| Crampons, jump turns, and knowing when to turn around
After some fantastic skiing on Missouri Mountain last weekend, we wanted to get at least one more descent. Castle & Conundrum seemed like the place to go based on all the recent trip reports.
We headed out towards Aspen on Friday night, and had an interesting drive across Independence Pass in some very foggy conditions. I got my Jeep up the 4WD road as far as the first stream crossing, which was too sketchy for me to attempt at night, so we ended up heading back down the road a bit to one of the campsites. By the time we set up camp it was already after 11pm.
The hike up to Castle/Conundrum is relatively gradual, although there were a series of stream crossings, and the water was really running from all the rain we got the day before. After getting over the headwall, our group split up. Ben and I were headed up Conundrum couloir, while everyone else took the SE ridge route towards Castle.
Conundrum was the first snow climb that Ben and I had ever attempted. We wore crampons, which definitely made us a lot more comfortable. You can hug the right side of the couloir in the beginning, but eventually have to climb in a section that is completely exposed to the HUGE cornice up at the top. Needless to say, we really pushed the pace through that section! The ski descent was somewhat technical and a lot of fun.
While the rest of the group was making their way up Castle's ridge, we started climbing the couloir just to the left of the peak. It was a very warm day, and after 15 minutes on Castle we were already sinking in up to our thighs on every step. It was getting close to our turnaround time, so we decided to stop halfway up the couloir. We just felt that the snow was no longer safe. I think this was the first time I've ever turned around on a mountain, and in a way, I'm sort of proud of myself for doing so. I have a tendacy to be a "push the envelope" guy, and even though there's probably a really good chance we would have hit the summit and skied down with no major problems, that's the line of thinking that eventually gets you hurt.
The (half) descent on Castle was a lot of fun, and the rest of our (hiking) team all made the summit of Castle. Another fantastic, warm day. Its actually starting to feel like summer. This was my first time hiking/skiing in the Elks, and I was impressed. I'll definitely be back there for some more skiing next season (and to check Castle off my list!!).
As always, I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story...
The first stream crossing wasn't passable (especially in the dark!) so we headed back down the road a bit and setup a base camp
A big storm from the day before left us with several stream crossings
Making our way up the headwall
Approaching the top of the headwall
First full view of Castle Peak
Ben leading on the lower section of Conundrum couloir
I took over and tried to push the pace through the "exposed" section under the cornice
Making the final move to the summit
Ben reaching the summit
Views from the top
Ben dropped in first. Our friends on the SE ridge of Castle snapped some of these shots from far away.
My turn to drop in... look at that cornice!
Jump turn, jump turn, jump turn....
We tried to stay high when exiting the couloir and traversed to the other side of the basin
I love the color of that water
Ben starting up on one of the main couloirs on Castle
Brian skiing down and joining us
Our turnaround point halfway up Castle, with the line we skied on Conundrum behind us
I got to make some turns first
Ben following behind me
Our whole team
We were able to ski quite a ways down before swapping out our gear and hiking back to camp
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):