Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  06/05/2007
Modified:  12/03/2009
Date Climbed:   06/02/2007
Author:  doumall
 Castle and Conundrum: Summit Ski Descents   

Castle Creek Road near 10,600'
Climb into basin below East Face, ski descent of basin back to Castle Creek Road
Climb of Montezuma Basin to summit of Conundrum via Conundrum Couloir
Summit ski descent of Conundrum via Conundrum Couloir
Climb of Castle North Couloir to Castle Peak Summit
Summit ski descent of Castle Peak via upper East Face to North Face to North Couloir

-Elevation Climbed: 5,100'
-Vert skied: 4,100'
-Mileage RT: 10.0 miles
- Round Trip Time: 9 hours 45 minutes

Route: climb blue, ski red

Checking out the East Face:

After reaching Aspen around midnight, Debbie, Prakash and I finally got to sleep on the Castle Creek Road around 1:30 am. With 4WD, you can make it to around 10,600' where drifts of snow block further progress. I was meeting up with two guys to attempt a ski descent of the East Face on Castle so an early start was mandatory. As Andy and Dave passed my truck around 4:30 am they woke me up to start the day. I was going to catch them after quickly getting ready. The latest plan I was aware of was to climb the East Face to check its condition and then decide if it was ski able on the summit. If not, drop off to the North.

After about 15 minutes I started high tailing it up the road to catch my partners. Debbie and Prakash were going to climb the standard Conundrum Castle combination route. I took the Pearl Pass junction toward the basin below the East Face route.

Looking toward Pearl Pass at early morning light

After nearly climbing trees through a steep and dense area of brush I found myself in the lower basin. I still hadn't caught those guys and couldn't see if they were waiting beyond the first headwall so I climbed it to around 12,000'. From here I got a really nice look at the East Face, but Andy and Dave were absent. Hmmmm, I realized they must have taken the standard route. A bitter sweet realization was that the face was melted out and not in condition to ski.

East Face Castle Peak

My focus shifted to catching Debbie and Prakash and hopefully Andy and Dave to ski in the Montezuma Basin area. Luckily I was able to ski back down to the Pearl Pass Junction around 10,960'. From here I walked up the road to 12,000' where I took out the skis and skins. Most of the lower basin is melted out. If you follow the road you can stay on dirt for most of the mileage to the 12,800', a few snow traverses are required.

Lower Montezuma Basin Conditions

When I reached the 4WD parking area at 12,800' I could see all four of my people climbing the headwall below upper Montezuma Basin.

The rest of the group climbing toward upper Montezuma Basin

We all regrouped in the upper basin at 7:20 am which is when I learned Andy and Dave decided to climb the North Face and then ski the East Face. Luckily I had the beta that the face was out so our plans changed.

Climbing Conundrum Couloir:

Conundrum Couloir was next in the queue. Together, the group climbed this delightful route to the summit of Conundrum.

Starting the climb

The snow conditions in the couloir were perfect for climbing with crampons and axe. There is a good spot for a break just before the narrowest and steepest section of the route which affords great views of Castle's North Face.

Taking a break on a ledge before the crux

The steepest section is currently around 47 degrees and the choke is around 15 feet wide. I have climbed it before and it can reach 50 degrees in the narrowest section depending upon melting behavior. Dave, a young strong skier from Aspen took over on the lead.

Climbing the upper section of Conundrum Couloir, Castle ascent and ski decent route marked

The cornice at the top of the couloir is easily avoided to climber's right. Later in the season this requires some class 3 rock work, now its well covered in snow.

Cornice at the top of Conundrum Couloir

The final climb to the summit of Conundrum required some class 3 rock work on rotten blocks. This was Debbies 46th summit and Prakash's first steep snow climb. The day was going well. The summit was covered in snow and still corniced over, another summit descent was in. Man, am I lucky or what? Cathedral is well melted out…


Skiing Conundrum Couloir:

I was able to make one turn off the summit above really exposed terrain to the east, then had to walk down 5 feet of bare rotten rock to the remaining continuous skiing all the way into Montezuma Basin. Andy and Dave aren't interested in this summit descent silliness so they skied from the top of the couloir. Debbie and Prakash headed over the ridge to Castle.

doumall skiing from the summit of Conundrum and down the Conundrum Couloir

Dave decided to drop the cornice and did so nicely skiing the route non-stop to the base of Castle's North Face. This was his 100th day on the season, congrats man!

