| Castle-Conundrum Double
Just a quick note for those heading to Castle/Conundrum soon. Will post some pics when I get home.
Travel: If you plan to come in via Independence Pass (closed in winter), allow plenty of time. The road is narrow--at times unexpectedly reduced to one lane, and there are plenty of bikers. I folded in the mirrors for much of the west slope descent.
Accomodations: Could not get into Aspen for less than $300/night last year. At the suggestion of another forum contributor, we booked into the Mountain Chalet. Though a bit dated, it is perfectly located, has lots of amenities, and is a very good value at $125/night.
Starting point: I brought the H3 on this adventure, so the plan was to start at the Pearl Pass junction around 11,200'. It could have made it to the end of the road at 12,800, if this were a SAR excursion, but my purpose was an "official" ascent. The 12.5 mile drive from the roundabout west of Aspen is on an excellent road. Watch out for the numerous bikers on this road. FR 102 is clearly marked and the main paved road is barricaded at that point--so you cannot miss it. 2WD passenger vehicles can make it about a mile up FR 102. Regular 4WD SUVs can make it to the river crossing another 1.3 miles up the road. Recommend serious off road vehicles past the river crossing. There are some good sections, but many nasty sections also futher up that can easily gut many SUVs.
The hike up to the end of the road is just a steady slog--kind of like on Antero, Princeton, or Hermit. Beyond that, you will be challenged with repeated sections of talus, scree, and snowfields--thereby slowing rate of ascent considerably.
What I was glad I brought: Garmin GPSmap 60CSx, one trekking pole, ice axe, rain pants & jacket. Had some brief pellet snow at about 1:00P.
What I wish I would have brought: crampons.
The ascent of Castle requires crossing fields of talus, scree, and snow just to get on trail--and then that lower trail has some challenging sections of scree. Crossing the snowfields will go faster and can be done with higher confidence with crampons. Likewise, transiting out of the cirque, should you elect to glissade from the saddle. The scree-filled sections of the trail make the ascent somewhat more diffcult than other 14ers of equal rating, but the transit to the summit and across to Conundrum is well within the range of average, experienced hikers. We crossed over to the second summit of Conundrum to make it official, but if someone wants to lay claim to Conundrum via summit #1, OK by me. The difference in elevation is imperceptible.
But here is the "conundrum" in doing the double. Exiting off the loose east slopes of Conundrum will be dicey for many. The chute between the twin summits to the bottom of the cirque is very steep and would be a death wish for average hikers. That leaves a glissade from the saddle into the cirque or retrace steps back over Castle and back down the trail. We chose to glissade from the saddle.
The glissade approach is deceptive. First, one must downclimb some unpleasant scree the reach the remaining mid-July snowfield. In optimal conditions, the ride would have been a fun, controlled descent. Today, conditions were far less than optimal. My ice axe brake worked fine at first. Then, as I picked up some speed on the steep slope and crossed a series of snow waves and dispersed rocks embedded in the snow, my axe came out of the snow--for only a second or two at a time. But that is all it took to put me into a bumpy, uncontrolled (15mph) slide until I self-arrested near the bottom. Lesson learned, I performed the glissade on the lower snow just right. Hiking out of the upper cirque would certainly be more confident with crampons. Nobody wants to slide into "glacier bay" in the center of the cirque.
Overall, a pleasant and challenging day meeting up with "Gohigher" enroute.
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