Via Conundrum Peak
Thursday July 10, 2008
I had started my day from high up on the Montezuma Mine Road at 6:56AM. I hiked up through the Montezuma Basin, doing a snow ascent up to the saddle between Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak, and finally the South Ridge to the Conundrum Peak summit.
The weather was absolutely perfect and many people had ventured here this fine morning with the intent of conquering one or both summits. I’d met several people along the way and one large group had gone up to Castle Peak via the NE ridge, four other people had taken the snow ascent up the Conundrum Couloir to Conundrum Peak. I was the only one who had taken the snow ascent to the saddle. At the top of the saddle I did meet one guy who had taken the NE ridge To Castle and was from here proceeding to Conundrum Peak. After speaking with this person I decided to go to Conundrum Peak first and then to Castle Peak.
Having reached the Conundrum Peak summit at 9:38 I stayed until 9:50 and then began the descent back down to the saddle. Looking across at the clearly visible Castle Peak summit I could see that the largest group had reached the summit and it looked quite crowded. The trail was easy to follow and obviously well traveled as I hiked across the saddle and up the summit ridge.
I took my time and rested as required and stayed hydrated as the day was pretty warm and the sun was brilliant. The trail pretty much followed directly on top of the ridge or slightly left or right to where I could now see several people silhouetted coming over from the NE ridge of Castle Peak, a far more popular route than the way I was going. It got quite bit steeper as I neared the summit and some light scrambling soon had me on an empty summit at 10:50. The crowd had apparently exited down the NE ridge.
I enjoyed the solitude and the spectacular views in all directions. Pyramid Peak, the Maroon Bells, Snowmass and Capitol Peaks to the west, Sneffels Peak to the south and countless smaller snowy peaks all around. A great crater filled with Topaz colored snow melt created a dominating “blue hole” smack-dab in the center of the Montezuma Basin down below which contrasted like a giant gem stone with the white of the snow. Simply gorgeous.
After a short while a girl and her small dog arrived and an older gentleman soon thereafter; both had arrived via the NE ridge. We took each others photos and shared our experiences enjoying each other company. I took in some food and drink and shared my water for the girls dog. She and her dog then exited I soon followed down the NE ridge just as another older gentleman was arriving; it was 10:58.
The NE ridge featured a few class 3 type moves but was otherwise pretty straight forward as long as I stayed on the very top of it. The descent was fairly gradual and then a series of short switchbacks down the left side took me through this steeper section and back down to the snow of the basin. I walked 50 yards or so across the snow and found an excellent area to pull out the ice axe and glissade back down for approx 400 yards saving many steps in the process. The snow was perfect for the glissade descent and my butt was about “freezer-burnt” by the time I got back down to the mine road……..way fun!!
Walking back down the road was an essential grind and I again saw the large group from the summit at their vehicles and I was soon back to my truck at 12:24PM. I’d completed my Tour De Conundrum/Castle Peaks, my 38th 14’er on this beautiful day………sweet!!
I would see the girl and her dog again as I drove back down the rugged road……….fast hiker!!