Castle Peak  
Condition Updates  
 
Route: Northeast Ridge
Posted On: 2021-01-19, By: RobLowe
Info: Ben's report was spot on. Road to the 2WD TH: groomed. 2WD to the pearl pass split off: snowmobile and ski tracked by hut-trippers. Turning up for castle: no tracks and a complete cluster until you get high enough on Malamute's south face. Malamute's south face has some avy slopes to compete with. Once above the road and up the 2 headwalls, it is easy peasy. Also went to conundrum and then back up castle. You would be making a truly unwise decision to head down from the saddle given the condition of the snow pack. 18.5 miles RT for Castle and Conundrum. 
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Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2021-01-15, By: supranihilest
Info: Castle's winter reputation as a death trap is well deserved. The route spends many hours and miles in avalanche terrain. Don't underestimate it! From Ashcroft to the Castle Creek 2WD trailhead is groomed, then from the 2WD trailhead to the Montezuma Basin turnoff there's a great snowmobile and ski track to keep things easy. I booted to that point, then wore snowshoes until partway up Castle's northeast ridge. In general the route is straightforward and you'll mostly stay on the road, BUT don't get too close to the north facing slopes on the approach and once you're on the road below Malemute's south face you're in avalanche terrain 90% of the way to the ridge. There's lots of annoying sidehilling on the road, and snow conditions are very variable - hard slab, wind drifted powder, deep sugar, windblown rock, wet slush, it's all there. There was some minor cracking as I went but no other signs of instability. On the way down, however, newer, larger cracks had formed. Once past the road there's a short flat area before the headwall. To reach the headwall requires climbing directly up a steep north facing slope. This appeared stable. It's then possible to stay on rock, but the snow was quicker and you can attempt to link together trail segments through the talus. At the top of the headwall the route up the ridge is obvious. The trail eventually becomes snow-free and there's some Class 2+ scrambling on rotten rock, some traversing on scree and talus, and some minor snow climbing. About 50 feet below the summit there's a short, snowy, extremely exposed Class 3 scramble onto a snowy talus slope. The scrambling isn't hard but the exposure is pretty in your face. I found spikes and an axe useful here, otherwise they weren't really useful elsewhere. The traverse to Conundrum is easy. Some snow and loose rock and Class 2+ scrambling but overall easier than Castle. I reversed my entire route. Descending the Castle/Conundrum saddle would be a very bad idea right now. Gear: flotation mandatory, traction and an axe only useful in a couple of spots. Good avalanche sense and the ability to make smart decisions, including when to turn around, is absolutely critical. 
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Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2021-01-14, By: Will_E
Info: Nice day up on Castle and Conundrum. Not much change from last conditions report, the road is well groomed to the start of the 2wd TH, from there a snowmobile track runs all the way to the Pearl Pass junction. Don't follow it like I did for a short distance (doh!), instead take the trench, it was really in good shape until the upper reaches of the road, only disappearing at the end of the road (and disappearing again on my way back). I used snowshoes from the start of the trench to the top of the headwall, left them there and used no traction to reach both summits. I reascended Castle after Conundrum to avoid needing to take my snowshoes with. 
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Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2021-01-10, By: artemavovk
Info: Road closed 2 miles from 2WD trailhead. Groomed + snowmobile tracks all the way up to Pearl Pass sign where you turn off the road. After that gotta make your trail. I left pretty good tracks up to the headwall. Some patches are deep powdery, and some are windswept slabs. At the headwall the snow is relatively stable with some slab cover and/or you can skirt around to less covered rocks, but they're slippery. Past headwall the trail is covered with snow but easy to follow up to ~13800. After that I put on microspikes as there's barely any snow cover, but the rocks and whatever snow are really slippery. It was snowing as well, so had to manage with little grip. Trail was hard to follow, so ended up in some class 3 territory. Traverse to Conundrum is relatively clear, but slippery. Did not go down from the saddle - went back over the Northeast ridge. 
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Route: Northeast Ridge
Posted On: 2020-12-09, By: Coloradokid_
Info: Road closed in Ashcroft about 2 miles short of TH. Put snowshoes on at Pearl junction and wore them to the top of the head wall. From there went boots up the ridge and to the summit. 
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Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2020-11-06, By: coopereitel
Info: Once this storm hits, this info could very well become irrelevant. Road to lower 4x4 is snowy. I stopped before the Pearl Pass fork because there was an icy luge. If you could get past the luge, your chances aren't bad to get to the upper 4x4 TH. I went up the left side of the wall which I guess is standard to go up the slope to the Castle ridge. Ridge was 70% snow free. Low winds. 45 mins to get over to Conundrum at a hiking pace. I debated and debated about going down the saddle gully. I did. It is crap, but I guess that's the trade-off to going back over Castle. I used crampons to go down the gully and then they were necessary all the way back to the upper 4x4 too. I brought snowshoes but never put them on No traction required if you play your cards right and stick to the ridge the whole time instead of going down the gully. Poles helped. 
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Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2020-11-04, By: salmanalsaif
Info: Only person out there all day. Very warm on election day, summitted in my running t-shirt. No wind to speak of either. Started from the 2WD spot, and measured 14.9 miles in 10:30 hrs. The 4WD approach varies from slick ice, to snow, to plain dry rocks. Used my spikes most of the time but had to take them off on occasion after prolonged rock crunching. Wouldn't recommend going without traction. At the base of the mountains (end of the approach, around 5 miles), postholing became an issue so I put on my snowshoes. However I couldn't figure out a good beta to get to the upper basin area so I ended up following a ski trail on the snow slope (I knew the terrain would get better after the slope). This part was very tough and slow, felt like I was running in place. Ended up sticking near the rocks on the north side (right) to grab my way to the top (someone had the same idea too, saw some tracks). Took off the snowshoes when I got to the upper basin area and spotted the summit trail. It was still hard/confusing with a heavy pack but managed to summit both. The ridge to Castle was good though. Some snowy areas but they weren't an issue. At a glance, didn't look like a good idea to drop from the saddle low point after Conundrum. So to speed things up, ditched my pack at Castle and rushed to Conundrum and back before descending. Tough but doable. Biggest issue like I mentioned is I couldn't figure out a good way to get to the ridge for the summit (and had the most difficulty getting to the basin). 
2
 