Dave showing some steeze

Andy skied last, making fast turns down the perfect corn…

Andy killing it

We all skied over to the base of Castle's North Couloir for our next climb and ski.

Climbing Castle North Couloir:

Knowing I had a big day on Belford and Oxford the next day, I let Andy and Dave boot the North Couloir. The route doesn't exceed 40 degrees and is well filled in.

Booting the North Couloir

The sun was roasting us making reaching ridge seem like the light at the end of a very very long tunnel. Eventually it came…

Dave tops out on the North Couloir

I took over for the final stretch to the summit. We got a great view of the upper east face from here, which looked deceptively immaculate from this vantage. The snow through this stretch was really rotten, post holing to rock was the norm.

Looking up the final stretch on the NE ridge to the summit

Fine views of Castle's East Face and SE ridge from here:

Looking across the East Face at one of Castle's mesmerizing gendarmes

To avoid dangerous steep rotten slopes below the summit, we climbed through a brief rock band and topped out.

Andy enjoying the intoxicating effects of altitude

Sticks on the summit of Castle

The view of the remaining Elks: Capitol is a BEAST!

Skiing Castle into Montezuma Basin:

We considered skiing directly onto the North Face from the summit, but it receives early sun hit and getting slid through the upper section of this face would be really bad. Opting for the safer route, we skied down the NE ridge until we could traverse out onto the north face. About 50 feet from the summit, we cut out onto the face. The corn was perfect:

doumall skis off the summit and onto the North Face and the North Couloir

Dave, he hit mach 10 in the apron


Our lines, face shredded:

Met up with Debbie and Prakash at the 4WD parking lot, they had their best glissade ever.

A scenic on the way out:

 Comments or Questions

Hot damn!!
02/05/2011 00:22
Thanks for the pics and beta- just what I needed. Congrats on another few. This was an awesome trip report.


Good work
06/06/2007 15:26 keep em coming, still snow up there for sure.


06/06/2007 15:46
.... what a day!
Nice work!


11/30/2010 17:28
Looks like I'm driving to Aspen soon! Great work


08/28/2008 00:37
Awesome man!


awesome pics
11/30/2010 17:28
dude... I threw one of your ski pics on my report too. How's Hawaii workin' out for you guys?


06/06/2007 16:30
great pictures and report. just what we needed for our weekend trip to the area.


Great to watch
06/06/2007 16:36
I believe we watched from high on the NE ridge while you were making your descent off of Castle. I took a couple of pics from that distance; thanks for the nice closer ones.


easier route
06/06/2007 21:00
Job well done!
In your opinion, would ascending/descending the summer route (to the saddle between Conundrum and Castle) under the current conditions be an easier alternative to your route? Also, there appears to be quite a bit of evidence of wet slides in your photos. Did you see any slide activity while you were up there, or do you think it was occurring well after noon?


06/07/2007 00:52
Love that pic of the lines. Great photos! Looked like a great day weather wise. Congrats!


06/07/2007 04:37
...for all the comments and votes!

USA: Glad you liked it, have a sweet time this weekend!

Maverick: Hawaii sucks dude, never come here, especially on a company budget

CFTBQ: I remember seeing you guys, did your day end well?

Cincy: The NE ridge is easier overall in my opinion because it is more gradual and generally has less snow. However it does require slightly more involved rock work (class 2+) than the NW ridge. Climbing to the NW ridge saddle is a great intro to snow climbing, just start the climb toward the saddle by 7:30 am and you should be fine given the snow freezes well the night before. Dont linger too long on the summit, glisaide it by 9:30 am. Enjoy!


Thanks to you, too
11/30/2010 17:28
My wife and I are hoping to ski down from the saddle between Castle and Conundrum this weekend. Our skiing abilities don't quite match yours, so we're looking for the safest way down. We're both pretty slow, so we'll be sure to get an early start to avoid any avalanche potential. We really appreciate your advice!
P.S. I think we talked to maverick_manley at the Missouri Gulch TH on Memorial Day weekend. We skied down the summer route on Missouri without too much trouble, so hopefully this descent will also be within our abilities.

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