Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  06/29/2010
Date Climbed:   06/27/2010
Author:  James Scott

 Bluebird Day- Elks Finisher  

Castle & Conundrum- Standard
June 27, 2010
Miles: 11.8 miles
Elevation: approx 4200 ft (from first river crossing)
Years ago, two friends and I went into Montezuma Basin to climb Castle and Conundrum. We were inexperienced (which is a kind way to say we were idiots) and started at the trailhead at 9:30 AM. Needless to say, we summited Castle way too late and got run off by a storm without Conundrum. Sunday was my return to get them both. Getting to the trailhead the night before at about 10:30 was rough- I badly bottomed out my CRV on the 4x4 road, then had crazy dreams all night about glissading into a sinkhole and down into the center of the Earth. At one point, I thought I heard an animal under my car, and although I now think it was a dream, it was enough that I opened the door and yelled for it to get out of there. I probably woke up a bunch of campers in the area. Sorry! Alarm at 5AM, and I was off at 5:36.
6:10 AM
The road into Montezuma Basin is long, but not overly steep, and I made good time into the mouth of the basin. I was immediately filled with a really positive feeling, like there's nowhere else I'd rather be than right here. The road turned to the right, and the sun was just making it's first appearance.

looking up the road, mouth of Montezuma Basin
looking back down the valley to get here
a little further up the road
back down road toward mouth of basin
7:20-7:40 AM
I finally got to the end of the road and got my first look directly into the amphitheater- Castle is in the left corner, and Conundrum on the right side. There were two climbers on the left side, toward the top of the lower basin, making their way up the snowfield. I decided to follow their path. The snow was just about perfect at this time- soft enough to kick into, but no real chance of postholing. I kept my ice axe out, but clearly wouldn't need it if I was careful. I expected this to be more of a challenge than it was- I topped out at about 7:40 into the upper basin. The path to the ridge and the ridge looked completely snow-free. I would be able to stash my ice axe until the glissading fun! Meanwhile, up the scree path to the ridge.
First look into the amphitheater from the parking lot
lower snow fields- see the two people towards the top on the left
at the bottom of the steeper section of snow
a happy climber, into the upper basin, with Castle behind me
8:00 AM
I got to the ridge, just behind the two climbers I had seen, and got so excited. The entire length around the ridge is such a fun scramble- mostly walking, but just enough hand and foot work and some exposure to get your heart started. The first time I did this climb, it was far more of a challenge, but this time I just got a big silly grin, and took off.
On the ridge toward Castle
8:25-8:45 AM Castle Summit
After meeting some really nice friends from Highlands Ranch, I pushed on toward the summit. There are many great moments on a climb- tree line, hitting the summit ridge, but reaching an empty summit when I'm solo is such a satisfying time. Here, I was really impressed with how beautiful it is up there- the horseshoe basin with the lake (sinkhole?) and the snowfields stretching down, Conundrum just across the way, and the Elks laid out to the north. Since today would complete the Elks 14ers for me, I definitely took the time to remember the other climbs while identifying all the other mountains.
Castle summit moment
looking back down the ridge I'd come up
the full basin below me
Conundrum waiting for me
the Elks- Maroon Peak, Snowmass (background), North Maroon, Capital (background), Pyramid
me, on the summit, courtesy Jerry and Cindy
8:45-9:25 AM
The only unpleasant part of the route was coming off Castle, down a fairly steep scree path. Most steps I slid a few inches, and although it's not in the same league as Columbia's scree, it was good to get down below this. The saddle I would be glissading later looked pretty steep, but for now not to worry- I have Conundrum just above me. The path was easy to follow, and right at the edge of what I'd call class 2- some exposure and hand and foot work, but no real moments of fear.
Along the ridge
9:25-9:45 Conundrum Summit
The final Elks summit! The weather was just about perfect- some early cloud formations, but mostly beautiful blue sky, with virtually no wind. I got out my crackers, cheese, and summer sausage, and enjoyed watching the string of ants- I mean climbers- making their way to the upper basin and then to the ridge toward Castle. I'm guessing there were around 20 people following me at this point, a very busy day on the Elks. Castle looked so high across the ridge, and I was relaxed, so I didn't want to leave. Eventually Jerry and Cindy caught up, and after a few pictures, they decided to get the glissade out of the way before relaxing and eating. I left with them.
Castle from Conundrum
looking across to the path up to the Castle summit ridge
Elks finsher!
10:15 AM
The glissade did look steep, and the lake at the bottom of the slide gave me pause. The last thing I wanted was to go for a swim! Once I stepped into the snow, though, it was obvious it would be fine- very soft and although I used my axe to arrest, I would have been willing to do this with just "foot brakes" to slow me down. We skirted the lake on the left, and then did a second glissade down the lower snowfield to just above the parking lot. From saddle to lot probably took about 20 minutes.
"I slid down that, and now my butt is completely numb!"
at the parking lot, Castle and Conundrum behind
the last look into the basin
the long walk back to the car
Now the long walk back to the car, but I got that great feeling that I was in no hurry, and didn't want the day to end. Jerry and Cindy stayed to eat, so I got out some M&M's, took off my pants legs for shorts, and cued up The Grateful Dead- a titanic Scarlet>Fire from 1987. A huge smile on my face for the walk out!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
James Scott

