Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  09/18/2019
Date Climbed:   09/15/2019
Author:  ajnesvisky
 Castle and Conundrum - First Elk Summits   

First trip into the Elks, was hoping to cross the creek crossing to cut down on the length of the trip but in the dark I couldn't quite tell how deep the water was gonna be, so ended up camping out at campsite #9.

Hit the trail about 4:15am and it was a great morning not too cold or windy. Made it a mile up the road and ended up joining with another hiker and his dog. After finally getting up to the top of the road, we were able to see the considerable amount of snow that was still held in the basin. I wasn't sure how well the remainder of the climb was going to be as I didn't have any spikes, but continued on regardless. Crossed the small boulder field to the first patch of snow and (having not spotted the cairns off to the rocky, not snowy left side) climbed up the snow without much issue using poles. The headwall had much more snow, but there were some cairns off to the right of the snow (which, again, we did not see until the descent). We ascended half of the headwall on the snow before bearing to the left, staying on rocks.

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At the top of the headwall, there was a cairned section of talus rock leading us to the trail up the northeast ridge, not much snow in this part or anywhere along the trail up and across the ridge. Lots of snow held in the basin and climbing up the slopes. Summited Castle at just a touch before 8am, and then began making our way over to Conundrum. Descending Castle was very loose and rocky, almost fell a couple of times. Before ascending the ridge to reach Conundrum, we inspected the slope coming down from the saddle which many choose to descend. It was definitely steep and loose, but appeared doable without all the snow. There were plenty of cairns to guide us up the ridge to Conundrum, no snow except in the Conundrum Couloir. Summited Conundrum around 8:50am. First summit on both peaks was awesome and there were unbelievable views from Conundrum with the sky so clear, able to see every other Elk 14er from there!

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After descending back to the saddle, now came the tricky part of descending the unsnowed slope. The majority of this slope was loose dirt and rock, which required very careful steps. After getting about halfway, there were some solid rocks dividing the slope up a bit, nevertheless, it was tricky to navigate without slipping too much. The scree turned into talus rock and this is as high up as the snow climbed in the basin, and by this time it was extremely slick. We decided to glissade as far down as we needed to reach the talus rock to our left. There was a semblance of a trail in the talus which we followed back to the top of the headwall. After descending as low as the rock would go, we glissaded on a previously created path down to the small boulder field, and hiked the road back down.

Overall, route-finding was fairly simple, and the snow was less of an issue than I thought it would be at first. Excellent, very lightly trafficked day on these peaks.




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