Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  08/16/2011
Date Climbed:   08/13/2011
Author:  ChrisM

 The Loop  

Distance: 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 3675 ft
Time to Castle Summit: 4 hrs 23 min
Traverse to Conumdrum: 1 hr 2 min
Total time: 9 hrs 37 min

Jason and I left Colorado Springs about 4:15pm and drove through Aspen near dusk. The TH turnoff wasn’t far from Aspen and we were able to go most of the way with some daylight. I was shooting for Dr Dave’s campsite, but either the Pilot or the driver (me) was unable to navigate by a big hole surrounded by two or three huge rocks. Nevertheless, we were at or near 11,100 which was a good starting point and an out of the way place to park.

This is what the roadblock looked like in day light. It was even bigger in the dark.

The drive through the stream, almost river, going up in the dark was challenging making a sharp left turn dodging two large rocks and plunging into the stream. The exit was mild. Going down the next day, it was the reverse, of course, but the exit was steep and more power was required to get out of the water.

At any rate, we parked, car camped and got ready for an early start the next day. It was a full moon and they’re great if you’re going to be awake, but trying to sleep with a full moon is almost like trying to sleep in the daylight. The alarm got us up and moving about 4am and we were on the road, by a little after 5am. The hike up the road was uneventful, although we could have made it real interesting if we had taken a left at what appeared to be a Y. We decided to go right and we were right. On the way down, daylight revealed that it was a fake Y and the left didn’t go very far.

The water/road combo probably added to our confusion.

I have to mention that on my all of my climbs, I read the 14er route description beforehand, probably brought a copy to the TH and may have taken it with me on the climb. On the last three climbs, Lindsey, Sneffels and Castle/Conundrum, I’ve not only taken the route description with me, but referred to it regularly, especially when running out of ideas. It’s like having an unlimited supply of lifelines and calling a friend. On the scene common sense requires use of all tools whether it be a map, route description (RD) or an ice axe. Some people are as good as Big Horn Sheep and don’t worry about routes, but I am a turtle. Turtles take the path of least resistance.

When you run out of road, this pagoda looking cairn greets you, but doesn’t point the way very well. Very aesthetic, however.

After consulting the RD, and putting eyes on the way up, the actual path was open for interpretation with the snow fields providing a blank slate. We stayed to the left side most of the way up.

The blank slate.

A look back.

A sunlit view of Castle and part of the ridge to Conundrum.

Showing most of the ridge between the peaks, you can see the down climb slide which is a reddish color. Photo by Jason

On our ridgeline ascent of Castle, I kept looking over at the “wall” which was the back of the basin and the top of the ridge between the two peaks of interest. I was curious how that loop thing that Bill mentioned was going to happen. There was one area where downclimbing seem possible, but steep was not the right word looking at it head on.

The advantage of not being first is to see which way is best. I was keeping an eye on a pair of climbers ahead of us. We watched them summit Conundrum and then downclimb to the saddle where the intersection of routes permitted the loop versus going back over Castle. They were at the intersection for quite awhile and then finally went down. So, it was possible. I felt a little relief. I loved Castle, but not that much to resummit and descend the same old boring talus ridden slippery ridge.

Nearing the summit of Castle, you can see the snow fields in the upper part of the valley, the trail traversing the side and the precisely placed mobi

The final pitch to Castle’s summit required some scrambling and pay attention moments, but for the most part just long and a little tiring. After all, Castle is an over achiever not satisfied with being just a little over 14K, it had to be 265’ over. I really didn’t notice the extra elevation, the route was so entertaining. We summited at about 4 ½ hours. Probably too long for some folks, but just right for us. The weather was bad the two days before our climb day and was supposed to be really bad the next day. So, we were ever watchful of the skies and never saw clouds, what few there were, ever try to band together and threaten the blue bird day.

Jason’s obligatory summit shot with the Maroon Bells in the background.

Conundrum from Castle’s summit. As you look at this photo, try as you might, the trail does not reveal itself just yet.

Chris' summit portrait. Photo by Jason.

Nearing the base of Conundrum’s saddle and at the intersect point to head down, you have a view looking back at Castle.

