Castle Peak - 14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak - 14,060 feet
Castle Peak - 14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak - 14,060 feet
|A castle too grand for a king|
Another trip report written on a cell phone, pictures will be at the bottom of the report.
Castle and Conundrum have been on my radar for quite some time. These peaks have gained quite the reputation in winter. Not because of their technical difficulty, but because of the potential for large and dangerous avalanches on the approach. Because of this, these peaks are typically only summited during windows of optimal stability.
This was my fourth week in a row of attempting to summit new winter 14ers. It should go without saying that I had been fiendishly keeping up with weather and snow conditions across the state. Sunday was looking like a perfect day to summit something, but what? Keyton and myself bounced around a few ideas. He contacted me a few days before we planned to launch and mentioned a recent CR from Castle and Conundrum. The photos made it look very doable. Up to this point, most of the central mountains in the state had received about two quality weeks of sunshine leading up to our trip. This seemed to bode well for safe passage through an area referred to as the valley of death…
A couple of days before the trip Keyton had managed to do something that no one else had been able to do… talk me into sleeping in my car in winter. I have a 20 degree sleeping bag that I always seem to be very cold in, even during summer and fall backpacking trips. I was hesitant to try it at first, but after piling blankets and even a comforter in the back of my jeep (take a few seconds to laugh if needed) I started to feel pretty good about it.
Once at Ashcroft, I noticed about 100 cars parked along the pull offs and parking lots at 10PM. No idea why. Some sort of rich people convention? Who knows. How the heck am I going to find anybody here! After several minutes of aimlessly driving in circles, I spotted some guy who beared a striking resemblance to a friend of ours who was supposed to meet us there. I mean he had the beard, the truck, a similar jacket… he almost looked like… wait, Noah?! I pulled up and hopped in his truck. He was in awe that I was able to locate him in all of this madness. He had no clue where Keyton and Carrie were. We had also noticed what appeared to be resort employees knocking on windows with flashlights telling people they couldn't sleep in their cars here… uh oh. No mention of that in any old TRs… what are we going to say? Can we convince them that we will be hiking in a few hours? Oh sh*t! Here one of them comes… okay okay I'll try and talk to them. Wait… that guy kind of sounds like… Keyton? Yo! What a weird way to make the meet. Everyone else slowly cleared out over the next hour, and we settled into our vehicles for a peaceful, uninterrupted, three hours of sleep.
To my surprise, I woke up feeling roasty toasty! A few swigs of ice cold coffee in a can, and I was ready to start the day. We made quick work of the first several road miles. We were at the turn off to Pearl Pass before we knew it.
We had tried to time it so we would be breaking treeline at first light in order to visually assess the slopes that we would be crossing. The timing was almost perfect. As dawn came upon us, we were greeted with the sight of a large avy slope looming off to climbers left. We gave this slope as wide of a berth as possible. Everybody was ready to turn back at the first sign of instability. With no signs observed, we felt comfortable to trudge onward.
We made it to the road easily enough. Most of the avy chutes were not looking very loaded. Our chances of safely summiting were beginning to increase. There were however a few factors working against us. The forecast was calling for totally sunny skies by this time. Instead we were greeted with light snow, cold consistent wind, and cloudy skies. Still, we persisted.
The final avy slope before leaving the road looked to be the most menacing. Feeling good about the snow we encountered so far, we decided to go for it. We went one at a time across this slope, just in case. I played guinea pig and went first. You probably figured this out by now, but I lived. Off to the headwall.
As we worked our way up the headwall, we noticed someone gaining on us fast. This person turned out to be my friend Preston! He was out bagging his 47th and 48th snowflakes. All of them solo. Pretty dang impressive if you ask me! The last time I saw him was about 2 years ago at a happy hour so it was great to catch up for a bit.
Castle's North East ridge was now right overhead. It was looking great! Heavily windblown, but enough snow on the rocky sections to keep it fun. We went ridge proper for probably 90% of the way. I love walking on thin snowy ridges. The epic views sure didn't hurt either. I was feeling totally in my groove. Do people still say that? Either way, I definitely was.
The crux was about 50 feet from the top. It was a short but fairly exposed class 3 scamper up some rock bands. Pretty easy, but super fun! Once on the summit of Castle, Conundrum was staring right at us. It looked rather inviting actually. Keyton and Carrie had skinned up to the headwall, hoping for some sweet turns on the way out. They were eager to get to that part of their adventure, so we parted ways here. Noah and myself continued on to Conundrum, with Preston already enroute.
The route to Conundrum was pretty straight forward. The only difficulty was due to an increase in windspeed. It wasn't terribly strong, just cold and annoying. I guess that's pretty typical in winter. The clouds that had broken for a bit earlier were also making a resurgence. We didn't linger on Conundrums summit due to the uncertainty of the weather. We had decided to send it back over Castle's summit, rather than commit suicide by glissading down the summer descent path. Decisions decisions…
The clouds continued to increase and light snow began to fall once more. We flew back to the headwall in no time. I was quite surprised how quickly this descent went! We kept eyes on Preston and he kept eyes on us to make sure everyone made it threw the avy terrain unscathed.
Around the time we reached the Pearl Pass junction, Noah spotted something that he found odd. He picked up a random screw and seemed to think it would serve a purpose later. I'll admit, I was pretty skeptical and thought little of it at the time. Once we were back at the cars, we noticed Keyton and Carrie were still hanging out in the parking lot. We all regrouped to bid eachother farewell. As I was getting out of my car, I noticed that Keyton seemed very excited. Turns out that screw went to his splitboard! Sounds like it was an important piece too. He had already noticed it missing and was bummed. Looks like Noah saved the day!
This was both mine and Keytons fourth week in a row bagging 14,000 foot summits. Four weeks of winter, six shiny new snowflakes for me! So far this winter I have climbed Ellingwood, Harvard via Frenchman, Massive, North Massive, Castle, and Conundrum. Very thrilled with the way things have gone so far. It could be time to take a week off and watch some football this weekend… hoping to get back to the grind soon after! Everyone stay safe, and stay tuned...
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