Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted: 
Date Climbed:   09/03/2005
Author:  SarahT
 9/3/05 up NE ridge, down NW ridge  

My friend Estelle had 25 14ers under her belt and it was high time she paid a visit to the magnificent Elk Range. Even though I had just climbed Castle Peak this past July I agreed to do it again as long as we could hop over to Conundrum Peak this time (last time I'd been hiking for three days and was too tired to visit this unofficial 14er). Our newfound hiking partner David also joined us for the weekend.

We departed Boulder around 5pm on Friday and after fighting our way through heavy traffic we reached the Castle Creek trailhead around 10pm. The numbered campsites were all occupied but we found an acceptable spot up the road near 10,900 ft.

We starting our hike up the rest of the 4WD road at 4:30 Saturday morning. You'd think it would be hard to lose the trail when it's a road and you've been on it before, but somehow in the dark we ended up following a creek bed after the road merged with it before making a switchback. We quickly realized our mistake and climbed a short but steep bank to get away from the creek and back to the road. We could see two headlamps that seemed to be much further up the creek and not making much progress. As we continued along the road, the headlamps slowly made their way back down the creek. We guessed that they were a little lost and had probably made the same mistake we had. Although they were quite far from us and we weren't sure they were within earshot, we shouted out to them telling them how to get back on the road. We later ran into them shortly before the summit and they thanked us for our help.

The sun started to rise as we neared the end of the road. We climbed a gentle snowfield up to around 13,400 ft in Montezuma Basin. The snow was very hard but it had many good bumps and dips making it very easy to climb. We then followed Castle's northeast ridge trail without incident to the summit which we had to ourselves for a while. I found my name in the register from July 4th and was surprised that this peak hadn't seen more traffic since then.

After a short break we headed down Castle's northwest ridge toward Conundrum Peak. After an easy but scenic stroll across the Castle / Conundrum saddle and a short climb we reached Conundrum's lower 14,022 ft southernmost summit. From there we descended a bit, passed by the top of Conundrum Couloir and climbed to the higher 14,060 ft summit where we found a register. We stayed only long enough to take some pictures before heading back to the Castle / Conundrum saddle.

The plan was to re-climb Castle Peak and descend the way we'd come but we'd seen two guys descend the icy, rocky snowfield below the saddle. One guy carefully negotiated down the icy surface without an axe while the other quickly exited the snow and climbed down the nasty scree on the side of the snowfield. We also saw a group of two coming up to the saddle via this route, mostly sticking to the very edge of the snowfield. Even though this route didn't look too appealing, neither did re-ascending Castle Peak. David agreed to try to descend the scree off to the side of the snowfield and Estelle reluctantly agreed to put on her snowpants and slide down the snowfield with me. This snowfield no longer extends all the way up to the saddle so we had to deal with loose scree for a couple hundred feet. The snowfield was in bad shape - huge icy patches and rocks poking up above the snow. I quickly slid down into the basin, controlling my slide as best as possible by kicking the bumps in the snow to stop myself when I could. I suffered only one bruise on my butt from hitting a rock - well worth it in my opinion. Estelle entertained a group of 3 hikers descending the northeast ridge trail with her whining as she cautiously and apprehensively made her way down. After we all reached the bottom we agreed that this was a good route decision that saved us a bunch of time. I am not recommending this route, just saying its possible and may be OK for some.

We continued walking on snow pretty much all the way back down to the road. There were some excellent butt grooves we used to slide down on and Estelle had great fun with her first summer snow playing experience. The two of us had brought our snowpants for the occasion, but 3 hikers in shorts saw what fun we were having and decided to join the party, which they later coined the frozen buns club. We hiked back down the road with this lively bunch and, oddly enough, ran into them shortly thereafter at Boogie's Diner in Aspen. A very fun day!

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