This is my first report, so please bare with me.
We hiked Castle Peak on Saturday the 12th with a 60% chance of 1-3"snow predicted for that morning and rain and a slight chance of thunder for the afternoon. We thought that if we woke up and the weather was bad that we would just stay in our warm hotel bed, but as we awoke at 510am we found the conditions not cold or wet but just about perfect for a summit of Castle.
We began hiking about an hour late at 7am; we were able to get our Volvo wagon about half way between the low clearance parking area and the first creek crossing, which made for a little over 11 miles round trip on my Garmin.
Our first small view of Castle
Just after we saw the last of the tire tracks
The hike up the mine road to the snow field was fairly uneventful, however it's clear that once you get to 11,000 or so there is no way that a normal 4WD vehicle could go much further, it's clearly been many years since anyone has made it up to the 12.8K parking area.
Once we reached the snow field/ 4WD parking area we were certainly glad to have brought the crampons and ice axe, for as you can see from picture 3, it made for a far more pleasant ascent of the incline to the bowl between Conundrum and Castle.
View of the climb ahead with John the only other person to attempt or summit the 12th.
I definitely would suggest bringing crampons for at least the next week or two or until more snow melts off.
A view of the Castle from the bowl.
After a short break we climbed the class 2+ Northeast ridge route to the summit.
The Class 3 couloir to Conundrum still has good snow, for those interested.
The scree on the route was fairly loose in places but for the most part it become more stable as you climb through 14K.
Typical scene from the route
Up till this point the weather was beautiful but about the time we hit the summit (right at noon) a snow storm blew in from out of the southwest, a little late but with a definite intensity.
You can see the Maroon Bells, Pyramid and Snowmass way in the distance.
So, without saying too much to our new summit buddy, John, we decided that glissading down the northwest route seemed like a better route than climbing down the northeast in heavy wet snow. Unfortunately, the slopes of Conundrum amplified the wind and snow to create some real nasty white out conditions during our passage from 13,800 to 12,800. The return down the snow fields was an easy and fun glissade return when our sunglasses weren't frozen over. When we got below 13,000 at around 12:40pm it looked like about 2-3 inches had accumulated in the depressions.
We were happy to get out of the bowl!
The hike back to the car was as uneventful as the hike up, except for some sleet, rain and not another person in sight. We made it back to our comfy Volvo at about 3:15pm, for a ~11.15 mile hike in 8hours 15 minutes. For the most part I would say that it was a great early season summit.
Thanks for the company John!