| Quite a conundrum...
Conundrum Peak/Castle Peak
July 12th, 2008
Route: Conundrum Couloir Ascent/Castle NW Route Descent
Round Trip: ~8 miles
Elevation Gain: 3000'
After a crappy ending to my week, I decided I needed some "me" time to reflect and recharge. I had been eying Castle and Conundrum every since KirkT, USAKeller and comin2getcha had climbed it a few weeks ago. I also was craving some more snow time, so I thought this combo would be just the ticket. I wouldn't be disappointed.
Main Entry: co·nun·drum
Etymology: origin unknown
1 : a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun
2 a: a question or problem having only a conjectural answer
b: an intricate and difficult problem
I headed out of the Denver Metro area early Friday afternoon, I-70 to Copper Mtn, over Fremont to Leadville, down 24 to 82, over Indy to Aspen. I paused on Independence pass to take a few photos.
La Plata from Independence Pass
South Side of Independence Pass
I cruised into Aspen, picked up some last minute supplies (beer) and started up the Castle Creek road. Even though I grew up just a little over and hour from Aspen, I had never been up Castle Creek. What a treat! The Elks just seem to box you in as you climb up through Ashcroft.
This must have been one mother of an avalanche!
Waterfall near the wood bridge.
I found a great camp spot just up the road from the Pearl Pass junction. After setting up my tent and caching some beers in the creek, sustenance was in order. I had tossed some Ball Park franks in the cooler, with some potato salad and macaroni salad... visions of a picnic, dancing in my head. Unfortunately, even though I had a fire ring, I had no fire wood. I was too lazy to head back down the road, so I guess boiled dogs would have to do.
Just like a day in the park!
After dinner, I decided to go for a quick walk up the road, just to get a feel for the grade and take some pictures. I soon learned that a simple class 2 scramble becomes a class 3+ when you are wearing Teva sandals...
The creek at timber line
I awoke at 4:45, dressed and hurriedly set about to get a warm breakfast. After a minor stove/fire/cussing incident, I was able to finally get my Peak 1 to behave. I think it's time to retire this 29 year old stove.
I started up the road at 5:35. The views of this basin are spectacular and the Alpenglow didn't disappoint. I made quick time up to the headwall, where I donned my crampons at 7:00.
Alpenglow in the basin
First views of the headwall
At the bottom of the headwall
After caching my poles and a Gatorade in the creek, I was on my way up the headwall. The conditions were great and the crampons had the perfect amount of bite. I worked my way up climbers right, as I wanted to top out near the bottom of my objective: the Conundrum Couloir. At the top of the headwall, Castle looms across the basin, and looks very intimidating.
View back down the basin from the top of the headwall
At the bottom of the couloir, I put on my helmet, adjusted my equipment and prepared for the last 700 feet of my climb.
The Conundrum Couloir
This give you an idea of the pitch. About 45 degrees or so just above the apron.
Self portrait with the "swimming pool" in the background
I had read that the couloir probably doesn't exceed 47 degrees, however, for very short pitches, it felt like it was in the mid 50's... probably just a result of uneven melting.
Looking down from about the halfway point
BD promo shot
View up the couloir from about the halfway point
Flowers on the west wall of the couloir
Looking down the couloir from the top.
I topped out at about 8:30, and was greeted by Bill, James, Caroline and Lance. They were coming off the summit of Conundrum. I didn't recognize Bill without his ski gear on. They continued on down to the saddle, and I made the short scramble up to the summit of Conundrum.
Conundrum Peak and traverse:
I only spent a couple of minutes on Conundrum, as it was just a way point in my day. I snapped a few pictures, and took off for the saddle.
Caroline and Lance crossing the ridge towards the saddle
When I arrived at the saddle, Bill, James, Caroline and Lance were gearing up to descend the snowfield.
Caroline and company descending from the saddle
I took off up the ridge for Castle. Along the way, sporadic wild flowers had a tenuous hold in the dry scree and talus.
Flowers along the ridge
I ran into atomlane about 100 feet below the summit of Castle, we chatted for about 15 minutes. Nice meeting you Anthony.
I enjoyed a few minutes on the summit with Patrick (Patinator) and his dad, Martin. It was great meeting your guys. Patrick, your dad is quite the inspiration. We took photos of each other. Then PSU Man arrived. We snapped more photos, visited for a couple of minutes and then he was off, as his friend was still somewhere on the NE route below.
North into the Elks
West towards McClure Pass
The parapets along the ridge between Castle and Conundrum
Patrick and Martin scrambling up to Conundrum Peak
I glissaded/plunge stepped down from the saddle, then down the headwall. The trip out was quick, with a short stop to collect my trekking poles, and my ice cold Gatorade.
I was back at my campsite at 11:45, collected my beers from the creek and broke down my tent. The trip down the road was uneventful, but seemed to take forever. I was ready for a cheeseburger.
Another great day in the high country of Colorado, and my first taste of the Elks... at least since I was a kid skiing at Aspen Highlands.