| Conundrum and Castle
Road conditions: Most 2WD cars, driven carefully, can make the first half-mile. Personally, I wouldn't go any further than that. The stream crossing was no problem, though care must be taken on the exit. Water level was fine. After about 2.5 miles the road becomes rougher. As I recall, there were at least three or four rough sections that may give you pause, especially if you're in a stock truck like I was. At about 3.8 miles, or so (my odometer isn't precise and my wheels did some spinning), there's a washed-out section on the shelf road that has been crudely reinforced. Going up it was a little dicey, especially due to the fact that I don't have lockers so my wheels spun a bit (and any error would have sent us tumbling hundreds of feet down the slope). Going down that section, by the way, wasn't a problem. It looked like snow blocked the last section of road, so I stopped at the last switchback (12,550' / below the Montezuma Mine) so that I didn't drive all the way up there just to find the road blocked, and then have to back up the whole way down (on that sketchy shelf road, no less). As it turned out, the road is clear all the way to the upper "parking lot." One lone Toyota was parked there. Overall, it took us about 50 minutes to drive from the beginning of the dirt road to the switchback at 12,550'.
At 6:45 a.m. we started hiking up the road.
Beyond the parking lot, we started up some snow, which was pretty nice. We encountered some veins of ice, but they weren't bad. We ended up staying on the snow all the way to the Castle-Conundrum saddle.
As we made it into the upper basin, I noticed a huge "crack" in the moraine field, which seemed to contour the tarn. I joked, calling it a "dirt crevasse," but I took it seriously, and I suggested we stay far away from that whole area.
Here's a rough line of our route up to the Castle-Conundrum saddle:
Overall, the snow was pretty good. Not too soft; not too icy. But that all changed as we neared the snowline below the saddle. At first, the steepness challenged us and we had to employ spike plunges as we pushed directly up. And then, about 50 feet or so below the snowline, the white stuff became mushy and sloughy, and postholing became a problem.
But it got worse after we climbed above the snow. I ended up climbing up the muddy slope with my crampons, which seemed to help, and I stabbed the pick of my axe into the mud for purchase. Without my axe and my spikes, I doubt that I would've been able to get up that gnarly slope. Jen struggled up to my left.
At 8:30 a.m. we gained the saddle. At that point, both of us decided we wouldn't be going back down that way.
Here's a shot of Jen, taken from the saddle:
BTW, within that photo, you can see the large "dirt crevasse" that I mentioned earlier. And as we learned later, someone fell through some snow the previous day and had to be rescued. To my relief, he (Vince) made it out with just minor injuries, with the help of some friendly climbers. If you look closely (in the above pic), you can see a small black hole in the snow.
At 8:45 a.m. we gained the summit of Conundrum.
This is where I performed my non-scientific study …
You see, Conundrum has two summits – South and North – which are split by a 50-foot notch at the top of the Conundrum Couloir. USGS maps mark an X on the South Summit (and give it an elevation of 14,022'), but the north summit is really the true summit.
So, for my test, I set my GPS on the rocks of both summits, and let it "adjust" for a few minutes on each one, to get the most accurate readings possible. I also checked my altimeter on each summit.
Here are the results:
GPS = 14,055'
Altimeter = fluctuated between 14,058' and 14,062'
GPS = fluctuated as low as 14,058' and as high as 14,063', but hung out mostly at 14,060'
Altimeter = fluctuated between 14,058' and 14,062' – same as it did on the South Summit
There were some strange optical illusions as well, adding to the mystery. When I stood on the South Summit and looked at the North Summit, it seemed like they were equal. But when I viewed the South from the North, the South Summit appeared to be higher.
Bottom line, these peaks can't be very different from one another in elevation. The North Summit is most likely a bit higher, but maybe no more than five or ten feet.
Castle viewed from Conundrum:
The notch between the South and North summits of Conundrum (Jen circled):
Us on the summit of Conundrum (top photo: Bells, Pyramid, Snowmass and Capitol in the background):
After hiking back to the saddle, we endured a surprisingly tough ascent up to Castle. There were some airy pitches but the difficulty stayed at class 2.
Conundrum, viewed from Castle's shoulder:
That area is just teeming with incredible views.
At 9:45 a.m. we gained the summit of Castle Peak. It felt good to be back … in good weather this time.
Our descent was enjoyable … and as colorful as ever.
On our way down, someone said, "I recognize you guys," or something to that effect. It turned out to be iceman, I think he said, from 14ers.com. We talked for a moment and had some good laughs about how we have finished, and that we can "cheat" now and drive to the ends of roads … but, then, being tired and delirious from oxygen deprivation, I made some dumb joke, where I asked him if he was going to give me a free GPS because I was wearing a 14ers.com shirt. I'm sure he was wondering what the hell I was talking about. I was, too.
After making some nice and slow glissades on the softening snow, we hiked the short stretch of road back to the truck with light rain beginning to fall on us.
At 11 a.m., I put 'er in 4WD low and crawled back down the rough road.
Back down in the valley, we noticed the aftermath of a pretty extreme avalanche. It looked like it started way up high on a mountain slope, far away, and it went all the way down to the creek. Whole groves of aspens were sideways or ripped entirely from their roots.
A waterfall on the side of the road:
Traffic was insane on the drive home. Sure, traffic on I-70 can be bad at times. But this was the worst I've experienced in six years (and I drive I-70 throughout each summer (hiking) and winter (skiing)). It took us well over an hour to drive the measly ten miles from Georgetown to Idaho Springs. Never seen anything like that ...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):