Castle Peak from the West

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 7, 2008
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer


The joint statistical meetings were in Denver in the summer of 2008, and a buddy and I started planning for a weekend adventure. We had only met once, connected by a mutual friend, and I was the more experienced of the two of us, so I did a lot of the research. I was looking for a substantial walk in (to cut the crowd) with high altitude wilderness camping, with a class 2 or 2+ route to a 14er, with a trailhead that was within a half-day's drive of Denver. Unfortunately, no such trip appears to exist.

We considered the East Slopes route up Snowmass Mountain via Snowmass Lake. Sounds pretty, with a long trail and good high altitude camping, but class 3 near the top according to Roach.

We also considered the West Ridge route up Windom Peak from the Needleton Trailhead. Sounded gorgeous and fascinating with the mountain goats eager to lick human urine from the rocks, and the route difficulty would have been perfect for us, but the travel time from Denver, allowing for train connections sounded like it would have eaten up most of our time. Besides, Roach warned of monsoon patterns in the San Juan Range in August.

Finally, we decided that we would try Castle Peak from the west from a base camp near the Conundrum Hot Springs. We thought we would either do the West Face route (25.3 in Roach) or the West Ridge route (25.5 in Roach). Neither are given as routes on as of this writing, but some of the other trip reports mentioned both. The scree sounded awfully unpleasant, but we thought that the pleasures of the hot springs would more than compensate.

Hiking Up to Conundrum Hot Springs

We left Denver about 11 AM after catching the early session. I would have liked to stay for hte last session, but the call of the mountains was too strong.

We lunched at the Smiling Moose in Dillon. Good food and cute gift t-shirts.

We discussed the dangers of hypothermia on the drive up in light cool rain and the adequacy of our clothing. I was of the mindset that a ski parka with hood was indispensable in the high mountains. But we didn't stop and my buddy only had a light windbreaker with no hood.

We hit Aspen around 3 and headed up the Conundrum Creek Trailhead around 4. The rain started soon thereafter. We were manly men and didn't add clothing or rain gear, strongly plodding on like Aragorn and Boromir leading the hobbits across the Misty Mountains. Then we came to the first crossing of Conundrum Creek. As Sarah Thompson reported in her climber's log for Catleabra of June 28, 2008, all the bridges got knocked out by the spring thaw of 2008. This water was cold.

Sarah Thompson's Castleabra log

My buddy threatened me with murder for taking this picture, but he was so cold that he would have to delay implementation of his threat until I had revived him. It didn't come as far as my needing to climb into a sleeping bag and cuddle with him, but he did scare me. Uncontrollable shivering and impaired muscle control.

Crossing Conundrum Creek

After I got some warmer clothes on him and some food in his belly, we resumed our march. I wanted to press on until we reached the hot springs, but he was concerned about more river crossings in the dark and rain, so we found a place to camp for the night. We fired up the stove and boiled some water. First thing, we poured that into our nalgene bottles and put them under our shirts as hot water bottles. Man o man, did that feel good. Please don't take out the BPA!!

To conserve warmth that night, we shared a rather cozy tent and put our gear in the other tent. Rain continued. We each verified the other's wife's reports about snoring.

In the morning, we broke camp and went the rest of the way up to the hot springs. We still had about a 1000 vertical feet to climb. It took us close to three hours. We had only done about 1300 feet the first day.

The Hot Springs

Ah, the hot springs. We met semi-permanent denizens like Tom, James and Amin. Everyone was fit and had an interesting story to tell. Moose hunters, back-country skiers, rocket engineers, counselors for troubled youth, trail runners. I don't know that I have ever met such an interesting group of semi-clad humans.

Buddy in the Springs

Lots of advice about our plans to tackle Castle from the west. It was still raining off and on. Looked to do so all weekend (or is this 20/20 hindsight?). Something about a monsoon pattern. Several people had done Roach's West Ridge Route (#25.5) and strongly recommended against it. Two steps up and one step back. But how else to do it from the west? Someone else said that Roach's West Face Route (#25.3) was also no fun. Tom recommended a route that James called Conundrum to Conundrum. I have added it as a route to Conundrum. We resolved to try it early next morning.

Conundrum to Conundrum Route

The Attempt

We set the alarm for 3:30. I stuck my head out of the tent and saw only fog. The clouds had closed in on us again. I was so disappointed. I checked again about 5:30 and saw some clear skies and so decided to try it. My buddy didn't feel well, so I took off on my own. Last year I did a trip all on my own. It was nice having someone there to at least know if I didn't make it off the mountain on schedule.

Beautiful flowers. Treacherous scree to traverse. Slipped deeply into the snow on the uphill edge of a snowfield, but managed to pull out and continue.

Got up onto a ridge and as far as about 12,800 before the clouds closed in again and scared me. I was setting electronic bread crumbs in my GPS for the return, but there were cliffs and I feared the wet. Sigh.

After I turned around and descended a ways, of course the sun came out and the top cleared. I was tempted to try again, but I was wary and fatigued, so I lay back and enjoyed the alpine environment. Flowers, pikas and marmots all entertained me.

Flowers on Conundrum west flank

Back to the springs

I got back into camp about 3:30. Turns out my buddy had climbed Triangle Pass while I was away and actually gotten about 100 feet higher than me. My only consolation was that it had rained on home and left him with a cloudy view as well.

We entertained ourselves with friendly folk of springs for the rest of the day.

Wrapping it up

The return was about 9 miles and 2300 feet down. Took us about 5 hours. My buddy crossed the creek this time with sandals on and did fine.

Polarjud navigating

On the drive back, we went through Leadville and Climax instead of back through Glenwood Springs to I-70. Found a great brew pub in Leadville.

Leadville Brew Pub

I spent the night at his house and had a great breakfast in the morning prepared by his cheerful new-goatee-hating wife.

What a great trip it was. I sure would like a chance to try it again.

This view was about the only look at Castle that I got. It is on the left. Looking up the west face.

Castle on L


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rpace - Oct 5, 2008 10:51 am - Hasn't voted

Too bad...

polarjud, that west side is tough. It took me 12 hours last year in perfect weather, (although I did climb Castleabra first and did the west ridge.) It was very unpleasant scree coming down the gulch. At least you got to enjoy the hot springs, which I think is always a treat. You'll have to come back and try again! :)


polarjud - Apr 18, 2009 3:11 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Too bad...

I studied your reports first. Thanks for your contributions!

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