| Castle and Conundrum, take two
I had planned this trip exactly one year ago today. I climbed Castle in 2010 during the same week, but had to turn around on top before getting over to Conundrum, in part due to clouds coming in, but also because I wasn't feeling super strong that day. So, I had some unfinished business here and wanted to try to climb the combo again. I thought early September was supposed to have a good chance of stable weather generally, though the last two Septembers, I’ve been rained on for days on end!
I heard that some snow was lingering in the basin, though I wasn't sure exactly how much was there and where it was concentrated, so I packed my crampons, unsure if I'd need them.
We drove up to the Castle Creek trailhead and parked at the absolute bottom of the road (again) and started the long hike up in the darkness. Start time was about 4:00AM. As the morning moved on, an occasional elk would bugle in the distance, a sure sign of Autumn coming.
There are a couple of nice waterfalls along the way (though I snapped these on the way down in daylight).
About two thirds of the way up, a few trucks past us and after another half of mile, they all parked and about 20 people got out – apparently a large group from the University near Boulder on a group outing/climb. Boy, I never did such things while in college! I was stuck in lab all day on the weekends
We made good time up to the basin, where once we reached the top, high “parking lot” got our first glimpse of Castle, which was intermittently covered in low lying cloud cover. When the clouds cleared we could see a fresh coating of light snow higher up above 13,000ft.
After just having come back from Capitol (turning around before K2 due to the snow and ice) I was hoping that the snow up here would not have similar consequence on the short steeper sections on Castle.
While there was some snow that we would need to cross to get up via the standard route, it didn’t look like it would pose any problems. Once you hiked from the top of the where the road ends, there were a couple of ways up, either veering sharply to the left (east) or heading more straight up over talus. Both would encounter snow, but the latter would be more of a dead reckon up through some snow and then some talus, which is what we opted for.
The hike up through the scree and talus to the notch where you turn left (east) to go up Castle was pretty straightforward, with only a bit of snow to deal with and no need for traction.
Looking back on the route shows you the traversing path the trail takes across Castle's western flanks.
Above 13,000, there was some new snow on the trail and ice still covering the trail rocks early this morning, so care needed to be taken we didn’t make a stupid mistake.
Looking back you can see part of the rough dirt road leading up into the basin.
Once the steeper sections were reached, a bit more care was needed given the ice and frost coating on all the rocks, especially those facing north or west, which hadn’t gotten any sunlight yet. The photo below shows a few folks negotiating the terrrain leading up to the false summit of Castle.
A bit more effort and we were soon on Castle’s summit! It was about 8:30AM.
Brilliantly colored peaks surrounded Castle Peak to the south and west and with the sun’s rays peeking over Castle, it was a sight to behold.
Conundrum beckoned off across the western flanks of Castle.
The sky was clear and calm and we were feeling strong. Without so much as a minute rest, we moved on towards Conundrum to take advantage of the good weather.
All of the rocks on the route down off Castle towards Conundrum were coated in a thin layer of ice and frost. Steps were careful and deliberate to avoid slipping, which consumed some time. There were no real trouble sections though.
A view of Conundrum from near the saddle
Soon after some boulder scrambling we were on Conundrum’s false summit, looking at its slightly higher summit off to the Northwest. Some scampering down and then up again led to the true summit of Conundrum, which admittedly is not much higher, but is a few feet taller. It took about 40min from leaving Castle’s summit to get to Conundrum’s *real* summit.
The view of Castle from the summit of Conundrum is spectacular and really shows off its ridgeline.
A few snapshots later and after some admiration of the view of Castle from this vantage point, we turned back to head down to the saddle and back up towards Castle to go back down the way we came. Castle looks very solid and strong from this angle, more impressive than from coming up the main trail!
We considered descending off the saddle into the abyss of scree and ice, but after closer inspection, opted not to and decided to spend the extra effort for the sake of safety and sure footing to re-climb Castle. Standing at the saddle, looking down that steep icy scree slope which terminated with some crevasse like openings in the rock and snow was not that alluring to me. Up Castle we went.
A view up Castle from near the saddle.
A view of the descent route off Castle from above the saddle.
The effort needed to re-climb Castle was not all that bad, particularly given the alternative of scree sliding and steep ice above that sinkhole like feature above the lake in the basin. Below is the look heading back up Castle.
After resummiting Castle, I now deserved my Summit Snickers and a few minutes of rest! On the way down, a very diligent pika appeared, stocking up leaves and grasses, working furiously. He took time out to pose for a photo or two. He reminded me of a hamster I had as a pet.
The trip back down to trailhead went fairly quickly. The snow fields above the talus above the basin also afforded some decent, though short glissading opportunities with a safe runout.
Along the way there are some great views of the neighboring peaks and valleys, waterfalls and some of the forested mountain terrain. Some color was starting to happen lower down, but not much.
A lone aspen showing off its colors before all the rest...
We were back at the trailhead in under 8 hours.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):