My plan lately has revolved heavily around taking on 14er routes that allow me to get the most summits for the mileage. I picked Castle and Conundrum this weekend because they were the only peaks in the Elk range I was comfortable tackling alone, I will return with a group to tackle the Bells and the infamous Capitol.
The approach to these 2 resemble the approach to Sherman, you hike a long a road about 4 miles up to 12,5000 ft. There were a couple pickup trucks and a handful of Jeeps parked at this point. In my opinion if you are careful with a standard 4×4 vehicle with decent clearance you could drive up to the end of the road and save your self a really boring hike on the road. The stopping point for a standard passenger car is about 1 mile up the road where there are a few camp sites and pull offs.
I arrived at the trail head around 10:00pm, grabbed a couple hours of sleep and hit the trail around 3:30 am under a spectacular full moon. The 1st 4 miles of the hike are pretty uneventful, even more so in the dark! There were a handful of other crazies taking advantage of the full moon, as I made my way up the trail I noticed a conga line of head lamps forming behind me.
Once you get to the end of the road the trail is marked well with carins. In early August I had to cross over 2 snow fields, these snow was frozen solid which made keeping your footing with out micro spikes a little rough. I conquered both of them with the assistance of my trekking poles, and by conquered I mean I fell on my ass a few times. You will gain a little ridge after the snowfields and a very distinct switch backing trail will come into view that will lead you up to the ridge and final push up to Castle.
The sun was starting to peak over the horizon about the time I was making the final push up Castle. Something about sun rises in the mountains are just completely breath taking, this scenery is why I do it, it’s the driving force that makes crawling out of a warm sleeping bag at 3:30 am possible.
Running on the ridge. Cairn takes awesome photos, glad she was there to photograph.
It took me about 3 hours to get from my car to the summit of Castle. I took a short break on Castle for some pictures and a snack and then started my journey over to Conundrum. I know all 14ers are hard, but wow the traverse over to Conundrum seemed like a walk in the park, it took me about 30 minutes to get between the 2 summits. I was expecting an Ellingwood to Blanca type of traverse but I was pleasantly surprised. 14ers.com does not have Conundrum ranked because you to not drop enough on the saddle between the 2 peaks. I feel comfortable counting it on my 30by30 list because its my challenge and I am not a purest by any means.
I took advantage of having the Conundrum summit to myself and ate my snickers and PBNJ and gave my feet a rest. You get a very unique view of the Maroon Bells, Snowmass, and Capitol from Conundrum as well so that is another reason to make the trip over if you are on Castle!
My trip back down was a pretty uneventful. The normal route is to go back over Castle and follow the trail back down, but I cut off 2 miles by just going down the East face of Conundrum. Honestly looking back on it, it was not worth the 2 miles I saved, the rock was slippery, that face of Conundrum is extremely steep in places and if you do not pick the route correctly you will find yourself sitting on top of some pretty precarious cliffs. I carefully made my way back down the basin and linked back up with the standard Castle route and made my way back out to the 4×4 road.