This TR is a couple weeks overdue, but given the circumstances I'd like to share the great hike I had with Chris Gray (ChrisFol) the week before his hike in the Crestones.
After missing on getting a peak the weekend before, I had checked 14ers on Monday morning 8/20 to see if anyone was interested in grabbing a peak during the week. I found Chris's post, we traded emails and decided to leave that afternoon for Aspen to hike Castle & Conundrum.
After meeting at the T-Rex lots and heading west, we stopped for Chris's standard Subway sandwich that he often split up as dinner the night before and breakfast during the next day's climb. Rolling into Aspen and then up to the TH we managed to get the jeep up to the 11K foot mark at Pearl Pass road junction just as the sun was setting. We set up camp and shared a couple Odell's IPAs before calling it a night.
Up at 4:30 we managed to get started hiking the Castle road a little before 5. About 20 minutes up the road we hit what we thought was the first stream crossing, and followed the road up into the gorge. The road began getting rockier quickly and we were both surprised by the size of the rocks that began appearing under our feet. After another 5 minutes we seriously began questioning if we were still on the road that the route beta described. It was still dark and the battery to my headlamp was at kitten strength, so I couldn't see much. Luckily Chris's headlamp had the power of a car battery. His light illuminated large swaths of the basin that was quickly narrowing in front of us. After about 20 minutes of route finding we finally realized we had gone off the road and missed the series of switchbacks that broke away from the stream on the right side of the basin. We climbed up the right side of the basin and after a couple hundred feet or so located the road going up to Castle basin. On the way back down during daylight we saw how this easily happened since the loose gravel we were following at night looked just like the road we had stepped off.
Once on the road we made up time quickly and reached the top of the road by dawn. I had left my trusty 2ft sidekick behind on this trip and the further up we got the more thankful I was that I had. This entire hike was bad rock and would have been no bueno for my dog's paws.
top of road.
We climbed up the slope and reached the basin just below Castle by about 7:00am. The trail to the left up the basin was clear and steeper than expected. Once we reached the ridgeline we managed to move over towards the line right below the summit after a little route finding. We managed to summit Castle around 8.
Chris on Castle Summit Chris at the top of Castle.
After that we headed over to Conundrum which took about 45 minutes.
Chris heading to Conundrum S. Summit and
Chris posing for his free Which Wich sandwich Chris on top of Conundrum.
Summit of Conundrum looking back at the Castle/Conundrum saddle
We celebrated some early morning success and then headed down opting to take the gully down from the Castle/Conundrum saddle. This turned out to be a slew of loose dirt, some class 3 downclimbing, and riding through large amounts of moving rocks with every step. If I had read more ahead of time, we may have opted to return back over Castle rather than trying to descend from the saddle. This ended up being a significant time and energy drain on this trip. Once down the initial class 3 part Chris opted to go left along the side of the basin while I headed straight down and across the basin. We connected on the other side and made our way back down to the road and back to the Jeep.
Notes to Self on the Trip
- Read several TR's before going on future 14ers. Though I had glanced at a couple TR's nothing mentioned the terrible rock in the gully that descended from the saddle. I quickly found myself in unfamiliar territory with the amount of large moving rock that kept swallowing my legs.
It was a beautiful morning to be up there with Chris. The sun rose and illuminated the Elks with brilliance. Along the way up Chris reflected on the people he had hiked with from 14ers and how much he had enjoyed all his climbs with folks from this site. I feel lucky to have climbed with Chris, even if it was just this once. He had a love of hiking and exemplified the very best of this community and why we climb these hills.