Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,060 feet
Post Date:  06/29/2009
Date Climbed:   06/28/2009
Posted By:  JakeK

 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

Castle Peak

Making the final move to the summit

Ben reaching the summit

Views from the top

Summit shot

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!

Skiing down

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):

  • Comments or Questions

Nice     06/29/2009 19:08
Jake, I‘m jealous of the skiing. We had a fun experience on Lindsey, but no skiing. Check out my TR. Good call on the turnaround! - Keep it up dude.


Nice line!     06/29/2009 20:05
that exposure looked pretty hairy.


Well done!     06/29/2009 20:34
What time did you guys summit? I attempted Castle on Friday, but was turned back on the ridge about 10:30am when the rain and really gusty winds hit us. You guys had great weather compared to Friday. I didn‘t get to see either of the summits on my attempt.

My glissade mark is in your 6th picture (”Making our way up headwall”) on the left side. My climbing partner‘s is on the right.


Good job, good call...     06/29/2009 20:55
... I wonder how long that cornice is going to hang out there.


Cornice     06/29/2009 20:58
With how warm it was up there, probably not too much longer. Anyone headed up that way should be starting VERY early. I just hope no one is around when that thing goes (or they are on Castle Peak and get a recording of it falling).


Melting!     06/30/2009 00:32
Nice TR. Look at mine from last week and compare the melt. Pretty big difference. Can‘t believe it actually. Looks like it was still a good day.


Nice job!     06/30/2009 21:38
Sorry I couldnt join you - it was just too warm and late in the season for me to feel safe about going. Looks like you guys had a nice day. Maybe next year we could do a ski?



Stream Crossing     07/03/2009 12:23
I hear that the one of the creek bridges are out, and it‘s making it hard to cross the creek with a 4X4. Iwasn‘t going to drive up the FR but wanted to hike. Can you tell me if that is the 1st bridge (lower bridge) and how deep and wide was the creek crossing?

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