Thursday, September 8, 2011

PEAK OF THE WEEK: Conundrum Peak (14,064' / 4287 m)

Conundrum Peak as seen from the route up Castle
As an "unofficial" 14'er, Conundrum Peak is probably the least famous and least climbed of all the Elk Range 14'ers. Despite Conundrum being shunned on most 14'er lists, it is a worthy mountain with a beautiful profile and some high quality route.

Conundrum is found by taking the Castle Creek turnoff towards Ashcroft from a large roundabout just north Aspen, Colorado on Highway 82 (the same way you get to Castle Peak). After 13 miles (after you have passed the tiny burg of Ashcroft and some very well-to-do homes) turn right onto a dirt road. Occasionally, some very hardy souls will park here. Continue 1.5 miles along a rough road to a creek crossing that will be difficult for low-clearance vehicles. Many people park here. 4WD vehicles can continue, however, along a very rough road all the way to 12,700' where there is a good parking lot. This 4WD approach does not allow you to comply with the 3,000' rule but does highly abridge your day.

South Ridge
snow on Castle Peak
The snow pitch in September
From the parking lot (whether you got there on foot or by car) continue along a strong hikers trail into the basin in-between Castle and Conundrum peaks. This will require, in all seasons, some snow and ice travel, so an ice-axe and crampons might be useful. Continue through the scree past a small lake and climb the steep slope to the saddle between Castle and Conundrum Peaks. This snow pitch is the crux of the route. If the top part of the route is dry (late summer) it is a nightmarish ascent on steep, loose gravel. Once you have reached the 13,800' saddle, turn right and ascend to Conundrum's south summit (class 2). The conundrum here is that this summit appears higher (it is actually about 40' lower). Descend into the notch at the top of Conundrum Couloir and climb to the higher, true summit to the north.

This route can also be reached from Castle's northeast ridge by ascending to Castle Peak's summit and traversing over to Conundrum.

Conundrum Couloir
Conundrum Peak and Conundrum Couloir
Conundrum Peak from Castle Peak
Conundrum Couloir is one of the better snow routes in the Elks (save perhaps the Bell Cord Couloir). It is a popular difficult ski route and a good spring ascent. Follow the South Ridge route into the basin between Castle and Conundrum Peaks. Instead of climbing up to the saddle between the two peaks, turn and ascend the steep, obvious couloir up the middle of Conundrum's east face. The climbing in the couloir is very steep and there is often a cornice (crux) the caps the top. Still, this route is only considered class 3. Descend by ski or by following the South Ridge route.

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1 comment:

  1. I am interested in purchasing a photograph print of Conundrum Peak. I need it fairly quickly. Will you please get back to me?