Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  07/15/2010
Date Climbed:   07/13/2010
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise
 Castle & Conundrum Peaks  

Castle & Conundrum Peaks

Peaks: Castle Peak, Conundrum Peak
Routes: Ascent via bowl, descent via NE Ridge
Date: July 13, 2010
Length: 12 miles
Vertical: 4500 feet
Total RT time: 5.5 hours
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise


"I'm feeling mighty lonesome
Haven't slept a wink
I walk the floor and watch the door
And in between I drink
Black coffee
Love's a hand me down brew
I'll never know a Sunday
In this weekday room"

When Ella Fitzgerald sang Ray Charles' bluesy tune, "Black Coffee," she didn't know that all you had to do was climb a 14er in summer to see all your friends! (Hear Ella at Yeah, well, what about when a guy needs some quiet time? (Guess that's what 13ers are for!) I couldn't believe all the folks up there on a Tuesday. Not that I didn't enjoy the company - and met a couple of very cool folks on the way down.

OK, I guess you can tell I don't have a whole lot to say about these two peaks. Except that they're checked off the list. Well, that and maybe the road would be a fun XC ski in winter - maybe next March or April, when the approach can be done on skis and one of the couloirs can be done as a snow-climb. Really, I've wanted this one since we did Snowmass in May, but it just didn't happen in time for great conditions. In fact, the conditions were a little spooky if you ask me. More on that later.

ImageThe Wrangler-Bronco team walks up the road as cotton candy rolls over head.

The Vehicle

I arrived at the first stream crossing, and, heeding Bill's admonitions, decided to walk from that point. It was a couple years ago that I figured the Honda Pilot would be a safer car, and a lot more comfy on the aging spine - but I sure miss that Grand Cherokee with the Bilsteins and big AT tires. Darn that Honda - anything that doesn't have 4-Low can't be a real 4wd, right? After getting it stuck last February on the 390 road - in the track, no less - I've been thinking I need a 4Runner like everybody else.

Those rocks on the far side of the stream crossing sure looked like stuff I'd have done in the old Jeep - and not something to tackle in a puffball SUV that's a reworked family mini-van. This is especially unfortunate, because I actually got up at 4:00 am for this - from the house, anyway. So now it's about 8:00 am, and the blue sky is occasionally splashed with low cotton-candy clouds brewing over the peaks at this early hour, testament to the NOAA forecast out of Grand Junction.

ImageLooking back down the first steep pitch beyond the road.

The Weather

The NOAA guys (back when there was money to pay them to talk to us) told me that the GJT, PUB and BOU guys were pretty much all supposed to agree on things, but that once in a while they didn't play nice. Today was one of those days. Here's a tip. Take a look at the point forecasts around Climax, Colorado - The three forecast areas converge there. If they're all in agreement, that's usually a good sign. If they are not, then it's best not to take on anything where you really need a long clear day. True, sometimes conditions are different west or south - but by checking all three forecasts for roughly the same area, you can ferret out the "spin" each forecast office puts on the basic GFS models.

I once asked them, what the heck does X% probability of precipitation mean? Does it mean that X% of the coverage area will get rained on? Or does it mean that there is X% chances for the whole area to get wet? There is really no good answer for this - but from a practical standpoint, I've learned through the years that when they say 20-30% in summer, it means a 50/50 chance of storms. 30% or more means it's more likely than not to happen. 40-50% means you're almost safe from lightning, because it's going to be raining all day - no thermal drive. I've also learned the Junction guys love to say it's going to be clear and sunny a few days from now. Then as we get closer, they'll put in the real forecast. I've been nearly certain it's because the beautiful people in Aspen want nice weather.

So when all three were saying a nice weather window for Tues/Wed this week, I figured to heck with driving there the night before - I'd just drive from home, head up late, and not worry about storms - till the Junction guys bumped pops to 30%. The Denver-Boulder office was still saying clear; Pueblo compromised at 10%. Sometimes it's best to just look out the window. With that concept in mind, I decided to head out and see for myself how things were shaping up.

ImageBase of Conundrum Coilour.

The Route

It's 8:15 am. I'm milling around at the car where I'd parked just before the first stream crossing. A Jeep Wrangler and a Ford Bronco drive by. I'm thinking I should stick my thumb out. By 8:25 I'm crossing the first footbridge and wondering, really, how much faster are they going to drive up a "nasty" road than it would take to walk? I don't wonder long, as the road looks so good after the creek crossing that I almost go back for the car. By 9:05 I'm at the upper creek crossing and there's a stock Honda CRV parked there. Dang. But the thing that really gets me is the Subaru Forester, stock, all season tires, at the Pearl Pass turn-off. OK, that does it, the Honda's getting a work-out next trip!

I find the Wrangler and the Bronco parked at around 11,800, about an hour after starting from the first creek crossing on foot, and wonder how much time they saved driving. Apparently not much, because I find the occupants on the road before it ends at 12,800. So I'm feeling better about my lengthy morning stroll, but not so good about the developing grey-bottoms that keep rolling overhead.

ImageBase of the upper bowl.