Route: Northeast Ridge
Posted On: 2020-10-21, By: climbskiyogi
Info: Beautiful day. Parked lower on the road than I anticipated (campsite 2), so I ended up only climbing Castle. Will come back for Conundrum! The road was honestly pleasant to hike - much better than hiking Lake Como Rd a few days ago. I didn't mind the extra mileage. Encountered only 5 people all day. Two couples & another solo hiker. The first couple had turned around because they didn't have spikes or an axe for the headwall/snowfield, but I did not need either to ascend it. I avoided the snow completely on the way up by talus hopping. I found these rocks to be pretty stable. My dog also had no issues. I did put my spikes on during the very last bit of the descent so I could comfortably walk along the snow. But that could have been avoided. The trail leading up to the ridge is pretty loose, but not the worst - trekking poles help! The ridge was fun and rarely ever exposed. My dog did better than me with route finding - as usual. I just followed his lead. But there's a trail to follow for a good bit of it. Barely any snow on the ridge, and what's there is avoidable. Loved this one! 
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Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2020-10-16, By: timewarp01
Info: No traction required for these two; there are some large snowfields but enough rock showing through that it's easy to find a dry route up the bowls. The ridge itself is totally clear of snow. Descent from the saddle is way too dry; turned around and went back over Castle after descending only ~25 feet and it seemed like the entire mountain was about to slide down. Road's in decent shape; the stream didn't look bad at the crossing and I saw a few cars make it all the way up (mine didn't even come close). 
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Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2020-10-08, By: Thevirtualsherpa
Info: Everything is dry and requires no traction. There is a snowfield right after the “upper 4x4” TH but if you stay hikers left you can avoid it. Would highly highly recommend a hike back to Castle instead of going down the saddle. Looks like a very awful time. 
 
