Since Abe and I both had commitments Saturday morning, we decided the afternoon could be used for a backpacking approach. Abe floated the Elks as a candidate; my job was to find snow. This wasn't terribly difficult, thanks to a recent report by maverick_manley which included a photo showing a nice line on the north face of "Castleabra". A bit more research identified it as the Sloman Couloir, an aesthetic 1200' direct to the summit. Abe was sold.
The Sloman Couloir on the north face of Castleabra (photo by Abe)
We started up the Conundrum Creek trail at 5 p.m. The Turkish Terror set a brisk pace despite having run Mount Evans a few hours earlier, and I was glad for both the afternoon shade and my inappropriately short shorts.
Hiking along Conundrum Creek
We encountered some water on the trail
BWAHAHaHaha ducks. (photo by Abe)
Inspiring view of Castleabra on the approach
Just over 8 miles in we found a campsite ideally situated for launching our plan the next morning. After setting up the tent, we debated a quick dip in the hot springs but vetoed the idea in favor of sleep.
Then we had the usual conversation:
"What time do we want to get up?"
"Well... assume an hour for the approach, and we want to be at the base by five"
"Let's get up at 4:30"
By 5:15 we were on the move. Immediately we encountered the crux of the day: the oh-so-chilly waters of Conundrum Creek. After exhausting the few options we could see, we started throwing down rocks. This eventually diverted the waters and we crossed on dry land. Some willow-stomping ensued, all according to plan of course, and soon we were in the clear.
Crossing an old slide path beneath the north cirque
Seven hundred feet later and several hours behind prudence we stood at the base of couloir. We 'poned up and pondered over some fruit snacks. It didn't look very steep, and gummy Darth Vader was not impressed. But snow quality more than compensated for the angle; every step yielded that satisfying crunch that says "Who cares what the Sith Lord thinks, anyway. This is fun!"
Base of the couloir
We gleefully front-pointed our way up the shaded lower stretch of the couloir, which after 600 feet twists to the left, over a snowfield anchoring a series of couloirs that run to the summit ridge like an upside-down comb. Here we continued into the upper half of the Sloman Couloir, which is the most direct and prominent of these lines. Though at first we were able to find good cramponing, above 13400' sun exposure and our lateness began to punish us with horribly unconsolidated snow.
This is about as steep as it got, maybe 45-ish (photo by Abe)
Abe doing work
View from near the top
These unfortunate conditions provoked some bad snow rage, but we fought our way to the slushy end. A brief retrospective at the top concluded that the line had delivered 1200 feet of continuous snow, and we really could only blame ourselves for the less-than-perfect timing. We scrambled thirty feet or so to the summit of Castle Peak's red-headed stepchild, where Abe's attempt to sign in with the provided pen was met with mixed results, and then we started down the ridge towards UN 13550.
The ridge to UN 13550
The traverse from Castleabra to 13550 is rife with opportunities for fun scrambling, so for the sake of decency we stayed proper most of the time, bypassing only what looked uninteresting or impossible. Although this approach was time-consuming (it took over two hours to complete the traverse), our return on investment was quite good.
Blocky downclimb (photo by Abe)
Neat gendarme easily bypassed to the west
Looking back towards Castleabra (photo by Abe)
Home stretch (photo by Abe)
Abe gets his money's worth
Rare sticky rock (photo by Abe)
Airy little headwall
Unlike Castleabra, the summit of UN 13550 has pencils in the register--a clear win for common sense--and Abe signed the hell out of the log. We ate some figs (Yes, figs. The Turkish Terror never leaves home without them.) and then started the ridge to UN 13162.
Twin Lakes and Teocalli Mountain from the summit of UN 13550
West of UN 13550, the ridge drops steeply away in rotten ledges from the summit, and we were quickly convinced to bypass that garbage (and probable terminal failure) on the south side. Here an easy dirt and scree traverse brought us to a notch above a deeply inset but regrettably dry couloir, and thereafter we stayed on the ridge crest for the remainder of the descent.
Looking back at 13550
Conundrum Creek basin
At 12800', we traversed across the north side of a 200-foot bump and regained the ridge. From here the ridge settled down and we mostly hiked up to the narrow summit of UN 13162, where we immediately puzzled over how to get down the west side. It's quite steep and loose, and it took us awhile to unlock it.
Last bit of fun en route to UN 13162
(photo by Abe)
Summit ridge looking towards Castle Peak
Descending the west side of UN 13162
We then found ourselves at a prominent notch just west of the summit, where a time check forced us to choose between the next mountain, "Triangle Peak," and a succulent burger at Little Annie's in Aspen. We can only pray that history not judge us too harshly for the decision we made.
Parting shot of UN 13162 (photo by Abe)