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Combination Route

 Castle and Conundrum
Difficulty Difficult Class 2 
Risk FactorsExposure: Considerable
Rockfall Potential: Considerable  
Route-Finding: Considerable  
Commitment: Considerable  
 
TrailheadCastle Creek
Start9,800 feet
Summit14,274 feet
Total Gain4,850 feet if you start at the main trailhead
3,350 feet if you start at 11,200'
RT Length14.5 miles if you start at the main trailhead
8 miles if you start at 11,200'
AuthorBillMiddlebrook
Last UpdatedOct 2022
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Trailhead

Take Castle Creek from the roundabout just west of the center of Aspen. Drive 12.5 miles (paved) to the Castle Creek trailhead. To the right, Forest Road (FR) 102 continues all all the way to 12,800'. Good-clearance passenger cars can drive about 1 mile up this road to reach the dispersed camp sites along the road. If you want to shorten your hike by parking higher, you must have a 4WD vehicle with good clearance. From the lower trailhead parking area, proceed to a river crossing, at 1.3 miles. In spring and early summer, this crossing is a challenge for some 4WD vehicles. At 3 miles, reach the Pearl Pass junction and stay right on the Castle Creek 102 road. If you drove up this far, there are a few parking spots near the junction. The road gets worse as it ascends into Montezuma Basin all the way to 12,800'.

Route

Follow Castle Peak's Northeast Ridge Route to the summit of Castle . From the top, Conundrum Peak is clearly visible to the northwest - 1. Begin the traverse by descending northwest down Castle's northwest ridge - 2 and 3. As you descend, it quickly becomes clear the ridge holds plenty of loose rock. Continue down and pass some rock outcroppings along the way - 4. About half way down the ridge the pitch eases a bit ( 5) as you make your way toward the Castle-Conundrum saddle. Continue along the ridge crest and then along the left side ( 6) to reach the saddle (13,790') - 7 and 8.

From the saddle , the route up Conundrum's south ridge is fairly obvious - stay near the ridge crest and follow trail segments up through loose rock and small ledges to reach the summit ridge - 9. Hike up a short distance, pass a rock outcropping ( 10), and continue to reach a flat area - 11. Above this area, the terrain gets a bit steeper but the difficulty does not exceed "Difficult Class 2." Look for trail segments and breaks in the rock which provide easy passage - 12. Continue to reach the south end of the summit ridge - 13 and 14. Conundrum has two "summits" and the true one is to the north. Hike to the middle of the summit ridge to reach a notch between the two summits - 15. Drop into the notch, cross the flat area and climb the final pitch ( 16) to reach the summit - 17 and 18.

Return to the Conundrum-Castle saddle - 19. Now, for your descent into the upper basin. If the pitch between the saddle and the small lake is not completely snow-covered, don't descend that way. It's a common shortcut but without snow it's a dangerous, unpleasant descent on unstable terrain and the safer option is to reclimb Castle Peak and descend Castle's standard, northeast ridge route. If the pitch is snow-covered and you want to take this direct descent, pull out your axe and begin your descent - 20 and 21. Before reaching the small lake, stay left and traverse along the side of the basin to avoid getting too close to the lake - 22 and 23. Continue northeast out of the upper basin, descend the headwall and walk back to the road - 24.

Notes

IMPORTANT: This route enters the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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