Via Montezuma Mine Road
Thursday July 10, 2008
Following work on Wednesday, I got my gear pulled together and was on the road by 7:00PM. Traffic was relatively light at this hour as I drove out Route 93 to Golden and Route 6 to I-70 and then due west all the way to Glenwood Springs. Here I picked up Route 82 heading to Aspen; at the “round-about” on the west side of town I took Castle Creek Rd and proceeded past two other trailheads that faked me out until I finally reached the Castle Peak TH. I then drove up Forest Service Rd 102 (dirt) for several miles past many campers until I reached a stream crossing. I couldn’t see very well in the dark and decided to turn around and camp at a near-by “dispersed camping” area about 150 yds from the creek.
The night was black as I made ready to sleep in the back of my Sonoma (typical accommodations) and set my watch alarm for 5:00AM. It was about 11:30 by the time I actually bedded-down. I was quickly asleep but was soon awaken by a scratching or digging type of sound that seemed to come from directly under my truck. I banged and hollered and it went silent; only to start again shortly after. Again I made a louder ruckus until I heard something go snorting-off into the woods. I’ll never know what it was but I was pretty shaken and quite awake by now. Anyway……..as tired as I was I fell back to sleep and didn’t awake until the alarm sounded at 5 bells. The early gray light gave no indication as to what was under my truck that night but a funny notion came to mind……..”Mynocks. Probably chewing on the power cables”. As Hans Solo had stated…….too much!!
I pulled myself together and made a short breakfast of instant oatmeal, black coffee, and Gatorade (normal hiking menu). I was soon back on the dirt road in 4-wheel drive and crossed the creek from the night before, past the broken-down snowmobile someone had left for dead and all the way on up the Montezuma Mine Rd until I came to a spot where other vehicles had now collected………the proverbial end-of-the-road. The road was rather rugged, steep and narrow in places but here at the end I managed to turn around to face back down and get myself parked OK off to one side of a wider section. There were four other vehicles above me on the road all now parked as well. I chocked all four tires and made ready my daypack. The morning sun was rising quickly and a beautiful day was in store.
I started directly up the road at 6:56AM and exchanged pleasantries with others making ready to do the same. The last two vehicles had a rather large group of people from back east (NY, PA, MA) and they all seemed very enthusiastic about the hike this day. Just as I was leaving them and heading back up the one older guy said “see you up there”. It’s funny, but all the years I’ve been hiking and someone makes such a comment, it never happens; I wouldn’t see any of them again. Up the road I went with lots of snow all along the way, past the old mine and up on into the beginning of the Montezuma Basin.
Two young guys passed me just before we got to the true end-of-the-road and I followed them up a snow field and on to a small boulder field. They then proceeded slipping and gripping their way up the next snow field. After seeing this I took a seat on a large rock and put on my crampons for the ascent into the basin, I also put on my helmet as my hat was wet with perspiration as things were warming-up fast and grabbed my ice axe as well. Up the snow and into the basin I went, the two young guys were now well ahead and I met three other people already in the snow field. I was the only one with crampons and my advance was steady making a back-and-forth zigzag traverse up the slope. Another large group of young guys and gals scrambled up quick on all fours and stopped at the top of the snow slope at another boulder field. I soon arrived and then proceeded on the snow around the boulder field and up into the actual vast expanse of the basin proper.
The two young guys were there on the rocks putting on their crampons and were making ready to go up the Conundrum Couloir and on to the summit of Conundrum Peak. I, on the other hand felt more comfortable going up the South Ridge approach to the saddle between Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak. We bid our a dues and went our own separate ways. In the very center of the basin was a crater filled with the bluest, clearest water from melted snows, really beautiful with the sun now shining bright high in the crystal skies. This “blue hole” as I termed it, would be a focal point for the rest of my ascent as I climbed the good but softening snow up way high to the saddle. I made good work of the snow ascent with little trouble but I was plenty tired and the warm day was starting to take its toll. I met another guy at the top of the saddle and he was kind enough to take my photo as I was completing my exit from the snow ascent. Here I put away my crampons, helmet and axe and applied a heavy layer of sun lotion and took a good rest. A nice breeze cooled things down a bit as I made ready to ascend the ridge leading from the saddle directly to the summit.
The guy who had taken my picture was on his way up to Conundrum after first reaching the summit of Castle Peak via the NE ridge. I followed some distance behind him on the clearly defined trail up to and over one false summit and then across and over to what appeared to be the highest point and thus the assumed summit. Here I met again with the two young guys and soon the guy who took my picture was back from the next high point and explained that there is where the summit register was. Thus I had actually reached false summit number two and so……….. to the true summit I went arriving at 9:38AM.
The views were awesome and the “blue hole” below was the dominant, Topaz signature of the entire Montezuma Basin. The weather was perfect and the photo opportunities nearly endless and I perched my camera with the self-timer for a few self portrait mountain-scapes. I had the summit all to myself and saw the two young guys had remained on “their” summit and could also see a large group of people up on the summit of Castle Peak across the way. Pyramid Peak, The Maroon Bells, Snowmass and Capital Peaks all shown majestically to the west with countless smaller snowy peaks also. I signed the register, took a long rest, drink,a bite to eat and a few more photos before leaving to go back down to the saddle at 9:50. My first venture into the Elk Range and my 37th 14’er on this glorious Colorado morning………….sweet!!