Somehow, Angi and I thought since we were in Littleton overnight, it would be a good idea to drive to the Elk Range, climb, and drive back in one day. We made it, but it was certainly a big day. Since I had read a recent trip report at summitpost, we chose to rent crampons for the occasion.
After waking up at 3am, we headed out. After getting out of bed, buying our lunch, and gassing up the car, we left Denver at almost 4. After some route finding troubles due to a sleepy navigator, we arrived at the Castle Creek Trailhead at 8am. We parked just after the side road left the paved road. As I got out of the car, I noticed how far below tree line we were, at 9,800 feet.
We headed off up the road, it switchbacked a bit until the crossing of Castle Creek. After the crossing, the road climbed gently up the valley, and we made good time. Soon we found ourselves heading up toward the Montezuma Mine at the turnoff to Pearl Pass. After about two hours we had reached the 4x4 parking lot. The sight in front of us was incredible, as quite a bit of snow had fallen in a single storm about ten days before.
We headed a small ways beyond the parking lot, and chose the snowfield on the climber's right because it was more continuous than the snowfield on the left. Additionally we wanted to climb to the ridge between Castle and Conundrum. This is known as the Northwest Ridge Route. This route is difficult when snow is not present, but I had read that it was present the week before, so we planned on using this route.
After putting on our crampons, we easily ascended the first snowfield. While crampons were not absolutely required, they made the going much easier, as we did not need to expend much energy kicking steps as we went. We soon found ourselves looking at Castle's impressive north face. We could also now see the route ahead, and were a little worried about a small cliff band which had melted through the snow on the route above. This snowfield had a crevasse in it, something which is rather rare in Colorado.
We continued toward the cliff band, following an ascending traverse along the large, permanent snowfield. As we approached the cliffs, we met some climbers which had ascended and descended the cliff band, and they said it was passable, so we continued. At the bottom, we removed our crampons, and easily passed the ten foot band of loose rock and mud. Soon we found ourselves on the saddle between Castle and Conundrum.
After a short half hour walk, we found ourselves on the summit of Conundrum Peak, where I found I had run out of film! This was my first climb in the Elk Range, and I had burned through my film much faster than I usually go through it while climbing. We ate some much needed food, and rested for about an hour, and decided to continue to the second peak. It was about 1pm, and we had been traveling at a very leisurely pace.
The trail along the saddle ridge was well traveled in places and quite slick. While not icy, it was hard packed, and Angi's boots did not grip as well as mine. We stuck to the rock where possible and soon found ourselves on our second summit for the day at about 2:30. After a short stay, we chose to head down the Northeast Ridge Route.
The section just off Castle's summit was very steep and gave us a bit of difficulty, but after that it was a rather simple trudge through snow and scree down to the parking lot. At the lot, we talked with a few tourists, just taking a look around, and we continued our long walk back to the car.
Just as we were nearing the car, we were passed by an SUV containing a few fellow climbers we had seen on Castle's summit. They had parked at the Montezuma Mine parking and were rather amazed we had walked the entire distance. Especially when we told them on the summit at 2:30pm that we had woken up in Denver at 3am. They offered us a ride to our car, but we refused since we were only about a mile away.
We returned to the car at about 6pm. We had seen the day through from sunrise, and now it was nearing sunset. While the climb and weather were incredible, it was certianly not worth the effort to drive seven hours, in the dark both directions to get there. I was surprised by the loose rock of the Elk Range, and am glad I did an easy climb there to get myself acquainted.
See more trip reports, my homepage, etc at http://www.cunap.com/~hardingr