Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  09/07/2021
Date Climbed:   09/05/2021
Author:  ellenmseb
 An alternative summer route on Castle   

Clearly, the best way to do Castle and Conundrum is with snow to cover the choss. However, if you, like me, find yourself on these peaks in snow-free conditions due to life's logistical constraints, the following advice applies:

1. To find better rock on the ascent, take castle's true northeast ridge from the 4wd parking lot instead of ascending loose scree as advises. Although the route itself is not spectacular, it seems strictly superior to the standard in snow-free conditions.

2. Consider descending the castle-conundrum saddle instead of re-summiting Castle as is unanimously advised here. The gully is not nearly as bad as people say. It's a dirt slope and 3rd class downclimbing where the holds are topped with more dirt. The angle is shallow enough that if you fall, you'll just sit down on soft dirt. I've encountered far worse descent gullies (e.g.: Wilson SW slope, Whitney mountaineers route). it doesn't even break the top 50 sketchiest situations I've encountered on 14ers. I am extremely glad that I didn't waste a ton of effort re-summiting Castle because this gully was so trivially easy and non-sketchy.

When viewed head-on from the approach, it looks deceivingly steep; in fact it's not very steep; this can be verified on a topo map. You also cannot pre-inspect the middle section until after you've descended the upper dirt portion of the gully. So, I suspect that its reputation came from people looking at the gully and deciding it's sketchy without actually having descended it. Either that or its condition varies by year and has been worse in the past.

That being said, this advice applies only if you have some class 3 experience, preferably a helmet, and go one at a time (easy to do because it takes only 5 min to descend. whoever descends first can go ahead and get some delicious snowmelt water). Someone out for a simple hike without any scrambling experience or comfort with dirt-plunge-stepping should probably go back over Castle.
The castle-conundrum gully descent which looks sketchy but in fact is not.

Here are some more details about the ridge route on Castle. See GPX below.
There is some class 2+ or easy 3 scrambling. The scrambling is avoidable, but that defeats the purpose of avoiding loose stuff in the standard route. It's not a gymnastic scramble to write home about, but it's certainly easier and more fun than the standard route.
  1. From the 4wd lot at 12.8k, immediately gain the northeast ridge. I ended up doing some downhill hiking to cross the stream. You can avoid this downhill by just leaving the parking lot immediately to the left instead of continuing up the road on the right past the parking lot.
  2. Follow the path of least resistance up the ridge until you reach the tower
  3. Traverse right around the tower to reach a gully. It might be possible to climb this tower as well, but there would be a small downclimb on the other side
  4. Climb to the top of the gully. The most solid rock can be found on the left side. It's nice and shady in this gully!

  5. Continue along the ridge crest until you reach a point parallel with the small saddle, around 13,740.
    Continuing along the ridge after the gully
  6. Leave the ridge in order to avoid losing elevation. Use one of the existing faint traverse trails on the climber's right to cut across and rejoin the standard route.
    View of the existing faint traverse trails, from Google Earth. The bump is not as tall as it looks here, in fact it only has 40' prominence, so no need to sidehill for too long.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 3 4 5 6

Comments or Questions
09/10/2021 08:00
What scree are you referring to on the standard, NE Ridge route description that you felt you needed to avoid? Yes, there's a bit of talus to ascend on the initial headwall but then there's a defined trail to the ridge. And, when doing the combo and the descent from the saddle is dry, it's safer to go back over Castle unless weather is rolling in or some other issue.

09/08/2021 16:11
I would like to make a comment here. While you may not think this gully is sketchy there is an overhead objective hazard. I climbed Castle and Conundrum ions ago and I remember nothing about these two mountains except going down this gully and nearly being killed by a rock someone on the ridge above let loose. So where you may think this gully is easy and it does not break your top 50 sketchiest, this is not great advice. I hope everyone sees my comment and understands you can be hit by rock from above as these are very popular mountains. So if you take this gully wear a helmet. I have a really high threshold for shit gullies but there is a safer option and if no threatening weather is moving in going back over Castle is safer. Nothing is being proven by taking a gully over a safer route. Safety should always be the number one concern. I always make my decisions thinking about search and rescue. Just a thought.

09/17/2021 13:31
I'm referring to the scree that actually makes up the trail! Just becuase it's a trail doesn't mean it's a pleasant route. A lot of times I would scramble on talus next to the trail instead of walking on a soft dirt/scree trail, to make it easier.

Yes, I would be hesitant if there were other hikers above me in the gully. That's why I said "one at a time". However, although I have seen other gullies where one could get hit by a rock bouncing down on steep and hard rock, in this case the angle is so low and dirt so soft that any rocks set loose would more likely roll to a gentle stop. Not to say that rockfall injury is impossible here, but it's less likely than on other 14er standard routes.
When decision-making, I consider needing SAR to be almost as bad a fate as death, because I couldn't live with myself after putting people in danger rescuing me. But in this case, the gully is so incredibly over-exaggerated, that I think the difference between "gully" and "resummit" is much lower than the safety difference between "climbing at all" vs. "staying at home". If I should resummit castle for safety reasons, then I should also stay at home for safety reasons!

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