Aspen Adventures: Castle and Conundrum

On most 14ers, you should be off of the summit at noon. We woke at the crack of dawn. 8:30.

Of course, we were at 12,800 ft. The summit is only ~1,300' above us.* We are not concerned: Dave and I are season 14er vets (I've done ~30ish and Dave's done 25ish). Shane? He's done zero. But he's used to the altitude: Dave and I are coming from sea level. Of course, Dave's sea level is a male-only Kosovo military base, but that's Dave's story, not mine.

We are completely ready for this.

We JetBoiled some water for breakfast oatmeal, threw on some sun screen (gotta look good for the ladies!), and set out. It was 9:40.

We quickly passed a couple groups of people who had caused us to stir when they passed our campsite  at ungodly early hours. We even fulfilled Dave's dream of meeting three gorgeous women at the summit (around 10:50ish). Unfortunately, they weren't heading in our direction: the 14er virgin in their crew was unwilling to continue the (borderline) sketchy traverse to conundrum.

At the Castle summit
We parted ways, and a quick scamper later, we summited Conundrum. The sketchy traverse was only sketchy if you missed the (slightly hard to find) switchbacks to the left of a small, down-climbable cliff.

The Conundrum summit (with Castle in the background).

On the way up, we had scoped out the Northwest Ridge Route, shown below.

Conundrum's two summits on the right. The Northwest Ridge route is highlighted: red is sketchy, blue is easy. 

The guide book mention had a brief blurb about it, noting that in late summer, you might hit 200' of steep dirt. Some post-mortem internet searching revealed that in late summer there might be "50 to 150 feet of dirt and loose rock above the snow" ( and the saddle "should not be attempted late in the summer when the 200 feet (60 m) of loose dirt and scree meet the climber near the top" (wikipedia).

200' feet of steep dirt seemed like a small price to pay for decreasing our total mileage, avoiding the return trip to the Castle summit, and catching up to the three ladies we met at the Castle summit. So, we took the plunge, thinking that if it got too sketchy, we'd turn around.

It got sketchy. We didn't turn around. 

We encountered small cliffs of deceptively loose rock: each hand and foothold had to be tested twice before applying our weight to them. Falling wasn't an option:  

At one point I lost my balance getting out of Dave's way and grabbed to closest handhold, which cleanly ripped out of the wall. Thanks to sheer fluke luck, the second hold I grabbed held. Once comfortable in my photographer's perch again, I cranked a little harder on the second hold. It nearly ripped out of the wall too.

Below the first 200 feet lay a massive scree covered slope. Each step was accompanied by three foot slide and a prayer that the slide was only three feet. If it was anything much larger, we were all getting sent into the massive, debris littered crevasse hiding in the middle of the slope.

Shane's best attempt at not rock-avalanching into  the crevasse
Somehow, nearly 2 hours later, we made it to back to camp without any mishaps. Our previous elation at summiting both 14ers before noon was replaced by fatigue, nervous relief, and laughter. If we survived that, we could survive anything, right?

*The 14ers guidebook claims that a 14er summit only counts if you gain over 3,000 ft. of elevation.


  1. Sweet recap (super late I know)! I enjoyed going back over it, I feel nostalgic now. I wish we did this for every 14 we've done, would make a sweet collage.


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