Sitting barefoot in the back of my Jeep with rain pounding on the roof all I could think was: Seriously? I drove 5 hours for this?
I mournfully drained a cold Colorado Native before clicking off the headlamp to try to get some sleep.
I know the game well. You win some, you lose some in the mountains – always – but summer Monsoon season in Colorado can be frustrating for a working stiff with two precious days away from the daily grind of laptops, iPhones, flight delays and denied 1st Class upgrades. I’m readily classified as reliably chipper, but driving hours to sit in a downpour can make anyone’s mood somber.
Sunrise over the Elks Sunrise behind Malamute Peak
Admit it – it’s never fun to wake up in the cool dampness at o-dark-thirty in the back of your rig. I barely slept, what with the rain pounding the roof all night, and as I prepped myself for the hike, I found myself staring confused for moments at a time at my messy gear pile uncertain what to do next.
I downed two Red Bulls to compensate for the fact that I can’t eat breakfast, which put quite a spring in my step leaving camp toward the upper basin. The previous night’s foul weather began to pay dividends – as the sun rose, the clouds were painted in brilliant pastel colors, taking our breath away.
Elk Mountains sunrise Golden Sunrise
Kicking in the Ascent: Red Bull to the Rescue!
Approaching Castle Peak Conundrum Peak |We navigated the boulder hop and low-angle snow fields in the lower basin to gain the northeast ridge of Castle Peak. The weather continued to look threatening. I had nearly been blown off this ridge almost two years to the day, in 2010, and was bound and determined to get these summits. |
One member of my party was struggling and another had a bum knee. Hopped up on Red Bull, I politely excused myself and zipped up the ridge to the summit of Castle Peak, the first person of the day to summit. Here I enjoyed the views of the Elk Range, especially as eerie light shined on Capitol and Snowmass, and hung out to celebrate as first one of my ladies and then the other made her way to the top of the peak.
Dramatic clouds over the Elk Range
Heading Over to Conundrum
Castle Peak |Mist from last night’s storm hung in the valleys below us, lending a dramatic look to the surroundings. The skies weren’t friendly, but weren’t threatening and the cloud ceiling was reasonable, so we headed across the ridge connecting Castle Peak and its unranked neighbor Conundrum Peak. |
Besides pausing to carefully navigate one minor downclimb containing loose rock, we made good time and soon were cruising the sidewalk in the sky to the notch separating Conundrum’s two summits. A few quick scampers put us on the summit of Conundrum for lunch! Views of Castle Peak and the connecting ridge were quit a site from here, and it was neat to see all the folks on the summit of Castle.
Departing Castle Conundrum Bound
Castle Peak Folks on Castle Elk Range Views
Time to Go!
Descending Conundrum Conundrum Peak and tarn
The weather had smiled kindly enough on us, and we decided it was time to stop pressing our luck and head down. Natural rockfall from the north-facing snow field, combined with human triggered rock slides below the saddle connecting the peaks was all we needed to persuade us to pass on that “shortcut.” We opted to retrace our steps back around the horseshoe, over Castle Peak, down the northeast ridge and out. Soon enough we were back at camp tearing down and packing up for the 4x4 ride out to the highway. Friday’s weather was pretty depressing, but we left happy that we persisted, set our alarms early Saturday morning and gave Castle and Conundrum a go.
Moral of the story? Don't let the weather punk you out. Get your ass out of your sleeping bag and give things a shot!
I LOVE it here!