The darkening clouds lend a definite spring to one's step in the alpine, and in a quick two hours I'm at the upper basin. I can't believe the sky looks so sketchy at 10:30 am. My goal is both peaks and start descending by Noon - an arbitrary goal, considering how quickly atmospheric conditions seem to be changing.

There's a lot of rock laying around on the snow at the run-out of Conundrum Couloir - and a few rocks are spitting their way down from the slopes just left of the col. It's late morning, but the snow is still so hard in spots that it's tough to drive the axe in. I figure ascending near the glissade track is a good bet - but not only is it trickier than anticipated, the last 100 feet up top is most unpleasant. Loose rock held in place by mud and dirt on a 40 degree slope about half a rope long. In the event of a fall, one could only hope not to get cheese grated too badly before getting to the snow to arrest. After completing this section, I was fairly certain I did not need to see it again any time before next Spring.

ImageCastle Peak. Two climbers are standing on the summit.

At the saddle, the weather starts looking serious. The winds kick up and the grey-bottoms darken. One can already see rain to the northwest; fortunately there's no lightening. It's 11:15 am, so I'm on track to get both by Noon, given just a little more mercy from the heavens.

I drop everything at the saddle and go get Conundrum first as a quick way to secure at least one peak this trip. The weather is still gaining ground, perhaps a bit more slowly now.

ImageLooking back at most of the ascent route.

ImageOn the summit of Conundrum Peak, as the weather begins to improve.


ImageGreybottoms to the NW.

Twenty minutes later and one peak in the bag, I'm back down at the saddle. It's decision time. Downclimb that 100 feet of steep loose rock, dirt and mud? Or humbly ask passage over Castle for the ridge descent? The memory of that nasty section below, conspires with desires for the summit. I make quick work of the climb up Castle's northwest ridge.

Needless to say, the summit celebration is not terribly leisurely, given the circumstances. Still, I'm here before Noon, and conditions appear to be improving. The wind has died down; the sun has come out briefly. I'm not looking askance at this gift from above, and get started down the NE ridge. The route is completely straightforward. To my surprise, the Wrangler-Bronco team is making their way up the ridge. I'm happy for them, as the weather is turning for the better - though I begin to wonder if my earlier concerns were ill-founded. Meeting up with some folks that skipped one of the peaks due to the weather concerns, I realize I wasn't the only one with an eye on the sky. How often have all of us been there! We know it can sometimes be a fine line between drive and reverse.

ImageOn the summit of Castle Peak.

ImageCastle's fun NE ridge.

ImageThe upper basin seen from the NE ridge. I took the line up the glissade track to the saddle at left.

The descent is uneventful, sunny, warm, beautiful. Back near the car I bump into Brandon and Marcy - they just moved to Colorado Springs this week, and have been on 14ers for a while. Great folks. They offer a ride, but I'm nearly back at the car, the sun is out, I'm enjoying the walk, and get some shots of the wildflowers near the first stream crossing.

ImageBrandon and Marcy sitting on the rock at the first stream crossing.

All in all, not a bad day, but over way too quick. There's still plenty of daylight, and the weather is cooperating. I toy with the idea of hitting La Plata on the way home, but the comfy seat, and the slow cars now behind, make a strong argument for getting to dinner at a reasonable hour.

ImageLots of wildflowers near the first stream crossing.



I must confess that this final image was not taken on Castle/Conundrum, but rather the next day, on Pikes Peak. Hope you like it!



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Nice job!
02/05/2011 00:22
I‘ve been wanting to bag Conundrum, did you use crampons at all going up that wall/glissade track? Do you think another few weeks might make the rock scramble at the top a little less torturous? And that scramble was straight up to that lowest point right?


11/30/2010 17:28
Thanks. Yeah, I had all the tools this time and actually used them. Love it when that happens. Crampons and axe for the snowclimb - you bet I kept the points on up that loose stuff to the saddle! Poles and spikes for the dry loose stuff on the ridges. Though spikes were not necessary, I often use them on dry loose dirt.

At the base of the bowl while cramponing up, I saw a fellow descending - my first clue was that he did not glissade. He actually plunge-stepped and traversed to the loose rock over by the base of the col. That didn't look very fun.

I should clarify that most of the snow was reasonably good. Yes, the last hundred feet were up to the lowest point in the saddle, where the glissade track starts. You can see the line in image 12.

Edit - no, I don‘t think another few weeks would make the upper section any better. The snow route is probably better done a little earlier in the summer - from here out I‘d probably ascend the ridge. It‘s a pretty fun ridge with great views.


Nice job!
07/15/2010 21:10
I‘ve been wanting to bag Conundrum, did you use crampons at all going up that wall/glissade track? Do you think another few weeks might make the rock scramble at the top a little less torturous? And that scramble was straight up to that lowest point right?


07/15/2010 21:12
Don‘t know how that happened!


Beautiful photos ...
07/15/2010 21:20
Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


Great pics!
07/15/2010 21:43
Poetry. I was riveted to your story, wondering if you were gonna make it or not. Haha, glad you did!


