Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,274 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,037 feet
Date Posted:  01/11/2016
Modified:  01/13/2016
Date Climbed:   01/10/2016
Author:  Yikes
 Its cold in the castle   

I wake up at 11 pm. Freezing. What am I doing up here in January?? I should be home in bed, warm, under covers. I roll over and fall back asleep...for 30 minutes. Rinse, repeat, more times than I can count. I wake up, less than refreshed. Put on the boots. Drink my coffee-in-a-can. And back up the trail.


My list of remaining Winter 14ers is shrinking. The remaining ones are the difficult ones, for the most part. With 16 days available over the holidays, I was hoping to attempt 3 or so, but the storm that hit Colorado just in time for Winter killed my initial plans. I couldn't handle sitting on the couch, so I occupied myself with some lengthy snowshoe trips near Lindsey, Snowmass and Breckenridge. At least I was getting some miles in. Just not adding to the tick list.

I was hoping to start the Elks with Castle, but hiking in the basin mandates a very stable avalanche forecast. With a late breaking storm hitting the front range on both days preceding the weekend, I stared at the Aspen Ski webcams, watching partly cloudy skies and almost no new snow. Last minute check of avy forecast, weather forecast and snow totals... Jeff and I decided to give it a go.

A communications snafu preventing our car pooling. I ran into Jeff as I was pulling into the parking lot. Fortunately I didn't have to worry how far ahead he was or if I would be able to catch up. The initial section is a long walk on a very flat road that is groomed by a snowcat. The hike up the 4wd road was packed down by skiers and snowmobilers using the huts near Pearl Pass, but there was about 4" of new snow from the prior night obscuring the tracks. We put on snowshoes at the creek crossing but didn't really have to break a trench in deep snow until Pearl Pass. There wasn't any evidence of trail breaking beyond that, so we had to put in a bit of effort lugging our heavy packs up the road.

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Jeff ready to give it a go

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Initial section up groomed road

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Starting up the 4wd road

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Road was packed by skiers but fresh snow overnight

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Time to break some trail at Pearl Pass


We broke trail a short ways up from the split, and set up camp just below the mine near treeline.

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Hiking up to the camp site

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Yep, that's my lightweight summer tent. Brrr.


After flattening an area for the tents, we headed up the basin, breaking trail to make the next day a little easier. I was happy we were able to break trail during day light, because it allowed us to better see the terrain and make smarter decisions about our route. For the most part, we stayed near the bottom of the drainage or slightly to the left, avoiding the slopes of Malamute. We did have a little difficulty with the snow flurries, which made everything white-on-white-on-white. We broke trail to 12,600', right below the final headwall to the upper basin.

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Breaking trail above camp near treeline

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Up the left side of the drainage, avoiding the Malamute slopes

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A bit of a white-out


A quick return to camp, a few calories for dinner and I jumped in the sleeping bag. It was much too cold to hang around outside. I took an Ambien, slept well for 4 hours and then tossed and turned until the alarm went off at 4:30.

Put the boots on, drank some cold coffee, checked the temperature (my thermometer was bottomed out at 15 below) and we started up the trail around 5am. We made our way back to the final headwall. The trench from the prior day helped conserve energy, but I'm not sure we hiked up any faster. Having reviewed prior trip reports, we knew several people have gained the upper basin through various paths. Not wanting to "explore" and feeling somewhat confident in the stability of the snow, we wove a route between rock bands near the summer route.

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Looking down at our trail below the headwall

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Views down valley

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Looking at the summer route


The trail up to the ridge was fairly windblown and didn't cause any difficulties. We hurried along, hoping to reach the sun which illuminating the upper ridge. After a quick break to warm up against a sun lit rock outcropping, we started up the ridge proper. There were only 2 spots which provided some difficulty, some steep rock scrambling to avoid steep snow slopes that dropped off precipitously to the valley below. I only used the ice axe when descending these section, where it was more difficult to downclimb the rock than it was to carve out a path through the steep snow. The wind was blowing pretty strong, not enough to knock you off your feet, but strong enough to create a biting wind chill. I'm not sure my fingers or toes ever warmed up.

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Heading up to the ridge

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The ridge

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Jeff summiting Castle

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What you should wear when it's this cold


We summited Castle around 10:30, took a little break and then started the trek to Conundrum and back. Other than a few spots of waist deep snow, it went fairly smoothly. We just took our time, moving slowly and cautiously. It took longer than expected to descend the ridge and rejoin our snowshoes.

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Heading to Conundrum

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Elks

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Elks

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Heading back over Castle

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Elks

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Conundrum Couloir anyone?

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Heading back down to camp; path up headwall

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The road to warmth


We were back at the camp by 3:30 and packed up quickly. At 4pm, we began the long march out. Once we reached Pearl Pass, skiers had packed the road down, so it was a just matter of stumbling out the many miles back to the car. Back to the cars at 6, near collapse, and drive the 3.5 hrs home. Fortunately the roads were dry and there wasn't much traffic that late at night.

Castle - beautiful in winter, but you definitely need to earn your admittance to the views.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25


Comments or Questions
goingup
User
Awesome
01/11/2016 21:17
I have really loved watching your winter journey. You're like stealth ninja winter 14er summiting monster. Out there under cover getting them all done. I would still love to get out with you sometimes.


Tim A
User
Congrats!
01/11/2016 21:20
Incredible pictures! I can only imagine the exertion needed to put a trench in through that lower basin leading to the headwall. I don't know if I'll ever be comfortable with hiking through Montezuma during calendar winter, but the imagery with all that snow certainly makes it tempting. Nice lighting for your summit pictures as well. From what I can see, you avoided the road when it gains the southwestern slopes of Malemute and stayed lower in the basin? In IMG 22, is the road off to the far right out of frame and above?

Best of luck with finishing the winter list!


fepic1
User
Very Nice!
01/11/2016 21:42
I enjoy reading about your adventures Jim. Amazing what you have accomplished since Princeton
a few years ago. Congratulations!


benners
User
Schweet
01/12/2016 07:37
Nice lookin outing there Jim! I love that area during snow season. Those views from the top look spectacular


dsunwall
User
cold
01/12/2016 10:57
-15, that is very cold, makes me want to wait for March. I'm guessing the forecast showed a little warmer. I have found camp to generally be colder than forecast.

Congrats on getting it done!


Otis
Way to go
01/12/2016 21:05
Castle and Conundrum were the last 14ers I did in late October. That's strong hiking, especially when you have to break trail. Loved the views from the top in full winter. Thanks for posting!



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