| Cooking up on Castle and Conundrum!
Castle Peak (14265) & Conundrum Peak (14060)
June 21, 2008
Route: Conundrum East Couloir then Traverse to Castle
Round Trip: 9.5 miles, 8.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 4200 ft.
Hikers: KirkT, USAKeller and Comin2getcha
After working out all the details of our trip, USAKeller, (Caroline) and Comin2getcha (Lance) and I decided to head up to the Castle Creek trailhead Friday night after work. We met up and took off around 6:45 from Denver. They were driving a rental car so they followed me to Leadville where we consolidated into one vehicle before continuing on to Aspen. After transferring their copious amounts of gear... unreal amounts...into my Escape we continued on. Looked like an REI garage sale in the back of my car!!! We eventually arrived at the trailhead around 10:00 and set up camp. The temperatures were very pleasant, around 45 degrees with a clear sky and no wind. We drove up the road as far as we could to see where we would be starting from. Indeed it was as others had said, you could not make it any further than the first creek crossing. That water was raging! The weather was forecasted to be sunny, warm and no wind for the next few days. We anticipated excellent conditions. Lance and Caroline had plans to ski Castle and Conundrum, me on the other was only hiking. The alarm was set for 4am for a 5am start.
After gearing up and having a quick bite to eat, we started at 5:10. Lance and Caroline had extremely heavy packs with all their ski gear and such, me on the other hand was somewhat light in that department comparatively. The hike up the road was pretty unreal. There were some snow patches that were at least 4-5 feet tall in spots. But the biggest obsveration were the avalanche paths. There were several avalanche slide debris that covered the road. It must of been an unreal sight to observe those avalanches to occur. There were huge trees littering the road and fields. It looked like an atomic bomb had gone off. I witnessed a similar sight on the Nellie Creek road on the way to Uncompahgre earlier this year. The amount of snow that had fallen this past winter was incredible and has caused some pretty incredible damage in some areas. It's my opinion that the Castle Creek road problaby will not be opened all the way to the top at all this year. Even after all the snow melts, there are huge areas of debris that would needed to be cleared before it could be passable by automobile.
We made our way up the road in gingerly time. Not moving at an overly quick pace, we relaxed into a comfortable speed up the road. Caroline's pack was taking alot out of her with all the weight. After reaching treeline we came to a couple of various awkward slopes to cross. It was at this point, that Lance and Caroline told me to go ahead while she changed her gear and footwear. I continued solo ahead up into Montezuma basin. There was not a cloud in the sky, nor was the wind blowing. It was already beginning to get a little warm. After I reached the basin, I took a quick snack break, sunscreen lathering, then I shed all my layers. The sun was now very strong.
I studied which route I was going to take up the two mountains. Originally the plan was to ascend the Castle Couloir and then traverse over to Conundrum, then back to the saddle for a glissade back into the basin. As I approached Conundrum, I studied all the routes and decided to pick a direct ascent directly up to the summit of Conundrum. It seemed logical to me to ascend Conundrum first, then traverse to Castle and descend the Castle Couloir. So that's what I did. There were several different routes one could take up Conundrum that held snow. I decided to pick one that looked to have a complete snow line all the way to the top. As I started and continued up the couloir I could see Caroilne and Lance making their way up into the basin. This particular route was extremely steep and required my full concentration at all times. I was using my ice axe placement in front of me and taking several steps in between placements. The sun was getting pretty intense by now and the snow was beginning to soften. There was one place in the couloir that I climbed about 100 ft or so of class 3 to 4 scrambling on rocks in between snow paths. I eventually made the summit of Conundrum at 9:50. By this time Lance and Caroline had made it to the bottom of the Castle Couloir.
After a quick bite to eat and taking a few pictures, I started the traverse over to Castle at 10:10. The traverse went straight forward. There were a few patches of snow to navigate but it was about 90% free of snow. I could see that Caroline was sitting in the Basin at the bottom of Castle Couloir and Lance was making his way up the couloir. I continued up the relatively easy traverse over to Castle. The traverse from the saddle upward to Castle was totally snow free and dry. Did I mention it was hot!! The sun was intense and the wind was not blowing at all. I reached the summit of Castle at 11:00.
I looked down and could see Lance going back downwards into the basin. He and Caroline had wanted to ski very badly so they made the decision to forego summiting so they could ski while the snow was still in good shape. They strapped on their skis and started down back into the basin. I on the other hand was enjoying the fruits of my labor on top of Castle. Except for the intense sun, it was incredible weather for a 14'er summit. It was a bluebird day and crystal clear. You could see the rest of the Elk's and most of the San Juan's as well. I started my trip down at 11:20 and quickly reached the Castle Couloir. I chose to descend the first half down on the rocks but decided to switch back to my axe and start glissading down the couloir. It was fairly easy to control your speed and I was back into the basin in no time. The trek back down through the basin and down the road was pretty stright forward and uneventful. I followed Caroline's and Lance's ski tracks back to the road. The snow was very soft and the sun was again very hot. I made it back to truck at 1:40 right behind Caroline and Lance.
We drove back to our camp, packed up and headed back to Aspen. We ate lunch at a nice little Mexican restaurant in Aspen. Caroline and I both noticed that our arms were pretty red with sunburn. We met forum members Wesley and Brian (Lordhelmut) while we were there. They talked about their experience on Maroon. Crazy guys!! All in all it was a great day to climb in the Elks. Beautiful scenery, weather and even better company. Thanks for joining me. Only 5 more trips to finish!!
Caroline has always given me a hard time about my Texas accent. She taped a response on one of her questions she posed to me during our hike. She insisted I include it here!
First light on the Castle Range with moon overlook.
Incredible waterfall along road.
Caroline and Lance crossing one of the many stream crossings.
Avalanche debris along trail and road.
Lance and me up ahead going into lower Montezuma Basin.
Upper Montezuma Basin, snow covered!
First full shots of Castle.
The Couloir route I took up Conundrum.
My descent route down Castle.
Looking down the couloir I climbed. Caroline and Lance can be seen.
Finally, the Conundrum summit.
The majestic Elks. Bells, Pyramid, Snowmass and Capitol!
Castle and traverse from Conundrum.
Conundrum from Castle Peak.
San Juans to the South.
Lance climbing the Castle Couloir.
Lance and Caroline down in the basin!
My summit mug on Castle.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):