
on Conundrum, with Castle looking on
looking down the objective, ready to drop
if you look closely, you can see my turns
looking down the lower reaches of Montezuma Basin
upper Montezuma Basin (my turns can be seen lower center)
After a few beers at campsite 1 to celebrate another beautiful day and outing in the Colorado Rockies, i drove south to knock off Colorado's 5th great traverse- the ridge between Redcloud and Sunshine. thats an "epic" tale for another time
back at camp
amongst the aspens