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A rest day. Or what would pass as one, a half day with two of the easiest of Colorado 14ers. Castle Peak is a CoHP, the Elk Range HP and a P2K. Conundrum is a lower, nearby cousin with little prominence, but considered a CO 14er. With our 4WD vehicles, we could drive to the upper TH at 12,800ft with Castle and Conundrum each less less than a mile from our starting point. Starting at 6a, it took us an hour to make our way about 5mi up the rough, rocky road from our campsite along Castle Creek. As one of the tougher drive, I let Tom do the driving today. The weather today was just beautiful, starting with almost no clouds, filling up maybe half the sky by late afternoon, dissipating by sunset. No real threat of rain today. I wore just a t-shirt from start to finish with fine, cool temperatures. Views the whole day are nothing short of spectacular - no hiking in the brush or trees on this one.
The standard route goes up the basin east of, and between the two summits, then either climbs a snowfield to the saddle between them, or up a use trail through the talus up the side of Castle's NE Ridge. We used neither of these options, choosing to use the snow-free route up Castle's NE Ridge from the TH. We carried ice axes in case we ended up choosing a snow route on the descent. The NE Ridge starts off with a bit of class 2-3 scrambling to reach a long stretch of rounded, grassy ridgeline. This then becomes mostly rock about 1/3 of the way up. More class 2-3 scrambling up broken rock on the left side of the ridge, surprisingly enjoyable, takes one another 400ft higher to reach the ridge proper. One soon joins the good trail of the regular route coming up from the snowfield below. From here it's basically a trail hike along the fine ridgeline another 600ft up to the summit of Castle Peak. We took just under an hour and a half to reach the top. It was looking liking an easy day, to be sure. As the range HP, the views stretch across the length of it, some 15mi to Capitol Peak at the northwest end.
The ridgeline heading north to Conundrum is a class 1-2 affair, with a decent use trail covering nearly the entire half-mile distance. Ahead of the others, I paused at the lowpoint along the ridge where a solo climber was considering a descent off the east side to the snowfield below. He had been to Castle ahead of us and possibly Conundrum, too. He had no ice axe nor crampons with him and was hesitating since he couldn't judge the difficulties. Having no experience on this one myself, I was of no help other than to offer encouragement. He made his way down about 100ft of steep, crappy (but snow-free) slope to reach the snow, disappearing in the process. A few moments after Tom and Eric had caught up with me, the solo guy appeared glissading down the snow slope - he at least showed that it was possible for us to descend that way, and we had ice axes for added safety. I had another idea for our descent, but kept it vague while we were still climbing up to Conundrum. There are two summits to Conundrum, the southern one being slightly lower. This is the one that is reached first with a short class 2-3 scramble needed to get between the two summits. After reaching the higher north summit soon after 9:30a, we took a break to wallow in our easy success, take in the outstanding views, and consider our descent. It was the latter I was most interested in, having studied the mountain some during our ascent to Castle. I was of the opinion that we could go off the NE side, finding a mostly class 2 route back down to our vehicle, making a nice loop of it. Unfortunately, one can't see much of this route from Conundrum's summit. Tom, having also eyed the route earlier, reached an alternate conclusion, thinking it was fraught with cliffs and a bad idea. He was in favor of using the standard descent to the snow where we'd seen the solo climber go earlier. Confounding the choices, there was no beta that we could find in either of the two guidebooks we had that presented this as a route option. I was going to try my route whether or not the others were interested, but was a bit surprised when Eric sided with me. He would have the most trouble if the route ran into difficulties, but he seemed more than willing to give it a try. This had Tom maybe second-guessing his own analysis, and when we were ready to leave the summit, we were all three on-board with it. Not surprisingly, the route ended up being somewhere in-between my non-chalance and Tom's more serious concerns. The route did work, but there were cliff bands to negotiate as Tom expected, some of this pretty spicy class 3. Most of it was standard class 2 fare, but we kept Eric in the middle as we went down the toughest sections and he handled these far better than any of us expected. We exited the rock along a narrow, descending ledge that landed us on a steep snowfield. We were happy to have our ice axes, the snow soft enough that we didn't need crampons. There were other obstacles, nothing worse, thankfully, and some wasted time as I chased down a subsidiary ridge that left us cliffed out. But the route worked quite nicely, getting us back down to the jeep in a little over an hour.
It was well before noon when we collected ourselves together at the jeep. I had in mind Malamute Peak as a bonus peak, a 13er less than a mile from the road. The others decided they'd had enough, but seemed happy to take it easy while I chased down the bonus. We moved the jeep about half a mile to the east at the site of the abandoned Montezuma Mine on Malamute's SW Face. They set up camp chairs under Tom's awning and christened the cantina while I went off to Malamute. I paid a visit to the old mine ruins before starting up an unpleasant talus slope leading to the ridgeline connecting Malamute with Conundrum. The ridge was only slightly better, still the same messy, loose rock, just an easier gradient. Thankfully it wasn't too much work, getting me to the summit in about 35min. I snapped a few quick photos looking north, east, south and west, then descended more directly off the SW side using a wide chute leading down from near the summit. From the top of this chute I noted an impressive-looking pinnacle on the northeast side that looked as frightening as it did intriguing, but only paused to snap a few pictures before dropping off the front side. My route took me past a tram station that once connected the upper mountain to the mine works below, then more talus and scree for another 400ft of so. Once at the base of the chute, I had to traverse out of it and around to the northwest to get me back to the Montezuma Mine and the jeep. I saw that the others had gotten curious and gone up to explore the mine works in my absence. I tried to stealthily return to the jeep without being seen but was discovered just as I was coming around the backside of it. No surprising them this time. They had set up a nice little outdoor patio with a view and were generous in sharing their cold beer with me. Not yet 1p and a beer in hand with a view - not bad...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Castle Peak - Conundrum Peak - Malamute Peak
This page last updated: Mon Aug 24 05:35:57 2020
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