Castle Peak
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Castle Peak / Conundrum Peak Combo - two of the easier Peaks in the Aspen area compared to the Maroons, Pyramid Peak, and Capital Peak

The drive over Independence Pass to Aspen to scramble Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak

Our drive to Aspen for our last 14er Castle Peak

Our long walk up the mining road for Castle Peak

Our long walk up the mining road to Castle Peak in the morning light

The uppper basin of Castle Peak with its permanent snowfield

After 4.2 miles on the old mining road we reach the upper basin of Castle Peak with our friend Jon

NE Ridge of Castle Peak (Class 2+) avoiding the snowfield on our ascent

From the upper basin we headed left up the NE ridge to the summit of Castle Peak

A closer view of the very steep snowfield that lies between Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak

A look at the upper basin with the steep snowfield and Conundrum Peak on the right

The view of Conundrum Peak from Castle Peak

The view of Conundrum Peak from the summit of Castle Peak

Allan and Victoria on the summit of Conundrum Peak

The summit of Conundrum Peak, yes, I do believe I am getting thinner, 40,000 feet of hiking later!

Saddle between Conundrum Peak and Castle Peak - note how steep the snowfield slope is

Our descent back to the Castle/Conundrum saddle with the descent of the snowfield to the left

Castle Peak / Conundrum Peak Combo

Scramble: Class 2 / Class 2+ – Steep Hiking

Altitude: Castle Peak 14,265 ft, Conundrum 14,060 ft

Elevation Gain: From TH at 9,800ft Castle Peak 4,465ft, 13.0 miles return: From dispersed camping 1.3 miles up the 4x4 road at 10,300ft just before creek crossing Castle Peak 3,965 ft 10.4 miles return: From Pearl Pass junction at 11,200 ft 1.7 miles further or 3.0 miles from lower TH Castle Peak 3,065 ft 7.0 miles return : to add the summit of Conundrum its another 240 ft of elevation gain provided you glissade the snowfield and do not have to climb 445 ft back over Castle

Start Time: 5am to 8am to be on your way down by noon and avoid potential lightning storms, 5am for the combo recommended

Ascent Time: Castle Peak 3-4 Hours, add 30-40 minutes to drop to saddle at 13,820ft and climb the 240 ft to Conundrum

Highlights

This combo was very enjoyable although you hike an old mining road up to 12,800 ft. You don’t actually even see Castle/Conundrum until you’re around 12,400. Then there is a lower basin and upper basin with a permanent snowfield. We went left after climbing the first slope from the 12,800 ft parking lot and ascended the NE ridge which has a few class 2+ spots. From here we dropped down 445 ft to the saddle between Castle and Conundrum and climbed the 240 ft up to the summit of Conundrum. From there it was back to the saddle, then we dropped down onto the permanent snowfield and glissaded to the bottom of the upper bowl. Ice axe is mandatory for this although I shortened my Black Diamond poles and we used them for speed control. They worked quite well but an ice axe would have been best.

Getting There

Castle Creek Trailhead – 9,800 ft – No restrooms

Take Castle Creek from the roundabout just west of the center of Aspen. Drive 12.5 miles (paved) to the Castle Creek trailhead. To the right, Forest Road (FR) 102 continues on and goes all the way to 12,800'. Some passenger cars can drive about 1 mile up this road to reach the dispersed camp sites along the road. The last dispersed campsite at 10,300 ft is 1.3 miles up the road just before the road crosses the creek. If you want to shorten your hike by parking higher, you must have a 4WD vehicle with good clearance. From the lower trailhead parking area, proceed 1.3 miles to a river crossing. In spring and early summer, this crossing is a challenge for some 4WD vehicles. Continue another 1.7 miles up FR 102 to a junction. Left will take you up the nasty Pearl Pass 4WD road. Staying right will keep you on the Castle Creek 102 road. If you drove up this far, there are a few parking spots at the junction. The road gets worse as it ascends into Montezuma Basin all the way to 12,800 ft.

Camping

From the Castle Creek trailhead at 9,800 ft it is 1.3 miles up to the creek crossing at 10,300 ft and there are dispersed camping sites all along the road. There is a sizable rock step coming out of the creek crossing (assuming the creek is summertime low) and a pretty rough section of road for a ¼ mile after the crossing then the road is not too bad the remaining 1.7 miles until just before Pearl Pass junction. Definitely 4x4 with a few moderate to hard sections after that. We saw a Jeep TJ, Nissan Xterra and Toyota Tundra at the 12,800 ft parking lot.

Route Description

This is for the NE ridge route because I think the permanent snowfield in the upper basin which sits just below the Castle/Conundrum saddle calls for crampons and ice axe to ascend safely to the saddle.

From the creek crossing head up the road for 1.7 miles to the Pearl Pass junction at 11,200 ft. Take the Montezuma mine road for another 2 miles to 12,400 ft. The road curves around the corner to your left (you can finally get a glimpse of Castle/Conundrum here) and takes you to a small parking lot at 12,800 ft. From here there is an upper and lower basin. Ascend slopes into the upper basin then head left to catch a good trail on the NE ridge. From there it is a straightforward hike to the summit of Castle Peak with a few class 2+ sections. To summit Conundrum you must drop 445 ft down to the Castle/Conundrum saddle at 13,820 ft and ascend another 240ft to Conundrum’s summit. Then again back down to the saddle and if properly equipped (ice axe required) drop down to the snowfield and glissade to the bottom of the upper bowl. If not equipped its 445 ft back up and over Castle Peak.