Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  07/07/2019
Date Climbed:   07/05/2019
Author:  redheadontherocks
 Alternative "NE Ridge" up Castle & S. Ridge Conundrum   

Now this was a Type 2 kinda FUN day!

Quick Stats: 10.5 miles, 3h08min to summit of Castle, 38 min to Conundrum, 1h46min down

YES, Castle Creek Trailhead is still blocked with avalanche debris. You can still drive about a mile past the 2WD trail head by the road. Book says from the bottom its a 11.8 mile round trip, from the true 4wd trailhead its 6.4 miles, and my day was about 10.5 miles. So you can do the math, thats not my thing. lol!

Pretty much all 14ers now
Avalanche was here.

The first few miles is a mellow grade of wide dirt road.

Wish I had my FJ Wheelin' up here...
Waterfall Photo Op

There was a cool waterfall and alot of water running down from that mountain. When you see a sign for Pearl Pass, do NOT take it. Stay right up towards Montezuma Basin.

Not Pearl Pass

I crossed a little river going into the basin. This is where the trail/road disappears under the snow.

I took this on the way back. The road/trail is on the right. I hiked up the snow field in the middle. Both get you there.

There were lots of foot prints in the snow leading the way up the basin. It was chilly last night and the basin must be in the shade. It was pretty solid snow. No post holing. To re-gain the trail you have to climb up the snow on the right side. Little slippery but still didnt put on any spikes.

Caption Here

Most of the 4WD road is still covered in snow but the trail just skirts on the left side of it. Along this part of my journey I past a few people. Another girl hiking solo and this guy John. Everyone is so nice out there! Y'all 14er folk are great. : ) I met Phil (?) and his son. Hooked him up with some sun screen and we talked about the route. He asked me if I was going to take the "couloir or the NE Ridge." The ridge is the "standard route", so I had planned on trying to get on that trail...this conversation later played into a decision I made that put me on a most alternative "NE Ridge" ascent up Castle...stay tuned...except for my mom...she should stop reading this. HA.

I scooted on ahead with no one else in front of me. Looking forward to being the first to summit that day and have some coveted solo time on the top. The basin and view of the peaks is gorgeous from the bottom. At this point the entire basin is filled with snow and I put on my microspikes and started following the other tracks.

TOTALLY know where I'm going at this point...

SO, looking up these tracks appeared to be going up the couloir. I looked back and didnt see anyone following me out this way (they might just have not come up into view yet). To my left was some rock and a "ridge". Hmmm....maybe the trail is up there I wondered.... I pretty much turned 90* to my left and straight up to the ridge line. I thought when I got up there I would see the trail and Phil and everyone else that was hiking behind me. I pushed on, mostly out of the snow at this point, and now climbing on some rocks. Still no sign of anyone on either side. "Where are they?" I wondered...I consulted my Garmin map and it still showed that Castle was right above me, so I decided to keep going.

hm, not supposed to be here I think

As it became more apparent that this was not the standard route I started having a conversation with myself that went like this: Well, I'm not "lost" right? That would mean that I don't know where I am or how to get back. I know exactly where I am, and could have absolutely turned around and gone back if I needed. So, no no, I was not lost...I was just on an alternative route. Yes, that sound much better. An unplanned trajectory towards the same goal. Perfect. Do I feel safe? Yes. Ok, keep going then.

Doesnt look as steep as it was.

The rock got steeper and required some rock climbing moves. I sure was glad that as a climber this was still pretty easy rock to navigate. I made sure all my holds were solid and any rock that I stepped on didn't move. I sure didnt need to go all Aaron Ralston out here (the guy who cut his arm off after a rock fell and pinned him underneath.) I was careful and calculated with all my movements. Within my comfort zone, and now what I would call true Class 4.

I'm totally cool, I swear.
Kinda a drop off

As I got higher I realized I was REALLY up on the ridge and now traversing the spine with sections that dropped off on both sides. AND I finally saw Phil and John and group down hiking up the snowfield that I had originally been on! I don't know if they noticed me up there and were wondering "What in the heck is that girl doing?!". I kept on climbing and was finally getting a glimpse of Castle and was hoping that I could get there from my route and that there wasn't some huge massive drop off that would prevent that.