Route: North Face Couloir
Posted On: 2020-09-29, By: desxmchna
Info: Didn't set out intending to do this route, but after veering too far to the north side coming up the initial headwall/boulder field, as I was cutting back over to try to pick up the standard route I zoned out for a bit following the snow tracks and ended up at the base of the couloir. I was already spiked up at that point, and I was aware of the previous report noting a descent this way, so I took a few tentative steps up using presumably mountainmaestro's tracks as stairs. The snow was supportive and pleasant to climb, so I followed it all the way up for an extremely direct climb. I just wish I'd come back over Castle to take the same route (or the standard ridge) back down instead of the nasty scree off the Conundrum saddle. 
2
 
Route: Northeast Ridge
Posted On: 2020-09-27, By: mountainmaestro
Info: We climbed without the use of traction. Snow was present on the headwall but was avoidable. The upper portion of the headwall had more trail segments than I expected. Snow covers large portions of the trail to the ridge but it was easy to cross in the morning. The ridge was mostly snow free and any we encountered did not complicate our climbing. We returned to Castle after traversing to Conundrum. We opted to descend the couloir just off Castle's summit, which held supportive snow the whole way (we descended at 10). We used microspikes and poles for this pleasant alternative to downclimbing the ridge or taking the hellacious scree slope below the Castle-Conundrum saddle. Other than a few powerful wind gusts it was a perfect day in the mountains. 
 
Route: Northeast Ridge
Posted On: 2020-09-18, By: Ssgustafson
Info: Mixed snow and talus on headwall and all the way up to the ridge. Micro spikes were helpful all the way up to the ridge. Once on the ridge, snow is intermittent and mostly avoidable to the Castle summit and over to Conundrum. 
1
 
Route: Northeast Ridge
Posted On: 2020-09-16, By: warpig79
Info: Snow is still there. It was solid enough to support my weight in the morning. I'd recommend micro spikes and an ice axe or poles. Got sketchy in a few spots with the packed snow being icy. The road up was clear the whole way. 
 
Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2020-09-15, By: AggieB
Info: Started from 11k at 8 am. Plenty of snow on 9/13 on headwall, maybe 12-18 inches there, but a nice boot packed trail already. Snow was nice and solid in the morning and didn't get slushy until 3pm when we were almost back on the road. Headwall is glissadeable on the Castle side, some skiers also came down on Conundrum side. Most of the snow should melt within next few days, but some might linger in shady area. Not too many loose rocks on the ridge due to snow coverage on Sunday, about 6-12 inches there. Summited Castle at 11:40 am, Conundrum at 1 pm. Trail was slow going for our party due to snow and just generally being careful on the ridge. Couldn't pick a better day for those two! The road is muddy at some spots, but snow free until 12k. 
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Route: Headwall
Posted On: 2020-09-14, By: KJMc
Info: Pics for ya... 
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Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2020-09-12, By: mattbrill9
Info: Winter conditions on the headwall and appears all the way to summit. Ended up turning around at 13900, due to snow conditions and ridge got very sketchy. We saw 2 parties summit today - and many many more turned around. I would give it a good amount of time to melt out. Props to Clint and Joey for helping break trail - and Jay for the ride back to our campsite! 
4
 
