Trail Report - Castle and Conundrum Peaks - Colorado

August 27, 2019

Written by Paul van Valkenburgh

Showing Small Pictures    

Trail Report - Castle and Conundrum Peaks - Colorado
7.7 Miles Round Trip
3639 feet of elevation gain
Date Climbed: August 27, 2019
Climbers: Matt, Erin, Paul

Looking Back At Castle Peak From Conundrum Peak

Castle and Conundrum Peaks! The Elks Range in Colorado is generally considered to have the most difficult 14ers to climb, and Castle and Conundrum Peaks serve as a great intro!! While they may be the easiest in the range, these babies still pack a punch!! There is a long 4WD drive approach (which you likely end up walking part of), a tough ascent into a high-elevation basin, followed by a sloppy side-wall ascent leading to lots of ridge climbing! The whole day includes plenty of difficult class 2 and a sprinkling of class 3 climbing.

The year prior, while climbing Mt. Sneffels, I met two fabulous friends, Matt and Erin from Denver!! Matt is originally from the UK so he speaks with this oh-so-cool English accent! A year later we corresponded, met up, and decided to give Castle and Conundrum a go!! One of the best things about hiking / climbing are all of the great friends you meet and Matt and Erin are no exception! In the short time we have spent together, we've gotten to know each other well... and the camaraderie of watching out for each other that happens when you climb difficult peaks only hastens the friendship!! You are trusting these people with your life, and in Matt and Erin I trust!!

The 4WD Castle Road is about several miles long ... good thing I had come equiped with my Xterra! I was new to driving 4WD and Matt gave me some great lessons. We made it up the rocky road crossing a stream and lots of rocks to our parking spot at 11,123'. From there we walked the rest of the way to start into Montezuma Basin, which was a good 2.5 miles of road walking... uphill but easy going.

Mining Road To Montezuma Basin

Paul And Matt Discuss Plan Of Attack

Once arriving at the Montezuma Basin, the first part of the basin is a steep slope and can have snow even in August, and with Winter 2019 snowing LOTS, there was still a substantial snowfield to cross. Once again, so happy to have my pal Matt with me who showed me how to saddle up my new microspikes as well as to use them! Matt, Erin and I slowly crossed the snowfield, then some more boulders up higher in the basin. At about 13,300', you begin to see the main basin area between Castle and Conundrum Peaks.

Snowfield At Beginning Of Basin

Snowfield At Beginning Of Basin

First Time Using Microspikes

Castle Peak And Northwest Ridge

To get to the actual ridge on the Northeast Ridge route of Castle Peak you first have to tackle a trail up the side / face of Castle. It looks nice in the pictures, but boy this trail is a pain. It's steep and it's loose!! Once the murderous trip up the slope is finished, it's time for fun ridge climbing! There is one large obstacle on the ridge where you might be tempted to go right, but for the most part, stay directly on the ridge all the way to the summit!

The Slope That Leads To Northwest Ridge

Matt Begins Up Northwest Ridge Of Castle

Matt And Erin On Northwest Ridge Of Castle

One Of The Obstacles On Castle Peak

Erin Sports A Move On Northwest Ridge Of Castle Peak

Matt Closer To Summit On Northwest Ridge

Mistakenly Tried To Bypass Object

Matt and Erin were first and then I made the summit of Castle Peak!! It never gets old taking those first steps onto the summit of a peak you have worked so hard to climb! The summit views from Castle are fantastic with views over to the Maroon Bells and across to Conundrum, the next objective!

Matt And Erin Make Summit Of Castle Peak

Paul Makes The Summit Of Castle Peak

View West To Maroon Bells From Summit Of Castle Peak

Montezuma Basin Slope Ridge From Summit Of Castle Peak

View North From The Summit Of Castle Peak

Montezuma Basin And Alpine Lake From Summit Of Castle

Loving Life On Summit Of Castle Peak

Matt Enjoys The Summit Of Castle Peak

Matt Enjoys The Summit Of Castle Peak

The Summit of Castle Peak!:

The official description on 14ers dot com of the Castle-Conundrum Combo shows an exit gully near the saddle between the two peaks which will dump you back down into Montezuma Basin. We looked at this gully, which still had snow on the bottom part, in addition to completely loose-looking dirt on the very steep upper part, and quickly determined "no way!!". The consequence however would be that were we to make it to Conundrum, the way back would entail going back up and over Castle! Decision time (tick, tick, tick).. "let's go!!". And off we went.

The downclimb from Castle to the saddle with Conundrum was loose in a few places and a wee bit exposed, but overall not too bad. Matt, Erin and I picked our way through the rubble and down to the saddle. The way up Conundrum Peak actually goes very quickly. Once near the top, there is the sky-bride / cat-walk type of path that was so much fun!

Walking along the top of Conundrum Peak, we saw a family of mountain goats hanging out. I think we may have disturbed them a bit which was not the best, but they seemed to handle it in stride and just moved over a bit to let us pass. The summit of Conundrum Peak was awesome as well with more views out to the Elks and Sawatch as well as back to Castle Peak.

Erin Bypasses Obstacle On Way To Conundrum

Matt And Erin On Way Toward Conundrum

Erin Begins Route Up Conundrum

Matt Navigates A Section Up Conundrum

Granrly Terrain Off Ridge Up Conundrum

Erin On Conundrums Sky Bridge

Looking Back At Castle Peak From Conundrum Peak

Mountain Goats On Conundrum Peak

One Last Push To Real Summit On Conundrum

After a rest and a snack on Conundrum Peak, it was back over the sky bridge and back to Castle!! Uuugghh, not that we don't love climbing these crazy peaks because that's what we came there for (!!), but going back up and over a summit you already tackled just so you can go back to your car is well ... tough!! Matt is in super-great shape and Erin is strong, so yep, they kicked my butt back up Castle... but they were nice and waited for me at the top!

The Summit Of Conundrum Peak

Other Elk Range 14ers From Summit Of Conundrum Peak

Castle Peak From Conundrum Peak With Added Perspective

Matt On The Sky Bridge From Conundrum To Castle

Paul On Sky Bridge On Conundrum

Matt Says Hello From Sky Bridge On Conundrum

Matt And Erin Finish The Sky Bridge

Sketchy Down Couloir Into Montezuma Basin

We did it!! Well, except for the long trip down the ridge and loose gully to Montezuma Basin and then across the snowfields and boulders and then down the road!! Ha ha! After taking our time down, we made it to the road and celebrated with some high fives!! Our first foray into the Elks was successful!!

Beginning The Down Climb From Castle Peak

Matt Ready For Assist Off Class 3 Section On Castle

Scramble And Down Climb Off Castle Peak

To anyone considering this hike, bring your spikes, and don't underestimate the challenge. The mileage and elevation gain isn't so huge but there's a lot of loose terrain and ridge scrambling .. and if you go back over Castle, it's a tough day. We were happy to relax with some beer and wine in Snowmass when it was all said and done!!

Hope this has been enjoyable and / or helpful to anyone reading it!!


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