07/06/2010 15:05
Maybe these animals are eating at our cars because they don‘t want us there. I remember a Robert Frost poem about a guy throwing an egg at a train as a symbolic act of hostility for technology encroaching on nature. Maybe this is along the same lines.
I thought you‘d said you took a ”Moose” home in your heater- that might be worth another poem or children‘s book. A moose in my heater...
I didn‘t really NEED any snow gear- I was glad to have my ice axe just in case, and I never really needed it. I didn‘t have snow shoes or crampons or anything else. I‘d try not to arrive at the snow fields before around 7-730 so they‘re not too hard.


Probably was a critter
06/29/2010 20:55
Last Tuesday we car camped at the last marked camping spot before the creek crossing. No less then 4 times that night we chased away a critter from a rear wheel axle. I believe it was a porcupine. It did not appear to have chewed on anything...but very I‘m sure we were to it.

Congratulations on finishing the Elks!


nice work...
06/29/2010 21:21
...finishing the elks!! is your colfax shirt a mandatory piece of gear in the elks?


06/29/2010 21:27
how deep was the creek running? i‘d like to make it to 11,200. i have a stock toyota tundra with pretty good clearance.

James Scott

06/29/2010 22:01
Rainier- I guess I don‘t mind animals hanging out under the car, so long as they don‘t chew up anything. I‘ve heard of that happening, and it sounds awful.

Good to hear from you Fleetmack- I usually climb in my Colfax shirt because it‘s one of just a few non-cotton shirts I have. If I wear cotton, I can‘t show my face around

DMCCool- I looked at that first river crossing for a long time, and to me, it‘s not so much the water as the climb out of the river and a couple large rocks in the way. Several trucks/jeeps made it past on Sunday, but I wouldn‘t want to try. It will test your skills. Once your past that, it‘s smooth sailing most of the way up.


Porcupine War
07/01/2010 03:45
We camped about .2 miles from the 2wd road. 2 slept in a tent, I in my vehicle. I woke up to something gnawing on my vehicle, got out and it was a porcupine, it didn‘t care that I was shining a light on it or tossing rocks, it just turned it‘s butt to me and tried to look scary. An hour later, he was back gnawing harder, and it was loud inside the vehicle. He was right by the wheel (brake line maybe?) and I hit him with a hiking pole. Didn‘t hear from him again and didn‘t see any damage in the morning or when I got back home.

My stock Pathfinder made it over the stream crossing, but it is at or over knee deep, especially in the afternoon. Might want to park at the first switchback after the 2nd crossing, it got a little tough after that and I parked on the 2nd switchback.


07/06/2010 01:43
I‘ve heard bad stories about porcupines, marmots and chipmunks eating rubber off of cars. They will eat brake lines, belts and hoses. Not sure what drives them to eat rubber. I‘ve seen some people wrap their cars in chicken wire to protect their cars. From Capitol I ended up taking a mouse home that made a nest in my heater/air fan inside my 4Runner cab. I turned the fan on high and it had the whole dash vibrating. Crazy beasts.

Did you guys need snowshoes for the trip?

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