Can finally see where I want to go

I started seeing faint signs of a trail and sign that I was not the only person to ever be up there. But my huge sigh of relief was when I FINALLY saw and gained the ACTUAL NE Ridge trail. Which looking back I could now see that the trail traversed well underneath the rocky ridge line. But I was going to make it, and still be the first to summit. lol.

I'm gonna make it!

I had a blast and totally relished a half hour on the summit. I was feeling a pretty good adrenaline rush from my ascent and 25th 14er!

Number 25!
Feeling SWOL (Camera timer success)
Crackin' a cold brewskie at the top!

All of my 14ers have been solo and I've been knocking out all the "easy 1/2/3" and frankly this summit was waaaaay more fun and interesting! I know my little blunder could have had a not so joyous ending, but it also made me realize how comfortable I am on the harder Classes and I well prepared to take on the harder peaks this season. (Who is with me!?)

Trying to show where I was up on
There is "my ridge"..versus the "trail"

Off to Conundrum! It was a little loose and steep down the NW ridge of Castle. But I was on a trail.

Trail down to saddle and up Conundrum

From the saddle I got to scope out the glissade potential for the way back down. Looked like solid snow and I could see someones tracks from the day before. Looked good to go.

Looking back at trail down Castle

The book calls the S. Ridge of Conundrum a Class 3. Pretty mellow I feel. You have to use your hands a little. I read that there were two points on Conundrum that reach 14k, and that there is a little flat area. I wasnt totally sure I was at the summit because it wasnt well defined so I passed it and kept going to what looked like the next highest peak. When I go there I looked back and realized I was lower. Took out my Garmin map and ah, yup, blew right past it. Wow. Pretty anticlimactic summit. Went back. Got my picture. Sweet, another one down.

Such a poser...
Just wanted to make sure I got it all

When I got back to the saddle and was getting ready to glissade a guy in running shorts and super light weight pack came by. (Matt) We talked about the glissade and how it looked like it could slide all the way into the water at the bottom. Footprints seemed to show it leveled off well before then. He mentioned about only having the shorts and I couldnt imagine sliding down this with all that snow going right up his running shorts (think about that one boys...yikes...) I pulled out my $.99 plastic poncho from the Army Surplus store and offered to cut it in half so we each could have something to sit on for the way down. He gladly accepted!

Matt got a good picture before I dropped off the edge!
It was as steep as it looks!
A look back at the fun.

It got pretty steep like going off the edge of a roller coaster. Snow had softened and it was a good ride and easy to stop. It was then a little hike out to the left across the snow field. Post holing was not bad. Had a few other areas that I could slide, but it wasnt quite steep enough.

Those things
Good to go

Once out of the snowy basin it was going to be a pretty quick descent with mostly the exposed 4x4 trail. Still some snow fields to cross over, but it was a much more direct way down than on the way up. It's amazing the trail that you miss on the way up! lol.

It was clear enough to run most of the last 3.5 miles down.

I hope no one is keeping track of how many of these things that I drink...

Siked to be home safe and sound at the FJ! Another successful summit day.

The real victory pose is at the BOTTOM not at the top.

My cooler was running low on ice, so I walked out to the avalanche debris and dug of some snow to ice some drink! :) That's how you party in 14er country! Cheers to all y'all 14er freaks!

Little bits of avalanche in there...that's how you know its good.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Entertaining Recap
07/07/2019 20:58
Thanks so much for the detail and the pix. I'll be out there next month and these two are on the wish list.

07/07/2019 21:03
Love your spirit!! ROCK on!!

Enjoyed Your Report!
07/08/2019 07:02
Years ago we made the same mistake going up that ridge. It did get steep and a little loose! And we didn't even have snow as an excuse. Oh well...cheers!

Nice report!
07/09/2019 13:59
Enjoyed reading your trip report. Nice to see another woman out there soloing these. I'm heading to Conundrum this week (did Castle years ago - skied off it - but didn't do Conundrum!)

07/09/2019 14:06
Thanks for the half poncho! Ended up glissading facing the slope, on forefeet and axe. The running shorts actually weren't bad, for the sections I did on my rear. But I'm mutantly warm.

- Matt

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