More fun in the snow!
07/15/2010 21:45
”maybe the road would be a fun XC ski in winter” - You don‘t actually take the road, the stream valley is much easier for the ascent/descent. And yes, it is an awesome ski. One I must return for, to get Castle from the top!

That last photo is nice!


Castle‘s North Couloir...
07/15/2010 22:02 one of the funnest days in the mountains I‘ve ever had, bergsteigen. I HIGHLY recommend it, generally around May maybe?

Hoping to get up there soon before more snow rots out to get Conundrum from the saddle and maybe double back to Castle to get that one again and ascend the ridge route.

Doctor No

Nice work!
07/15/2010 22:38
Love the photos - especially the lake shots. I could look at alpine lakes for hours.


07/16/2010 01:10
Very nice Jim! Super nice photography!


07/16/2010 01:47
Thanks, all.

Now, I have to say that I blew it on my Prime Directive to have the presence of mind to get the camera out when I‘m gripped. You‘ll notice no photos of the entire snow section to the saddle.

Ah, well - the prospect of a summer storm and tough snow conditions ain‘t the same as riding the bike by some flowers on Pikes Peak and stopping to photograph Mr. Bee.

I keep having to remind myself that the crux section is the best one on which to get the camera out when there‘s a paw to spare!


08/02/2010 22:34


Question about mileage
11/30/2010 17:28
Did you start at 11,200 feet then? according to Bill's route it should be 8 miles total and you mentioned 12. The truth is that it is confusing as it is explained in the route page and I can not figure out the mileage from there.

Nice report by the way!


07/16/2010 04:27
No, I started at the first stream crossing - just below, actually, at around 10,100 feet. Bill gives two start points - the lower one is where the TH actually starts at the end of the paved road. Not too tough to drive up the dirt road to the first stream crossing. If you have a map, note that the first stream crossing is just below 10,200. The second stream crossing is at 11,200, if I recall correctly. Bill has 14.5 miles RT from the paved lower TH - I drove about a mile up, so that eliminates about 2 miles RT - hence, the 12 miles. Interestingly, it did not feel like a slog on the way back. Goes pretty quick.


Great Report
07/16/2010 16:44
Thank you for this detailed and illustrated trip report. I am doing the exact same route next weekend and certainly appreciate the latest beta.

If you happen to be interested in my reports you may find them at

Thanks again,



01/05/2011 17:27
Nice job Jim!


07/17/2010 19:55
Great pictures and writing, as usual. Thanks for the report. It‘s fun to look a past places I‘ve been.

It looks like your still knocking ‘em out this summer. When do you hope to finish the 14ers?


07/17/2010 22:37
Jim - a great read as always. I‘m happy that you finally got up there. My trip will have to wait. But you‘ve whet my appetite (and made me drool) and perhaps this autumn as the leaves turn, I can combine a climb of C&C with a drive over Pearl Pass and Schofield Pass, a camp at Geneva Lake, and an ascent of either Hagerman or Snowmass from the South. The flowers will be gone, but the aspens will be on fire. Thanks for the beautiful report.


07/17/2010 22:53
Yeah, Kimo, I‘m bummed we didn‘t do that one together - our timing would have been perfect for snow conditions in the couloir. I needed to get out there and see if this knee was going to be a problem - short answer, yes - but I‘m not giving up. We have a few climbs to do, bud! Sounds like your Fall plans would be perfect timing for some brilliant photographic opportunities. Maybe we could catch Maroon together? Or head up the PLB and have a gander at Capitol and the Snowcap ridge - I was up that way in Fall of 08 and came home with some really great images. The Geneva side is always good, too! Stay in touch.

Sen - thanks, man!

Britt - thank you! I‘m taking my time on this - while the list-bug bit me this winter, there are lots of things to do in summer besides the warm-season-crowded 14ers. I‘ll probably finish this winter if I‘m up to tackling the tough ones in snow and ice. Nothing much else an alpinist has to do in winter but watch the sun go down at 4:30 in the afternoon. I love the solitude on difficult-to-reach peaks in winter, so I may try to get out and do a little more flyfishing this summer instead of finishing. That said, I‘ll probably look at a few more interesting ones while there‘s lots of light and we‘re in this great weather pattern.

Ben - thanks! Glad the TR was useful,and if you have any questions on conditions or whatever, feel free to contact me.


Excellent as usual!
07/18/2010 01:43
You never disappoint with your eloquently written and documented reports. I may have to get up C&C next weekend as my introduction to the Elks.


sweet pics & report..few ?'s if you don't
07/21/2010 07:56
awesome report along with pictures. Thinkn of hittn the Elks & C and C in 2nd week of Aug. So you drove from Front range? How long, & ideas on fastest route,(best way to Aspen area?) This will be our first Elks climb. You said you needed crampons&axe? b/c I will need to get those if needed. & I'd rather be prepared. Your time said 5.5hrs down and back? seems like good time! you must've been haulin. did u glissade some? saw the lines in your pics...just looking for some other tips when we make the drive you think conditions will be in mid-Aug...Thanks again in advance...All the best to your future climbs

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