Route: Northeast Ridge
Posted On: 2020-08-11, By: Ghuff
Info: Drove up to 12,800' parking lot in stock Jeep Wrangler Sahara. If you can make it to the second creek crossing, you can make it to the top. We were one of 4 vehicles at 12,800'. The Jeep took a beating, but made it easily. Very busy Sunday up there. Passed 30+ vehicles parked along the road above campground 9. Many of them could have made it all the way up, but decided to pull off and park and hike. Took us 1:45 from the 12,800 parking lot to summit Castle. The headwall had very little snow, so we had to boulder hop for a good 30 minutes. I think we got off trail here...we just went straight up. The next 30 minutes section was pretty brutal on the way up and down...very loose dirt and scree...almost impossible to not slip every other step. It is like this all the way up to the ridge. From what I've heard and seen, it is worse than usual...probably from all of the traffic coming down this trail instead of on the usual ridge decent. The last 30-45 minute section is on the ridge, making your way up to the castle summit. Typical elk mountain range scrambling here. Nothing technical at all, just requires the use of some hands instead of just feet hiking...3 or 4 points of contact at times. We saw several groups fall below the ridge and get in some sketchy territory right below the castle summit. They went right (low) instead of staying left on top of the ridge. I think there is even a photo on 14ers with a big Red X of where not to go. Even so, we saw several people going this way and getting yelled at from others to go back up and stay high on the ridge. It is especially easy to do on the way down...it looks like there is a trail that hangs left (down) on your decent ...but this spits you out into some very sketchy cliff terrain. On your way down (and up), stay high and follow the top of the ridge. On the decent from Castle, it really looks like the trail goes left and down..it doesn't. It stays high and goes over the large rock/boulder/ridge. We were going to do Conundrum as well, but the ridge decent was in terrible shape. VERY sketchy. Class 5 dirt, rock, and some snow at the bottom. It doesn't save time, but some people were doing it. Everyone we talked to said it was not worth doing, and it was even faster to come back up via Castle and back down the same way you come up. The initial decent from Castle to Conundrum (on ridge) is very loose material and narrow. Coming back up this is not fun. It takes about 45 minutes to hike from Castle to Conundrum. Very little snow left. Ice ax not necessary. Only a 40 yard glissade was left/doable on the very lower portion. This is a great and unique 14er. It was someone in our group's first 14er. The drive up to 12,800' is very cool and fun in itself. That is what makes this 14er so unique. There's nothing special about hiking several hours on a dirt road, so it is pretty cool to cut this out and also experience some fun 4x4 driving while saving your legs. The actual 14er hike begins at the end of the road. 
 
Route: Castle and Conundrum
Posted On: 2020-08-08, By: cvbuffs
Info: Would definitely recommend trying to hug the snow fields in the lower sections leaving the parking area at 12,800 and even climb them to get to the upper basin vs. the scrambling. Saved a ton of time and energy, plus much easier on the legs. Exit on the saddle down was definitely not worth it. Very loose and you will need traction and an ice axe to safely make it down. Would recommend returning over Castle for inexperienced hikers. 
 
Route: Northeast Ridge
Posted On: 2020-08-03, By: tsmith1007
Info: My wife and I took my 2019 Ford Edge (~8" Clearance) about 2.6 miles up from the 2WD trail head, we parked right before the wood bridge. After the bridge it gets a little hairier, but after hiking it I think we could have gone a bit further. The creek crossing was no big deal, just take it slow when going down and up the banks. There was only one place in the road where we scrapped on the way out, this could have been avoided if I took a better line. Overall the trail is in good condition, early in the morning it might be a little easier to put on microspikes to climb up the slick snow about 30 min past the 4WD trail head. But, we took our time and made it up without them. On the way back down Conundrum we decided, after watching some others do it, to take the trail down from the saddle of Castle and Conundrum. Probably not the best idea looking back at it, as it was full of loose dirt and rocks and the snow at the bottom was very slick and slushy around 11am. We both put on our microspikes for this section which I believe made it a little easier and reassuring on the loose dirt. If you do go this route make sure to take your time and give anyone ahead of your amble amount of time to complete the climb down before starting. As the easiest way down is a perfect funnel for all of the loose rocks that break free. We started the hike at 3:45am and finished around 1:15pm. Overall it was a great hike with perfect weather. 

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