Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  09/23/2008
Date Climbed:   09/07/2008
Author:  Always_Wear_Sunscreen
 Part 3 - Castle against the wind  

Part 3 - Castle/Conundrum

Stats (as reported by after uploading my track logs):

Distance: 8.12 miles
Elevation gain: 4140'
Time: 7 hrs 4 min
Peaks: 2 - Castle, Conundrum

After the previous glorious 2 days climbing Pyramid and Maroon Bells, I had one more day left of my weekend. Joe was going to do Castle and Conundrum, so I figured why not join him and make it a 5 peak weekend. We camped at Crater Lake since we didn't get back from the Bells travers until after 6 PM. We also didn't have alarm clocks, so we decided to pack out in the morning about 7:00 AM. Joe stopped by my site and then kept going to the parking lot figuring I'd catch up to him. I had a few things to do and left about 5 minutes later. I was moving pretty good on my way back to the parking lot when my daypack began sliding off my backpack. I had to stop and realign it and secure it in a better position. I figured Joe was at least 10 minutes ahead of me, so I hustled down the trail. I stopped at the lake to take a few pictures. I reached the parking lot and Joe was no where to be found. I saw his car, but not him or his dog.

After another 30 minutes or so, he and his dog showed up. He had to backtrack because he and his dog got separated. We looked at the routes and the directions to the TH and took off. We stopped at the 2WD TH to park Joe's car. Joe set his dog up with some food and water and then we took off up the 4WD road in my Subaru Outback. The road is quite good (2WD) for the first mile or so past the designated campsites. It gets a bit rougher after that. I was being careful and didn't hit bottom once. Then we reached the stream crossing. We stopped and got out to survey the situation. Joe was willing to stop and hike from here, but I looked at it and figured the Outback could make it. I drove down into and through the stream without a problem, but then came to the crux of the crossing -- the exit.

It was steep and had a few large rocks and a large rut to maneuver around. The first 2 attempts failed because of wet tires and lack of momentum, but on the third try, I was successful and made it without hitting bottom. After that, the road wasn't too bad and I thought I remembered something about a second stream crossing about 11000' where the road got worse. Well, we drove up to 11000' and saw an open spot next to a Hummer H3. So, we decided to park there.

We started hiking about 10:20. The first part of the trail is hiking up the road. Ugh! That wasn't much fun. All the way up to 12,800' we were on the road, about 2.3 miles and just over an hour. And from there to the summit, this mountain is nothing but rock. It was another gorgeous day, but the wind was incredibly strong and it seemed like we were heading straight into it. The trail across the boulder field at the bottom is very faint, but it's just a matter of getting through it to the snow fields and then intersecting with the trail leading up the ridge and then follow the ridge to the summit. From just above the end of the road looking straight up the middle between Castle and Conundrum.

Once off the boulders, the trail is still full of smaller loose rocks which made the hike more tiring. Or maybe that was because this was my third hiking day in a row. A view of this loose rock that makes up this mountain. The trail traverses up and across this rock to the ridge.

Joe had brought his ice axe and was planning to glissade down the bowl. We met several hikers on the way, a few with ice axes, and none of them decided to glissade down because of the steep downclimb to get to the top of the snow. A view of this glissade, the normal entrance is on the far right of the saddle in this pic.

As I wasn't looking forward to coming back over Castle on the return, I was looking at the mountain to see if there was an alternate route down. From far away, there appears to be a traverse from the saddle around the bowl to some gulleys full of loose scree. I figured screeing down these would be fun. As we climbed and got closer to the gulleys, I realized that screeing down them would not be too safe an option as what looks like small scree from afar became fairly good size rocks up close. Not something you want to try to slide down.

A view of Conundrum and the lake below.

As we started climbing the ridge, we came across this small section of class 4 climbing and decided to make this a class 4 route. We couldn't help ourselves due to the climbing we had done the previous 2 days.

We reached the summit about 1:00 PM, about 2 hrs 40 min from 11000' and about 1.5 hours from the end of the road, 12,750'. Once again we were treated to gorgeous views on an exceptionally clear day.

Gorgeous view of Maroon Bells, Snowmass, Capitol, and Pyramid.

I and Joe on the summit.

We took about 25 minutes to take a break and eat lunch on the summit of Castle before heading over to Conundrum. As we descended down the ridge to the saddle, we were taking a look at the possible other options to descending to the snow for Joe to glissade and also to traverse across the NW face of Castle to avoid reclimbing it on the way back for me. Well, the traverse options looked very sketchy once you get up close on them. I'm sure they are doable, but I don't think they'd be faster than the safer, longer route back over Castle. After surveying a few other options, we figured the safest way to get to the snow was the normal route. It was the least steep -- although, it was still quite steep and full of loose rock.

A view of the lake and crater below from the saddle.

We reached Conundrum Peak about 40 minutes later. We didn't stay too long here, just long enough to sign the register and take a few pictures. A panorama from the N to the E including the road and the trail leading to Castle.

On the way back, Joe and I separated at the top of the rust-colored gulley leading to the snow. I figured I'd keep an eye on him from the ridge to see if he made it to the glissade. About half way back to Castle, I took this pic of Joe still descending the gulley to get to the snow. He was definitely being careful.

And a zoomed out pic with Joe circled in red.

And about 8 minutes later, I took these shots of him brushing himself off about 2/3 of the way down the snow.

He's just a dot in this pic.

So, now I knew he was going to be quite a bit ahead of me, so I needed to make some good time. I re-summitted Castle and figured I'd be the only one up there, but there was a younger couple reaching the summit just as I did. We chatted a little and I headed down. The descent was more tiring that I thought. I think my knees were very tired and overused. I thought that once I got off the ridge, that I'd be able to do a little screeing down the traverse, but the rocks on this mountain don't lend themselves to screeing. So, my knees had to take all of the impact from the descent. Joe and I rejoined at the top of the road. Joe had only been waiting about 40 minutes, so I made pretty good time. We walked back down the road and made it back to my car at about 5:20 PM.

The lighting was pretty good for taking a shot at the waterfall across the way.

The topo jpg

The rest of the pics are here

Part 1 - Pyramid trip report
Part 2 - Bells traverse trip report

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Excellent Report and Pictures
09/23/2008 17:32
WOW You guys had a busy few days up there in the Elks. The pictures on all the reports area great!

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