|Castle Peak and the Montezuma Basin|
While overshadowed by its much more famous and impressive Elk Range siblings (the Maroon Bells, Capitol Peak, Snowmass Mountain) Castle still reigns as a sort of redheaded stepchild who happens to be the oldest and biggest. The views from the summit are good and the basin between Castle and Conundrum is well worth exploring. There are several excellent couloirs on both peaks that allow for easy to moderate snow ascents as well as high quality back country skiing descents. Both Conundrum and Castle Couloirs have become more popular in recent years for this purpose.
|Hiking along the approach road around 12,000'|
As previously mentioned, although Castle is technically the easiest 14er in the Elk Range, it is still home to the same notoriously rotten rock that has made the Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak, and Capitol so infamous. This rock has cost a large number of people their lives throughout the Elk Range. Although Castle is not as exposed or difficult as these other peaks, it is still vitally important to tread very carefully on this loose mountain.
Northeast Ridge (Standard Route)
The Northeast Ridge route on Castle Peak became the standard summer route after a solid trail was constructed through the loose talus on this ridge. From the Castle Creek (standard, see above) trailhead, follow the road to the highest parking lot at 12,800'. Hike south from the parking lot towards Montezuma Basin between Castle (visible ahead) and Conundrum (to the southwest). There is usually a snowfield just past here to ascend. The snow is not particularly steep, but depending on conditions a ice axe might come in handy. After the snowfield follow the distinct trail through the talus as it enters the basin. Soon it will veer left and start to wind up the slope to where it reaches the ridge proper. From here the route gets a bit rougher and more exposed, though with careful routefinding should never exceed class 2. The last bands of rock are a bit steep but not too technical. Enjoy the rounded summit!
|blue=Northeast Ridge; green=Castle Couloir; red=Northwest Ridge|
Before the construction of the good trail the winds through the talus on the Northeast Ridge route, this used to be the standard way to reach Castle's summit. Today it has fallen out of favor, largely due to the moderate snow climb to reach the saddle between Castle and Conundrum. When the snow melts at the top of this climb a steep, horribly slippery slope caps this route, presenting an even less attractive option. In the winter or spring, however, is snow is abound on both routes, this is probably the easiest and fastest way to reach the summit of Castle Peak. Follow the Northeast Ridge route past the 4WD trailhead and past the first snowfield into Montezuma Basin between the two mountains. Skirt a sinkhole/lake at the base of Conundum Couloir that formed a few years back (some unstable-looking geography through here). Climb the snowfield to the saddle between Castle and Conundrum at 13,800'. This is easiest when there is snow all the way to the saddle, for when the top section melts off (as in the photo above) the last hundred feet or so is on steep, dangerous ball bearings. From the saddle for the blunt ridge to Castle's summit. The terrain shouldn't exceed class 2.
A high quality snow climb on Castle Peak when the conditions are right. Follow the Northwest Ridge route into the basing between the two peaks. As you near Castle's North Face, locate the obvious couloir on its east (left) side. This couloir is only in good condition if it has snow for its full length. Climb this couloir for nearly 600 feet where you join the Northeast ridge at about 14,100' for the last pitch to the summit.
|The West Ridge on the right skyline|
From the Conundrum trailhead (see this link for directions to this famous trailhead), hike for 8 miles along the well-defined trail to the Conundrum Hot Springs. This wonderful location is home to two nice hot spring pools at 11,200'. It is hard to beat the hot water at this high altitude. There is also good, designated campsites around the springs. This makes for a dreamy basecamp for your ascent of the West Ridge. Just past the springs, hike along a talus field into a bowl. Continue up along loose rock to a saddle at 13,600 west of 13,803' "Castleabra" (Colorado's 105th tallest peak). Climb up and over "Castleabra" to a 13,600' saddle at the top of "Cunning Couloir" (a reticent and climbable couloir that is also accessed from the Conundrum Trailhead). From here route gets a bit more difficult. Scramble up some class 3 to the summit of unranked Point 13,820. Descend yet again to another saddle at around 13,550' and scramble the last ridge to Castle's summit. Remember, if you are going to descend this route you have to return over Point 13,820 and "Castleabra".
(none available at this time)
Castle Peak on Summitpost.org
Castle Peak on 14ers.com
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