| Castle Peak (North Face Couloir) and Conundrum Peak- Castle Creek TH
Date: Saturday, June 9, 2007
Summit Team: BillMiddlebrook, USAKeller, and sdkeil
Route: North Face Couloir ascent (and Bill's ski descent), Castle-Conundrum saddle over to Conundrum, Castle-Conundrum saddle slope descent (USAKeller and sdkeil)
Total mileage: 9 miles
Total elevation gain: ~3,865ft.
Total time out (including stop time): 8hrs. 40min.
I've been itching to pick up Conundrum Peak ever since I was weathered off it after grabbing Castle Peak last summer. I had read that Bill was interested in skiing in the Aspen vicinity so I invited him to come with sdkeil and I. He said he was interested climbing and then skiing Castle's North Face- I had no problem repeating that mountain, especially if it meant a new route. With excellent beta from doumall's trip from last week, we were excited to go! sdkeil and I left the Front Range to meet Jcwhite (who was planning on skiing both peaks that same day) in Aspen for a quick bite to eat, then headed up the Castle Creek Road. We saw Bill at the designated campsites along the road (around 10,200ft.), just shy of the first creek crossing. He said he would give us a ride up in the morning to where a snow drift prevented us from going any farther (10,700ft.). We woke up at 3:30am and started hiking up the road by 4:20am (temperature: 36 deg.). Several sections of the road past the drift are mostly melted out. Jcwhite took off to meet some other people to ski Conundrum first. As doumall mentioned, most of this road up to the lower Montezuma Basin area is melted, but there are a few required snow traverses.
We arrived into lower Montezuma Basin at 6:30am...
...where the sun was beginning to rise. Bill and I in lower Montezuma Basin:
The snow was continuous from here up, but we did not find any need for flotation. We walked up to the rock patch in the center of the photo below (below the headwall) to where we put crampons on. I needed to continue to break in my AT boots and since Bill was skiing the North Face, both of us used this spot to change boots. I had also brought my skis, however, backcountry skiing is still new to me so I had not planned on skiing from Castle's summit. I was tempted to stash my skis here, but Bill urged me to take them up to the upper part of Montezuma Basin and practice skiing back down from there. So I did!
We began up the headwall, the weather looking great. A few parties were ahead of us, and a few others were behind us- it was a busy day on Castle and Conundrum!
Looking at the headwall towards the upper basin (climbers can be seen):
Our objective seen from the upper basin- Castle's North Face Couloir. The ascent route (and Bill's ski descent) shown in blue:
Conundrum Couloir from the upper basin:
We crossed the upper basin over to the base of the couloir and started making our way up, staying on or near the boot pack from the previous week. This couloir is no more than 40 degrees maximum, and covers around 750ft. (vertical) over 0.25mi meeting up with the Northeast Ridge before the final summit pitch.
sdkeil and I climbing up the couloir:
And Bill hands it to the North Face Couloir- topping out at the Northeast Ridge!
The final pitch to the summit (sdkeil pictured climbing)- although it doesn't look like it, there is some nasty snow and post-holing here:
We arrived at the summit 4hrs. 10min. later (temperature: 28 deg.) at 8:30am and met CincyBearcats from 14ers.com up there. It was windy with the occasional gust, but the weather was still looking great.
Bill, Shawn, and I on the summit of Castle Peak, looking west to the
Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, and Snowmass and Capitol (in the far distance):
A zoomed in shot of the rest of the Elk Range:
After a 45min. summit break, sdkeil and I started down the nearly snow-free Northwest Ridge of Castle (no crampons needed) over to Conundrum. We put crampons back on just after the low-point of the saddle.
Conditions of the Northwest Ridge of Castle Peak taken from 13,900ft. This photo also shows
another view of the North Face Couloir (upper part) on the left side of the picture:
The hike up to Conundrum involved some minor scrambling- it was good for us to keep practicing climbing on rock with crampons on. We made it to the summit of Conundrum in just under an hour at 10:10am (temperature: 42 deg.).
Climbing up towards Conundrum's northern "second summit":
The obligatory summit shots- USAKeller and sdkeil on the summit of Conundrum Peak with Castle Peak behind:
Cathedral Peak (13,943ft.) from Conundrum Peak:
It was warming up fast and the snow was starting to soften, so we started back down towards the bottom of the Castle-Conundrum saddle. The snow here was already pretty soft- we decided to downclimb the top half of it until the slope relented a bit and then we glissaded the rest for a relatively quick descent. I picked up my skis and skied down the rest of Montezuma Basin to where it meets with the road at 12,800'.
Shawn and I started walking back down the road to Bill's truck. We knew he and Jcwhite would be waiting for us, but didn't know for how long- we made it back there at 1:00pm; they were waiting for 2 hours! Bill drove us back to Jcwhite's car and we packed up camp. One of these days I will get a ski descent and I can't wait! Great weather. Great company. Great climb.
Bill, don't worry- I did not spend all night thinking about those bears you made me terrified of!!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):