Snowmass Mountain, Castle and Conundrum Peaks

Snowmass Mountain (14,092′) Day 1

Friday afternoon I set off for Aspen, a packed weekend of 14ers, and my first close-up of the Elks. I’ve been anxiously waiting to make it out that way and Snowmass has been in my sights since winter. Normally done as an overnight backpack and next day summit, the route from the East is 21.5 miles round-trip and enters a scenic basin, that reminded me of Montana. I had no time for an overnight, so after a 3 hour nap, I departed the trailhead at 1:30a. I made pretty good time up to the log-jam crossing at 6 miles by 3:30a. It was a little eerie covering so much distance in the dark in an unfamilar trial and I was spooked a little by mysterious loud splashes in a pond below the trail. At the time, I thought maybe it was a bear. Later, I figured it must be from beavors moving logs. Well, the 100 foot log-jam wasn’t too dificult to cross, but I still managed to fall in once since I was pretty much sleeping walking at that point. Another 2 miles and I was up at Snowmass lake at 4:30a. This was my goal and tings were lining up nice for the upper climb. Making my way around the lake and thick willows turned out to be no fun at all and the ensuing giant boulder/field with steep angle added to my misery. By this time, the sun started yo come out and the mountains began to light up. It was pretty awesome to finally see the Maroon Bells and finally, I got my first views of Snowmass and the route to the ridge.

I decided to cut about halfway up a steeper portion and with crampons and ice ax it went pretty quick. Luckily the snow was still hard and the early start payed off. At the top the ridge, I could see the the remaining route had some real exposure so on went the helmet.

After carefully making my around and over several steep gullies I made the final push and reached the summit at 8:30a. The views were amazing, especially of Capitol and the knife edge. Nobody else was climbing either and I was the only on up there. I really missed Linnea on this climb and in retrospect would have been much safer with her along.

On the descent, I cut down an even steeper section close to the summit to minimize the traverse. I down climbed a few steps and then began a very long glisade on the snow which was beginning to loosen up.

Back down at the lake, I fueled up and enjoyed watching a bunch of rainbow trout (pretty good size) in an outlet stream play in the shallow water. I was tempted to go mountain man style and catch one bare-handed and eat it but I was just too tired.

Snowmass Peak on the left (13er) and Snowmass Mountain to the back, right.

Next came the grueling walk out. The long mileage and fast pace had caught up with me and the unrelenting sun baked any remaining energy out of me. To add insult to injury, I tweaked my ankle and my feet were gone from all day in big mountaineering boots. At least the scenery was all new in the light. Back at the truck, I crashed and took a 5 hour nap. It was quite a climb and one I will not forget!

The log jam


After my long nap, I had a decision to make: pack up and go home, or continue on to Castle and Conundrum. After another nap, some biscuits and power bars, I was leaning toward going home because my feet were in serious pain, but decided to stick it out because maybe I would feel better in a few more hours. So, I continued down toward Aspen and refueled. Well, it was just my luck that on the windy road to the trailhead that a deer jumped out and I smoked it with the truck. I didn’t even have time to hit the brakes but luckily I wasn’t going fast. The main damage was to the bumper, headlamps, and plastic. That really put a damper on the trip but at least the truck was still driveable. So I pressed on, bad headlamps and all. At the trailhead (a 4×4 road), I drove up about a mile to a campsite and crashed. What a day!

Castle (14,265′) and Conundrum (14,060′) Peaks Day 2

At 4:30a, I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag and made my way up for the two connecting peaks. A 10 to 11 mile round-trip route meant this would still be a climb, but not near as bad as Snowmass. I knew my only chance was to go light with gear and take only the bare essentials. Also, I took a light pair of shoes which was a lot easier on the feet than the boots. I wanted to make quick summits so I put my head down and went as fast as possible. Like yesterday, I had spectacular views of the mountains when the sun came out.

Up in the basin, there was still quite a bit of snow, which I was glad to see because it is easier to travel on. After, heading straight up a big snow slope, I got my first views of Castle and Conundrum. The route I took was up the ridge to Castle and then over to Conundrum. The ridge had a little exposure, but not like Snowmass and I made quick work of it.

Castle Peak

Conundrum Peak

A little after 7a, I made the summit. There were two other climber up there, who had camped up high the previous night and wanted to be up for sunrise. I had fun talking to them and one was a professional photographer and professor at the Colorado Mountain School. They were doing a little training for a Rainer climb up Kautz glacier. I pretty much tagged with them for Conundrum and part of the descent and it was nice to have company. The views of North and South Maroon, Capitol, Pyramid, and Snowmass were amazing.

Snowmass Mountain

Looking back at ridge route to Castle

Looking over to Conundrum

I could see that clouds were starting to form, and I was glad I got the early start. The traverse over to Conundrum proved to be easier than I expected and in no time I was over there. This was 14er summit #40.

Looking down Conundrum Colouir, this would be a fun snow climb.

Traversing back to the saddle, I could see weather was going to be a factor with definate thunderstorms.

With a steep, long glisade, followed by another shorter one, I was out of there. I had to empty my pants at the bottom due to a big rip in the butt. On the hike out, all the climbing caught up with me and my hip, knee, and ankles told me I had reached my limit. After trying to file a police report in Aspen for the deer collision, I drove back to Golden. Traffic on 70 was terrible but I was happy just to be not on my feet anymore. Back in Golden, I met Kenan, who is on a big road trip en route to Maine. Of course we went to all you can eat pizza at Woodys for dinner! Now, I am resting up and preparing for our Rainier climb.

One thought on “Snowmass Mountain, Castle and Conundrum Peaks

  • June 21, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Thanks for the post. 40! I am thinking this last trip was a little crazy-I was getting tired just reading all about it. Love the pictures of the lake at the end of your first hike. Have fun climbing Rainier and we’ll see you in July.

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