The ridge between them is somewhat exposed, but not dangerously so. The route down seemed pleasant enough so I was no longer concerned about completing the loop.

The final pitch for Conundrum. The way up is somewhat easier to find from this vantage point.

Jason atop Conundrum and not in one.

Chris on the top of a Conundrum.

Already down climbing the scree slope with a sketchy path that really blurs right before the cliff out.

Back to the intersection, Jason and I headed down. Now here is the part of this report that maybe worth noting. Looking down the slippery slope, we thought there was a sloped surface all the way down to the snow. There wasn’t. The slope was interrupted by a cliffed out area that blended in so well at seemingly all angles that we did not see it until we were there. We felt the gravitational pull as we traversed near the edge to determine the safest way to go. Three climbers behind us were taking advantage of not being first and saw an acceptable route and started going down. I watched two of them descend. Jason was near the edge and saw a possible way down that had been pointed out by one of the three climbers. Since I was closer to the route of the climbers, I went their way and Jason started going down as they suggested.

The RD for this part of the climb says: “For the descent, return over Conundrum's summit ridge and descend back to the Conundrum-Castle saddle - Photo #24. From the saddle, turn left (east) and descend snow or loose rock/dirt towards the small, high basin between the two peaks.” This description does not do this part of the climb justice. RDs are not railroad tracks that have all the answers and direction. Sometimes they are general in nature. I strongly recommend a few descriptive lines be added to make future climbers aware of what a snow free down climb is like.

This was my route. The third climber can be seen left with a blue helmet on the ridge line.

There were ledges and some steep steps but it was all good until the return of the scree! Jason waited until I was down, lest a rock plummet down and play dodge ball. Falling rocks were a big problem here. We had helmets on, but I still didn’t feel like getting hit by one.

The slope seen here is what you experience above and below the outcropping you see Jason descending.

Another shot of the route finding challenge. We voted this area the toughest on the climb.

It may sound like a broken record, but when a Big Horn Sheep person gives climbing advice, the recipient probably needs to put that factor into the equation before committing to that route. We were relying on strangers to help us, and they attempted, but it turned out not so comfortable. We were out of elevation and up climbing THAT slope might have ended badly due to gravity.

The down climb area of popular choice is right above the deepest gray (rock) area in the center.

That is scree that climbers have pushed downhill due to steepness and liquidity of the surface material. Looking at this bowl from down below, one can’t help but think this must be a mistake. There is no trail here. There was, but very difficult to navigate.

Glissading was outstanding. We managed to get three glissades in each.

This stretch went from right down to the rock on the left and then alter path, you can see the brighter snow where we slid. Several glissaders using the same path wore a nice channel out so the resistance was less. The mere presence of the rock kept sane glissaders’ speeds down. Once at the rock, you had to push off and turn left a little to go down the narrower snow field.

I witnessed one person, who was gearless, glissade down and become violently uncontrolled near the rocks. He just missed being a SAR story or maybe just a recovery. He appeared okay, but we were already more than 200 yds below him. He was in a group.

After the third glissade, it was time to unpack the iced up pants and underwear, put away the ice axes, find the road, and head down the long, long valley. At least on this mountain, the ATVs were not out and vehicles that made it past the Pilot were still nestled in their parking spots.

The Pilot (the one in the back) made friends while we were gone.

A parting shot of the view from our TH.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Thanks again
08/17/2011 15:46
Chris, thanks again for writing another trip report. Very nice job. It should be helpful to others.


Nice TR!
08/17/2011 16:28
Very informative pictures and narrative! Thanks for writing this up. I'm doing this loop tomorrow and I will bring a copy of your TR with me...


Great report
08/17/2011 20:21
Thanks so much for this. I'm doing Castle/Conundrum this weekend and your report gives me a lot more info.


Couldn't have said it better
08/18/2011 17:35
We did this loop on 8/10 and found it EXACTLY as you described. We even parked in the same spot! Great report. I am going to follow you for my future hikes from now on!

Doctor No

Thanks for a great writeup!
08/22/2011 16:35
Looking forward to this one on Saturday.

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