Castle Peak is the 15th highest mountain in the lower 48. It is located near the majestic city of Aspen. It was first climbed in 1873 by the Hayden Survey. Castle is the Elk Range's highest and southernmost fourteener. It is also considered by most to be the easiest 14er in the Elk Range. For the high pointers, it is also the highest point for both Gunnison County and Pitkin County.
Castle Peak is a great peak that is significantly easier than the Maroon Bells and has a great glissade if your timing is right. It is pretty remote for Elk standards, but a wonderful hike. The route is class 1 from the trailhead to the 4wd parking lot and class 2+ from the parking lot to the summit.
Getting ThereFrom Denver take I-70 west to Glenwood Springs. Take CO 82 south to Aspen. From Aspen's north side, leave CO 82 and drive the crazy circle. It is one of those roads that goes in a circle and you just circle until the road of your choice comes up. You will see the sign for the Castle Creek Road on the southwest side of the crazy circle. Drive 13.5 miles to the trailhead at Castle Creek. Parking is available at the trailhead. In winter the road closes just about 1/2 mile below the trailhead so you will need to park on the Castle Creek Road.
If you choose to drive the 4WD road, then this might help. It is pretty easy going up to about 10,200, which is where the first creek crossing is at. There is a foot bridge for hikers, but 4WD enthusiasts will have to dip into the creek and make a hard left through the creek and back up onto the road. Continue up the road and you will cross the creek again a 11,000', but this time you cross over a well constructed bridge. Once you are on the Montezuma road, things start to get a little rough. There is considerable wash out, rock fall, tight turns on the switch backs, and most of all exposure towards the top. Stay close to the mountain side as getting a wheel off of the road would cause you a serious problem. Also, for the most part there is only room for one vehicle. Keep an eye out for someone coming the opposite way so you can find a good spot for them to pass.
Wayneaflick adds: When going up the 4 wheel drive road, be sure and turn into Montezuma road instead of continuing up to Pearl Pass. It is a good 4x4 road all the way to the Montezuma Mine. To make a more challenging climb out of it, climb both Castle and Conundrum Peaks.
When To ClimbJune to September is best with July and August being the high season. As always, expect summer storms, especially in the afternoons and try to be off the peak early in the day . This peak does not get the crowds of some of the more popular 14ers, but weekdays will tend to be a bit less crowded anyway. Take care if you attempt this peak during winter conditions. The ridges and summit are highly exposed and the proper use of crampons and an ice axe will be required.
CampingCamping is available all along the Castle Creek Road. However, you are only supposed to camp in designated spots. I counted 6 such spots from the TH to the parking lot. Go early to insure that you find a spot. There is no charge.
Mountain ConditionsThe Northwest Ridge route from Castle Creek trailhead is the easiest route. However, once snow starts to give way to the steep scree in mid summer, you will find that the Northeast ridge route is the easiest. Take care as both routes have considerable exposure once the ridge has been gained. For both routes, you can take the 4wd road all the way to 12,800', but that will not leave you much of a climb. The trailhead is 9,800' and is where most people start the climb. For weather conditions see www.14er.com or the Forest Service station on Hwy 82 at the far west-end of Aspen. You can also call CAIC at 970-920-1664 for a recorded message to include avalanche conditions.
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