Castle Peak
Northwest Ridge
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Difficulty:
 Difficult Class 2 
Risk Factors:Exposure: Considerable
Rockfall Potential: Considerable  
Route-Finding: Moderate  
Commitment: Moderate  
 
Trailhead:Castle Creek
Start:9,800 feet
Summit:14,265 feet
Total Gain:4,600' if you start at the main trailhead
3,100 feet if you start at 11,200'
RT Length:13.5 miles if you start at the main trailhead
7 miles if you start at 11,200'
USGS Quad.:Hayden Peak
County Sheriff:Pitkin: 970-920-5300
National Forests:White River, Gunnison
Wilderness Area:Maroon Bells - Snowmass
Author:BillMiddlebrook
Last Updated:3/2019

Trailhead

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 all all the way to 12,800'. Good-clearance passenger cars can drive about 1 mile up this road to reach the dispersed camp sites along the road. 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 to a river crossing, at 1.3 miles. In spring and early summer, this crossing is a challenge for some 4WD vehicles. At 3 miles, reach the Pearl Pass junction and stay right on the Castle Creek 102 road. If you drove up this far, there are a few parking spots near the junction. The road gets worse as it ascends into Montezuma Basin all the way to 12,800'.

Route

NOTE: In late summer and fall, the pitch below the Castle-Conundrum saddle may be snow-free, making the it an unpleasant ascent on rubble. If that's the case, it's better to use the standard, northeast ridge route.

From the 2WD trailhead, drive up FR 102 where you'll find marked camping spots along the first 1.25 miles. Near 10,200' and 1.3 miles up the road, reach a creek crossing which has a footbridge - #1. If the road is open/clear beyond this point and you have a 4WD vehicle, you can drive higher. Low-clearance vehicles should NOT attempt this crossing, especially in early summer when the water is high. If you plan on driving across, it's best to walk over the footbridge first to see what you're up against. Cross Castle Creek and continue nearly 2 miles to the Pearl Pass road junction, at 11,150' - #2. Turn right at the junction and follow the road up into Montezuma Basin - #3 and #4. Pass the Montezuma Mine and continue another 0.5 mile to the end of the road, at 12,800' - #5.

Without a trail, you must now ascend a headwall blocking easy access to the upper basin - #6, #7 and #8. Gain 500' of elevation to reach the upper basin, near 13,400' - #9. Your next goal is to ascend a steep slope below the Castle-Conundrum saddle, seen in #11. The slope holds snow through much of the summer. Hike to the west side of the basin (#10 and #11) and traverse up the snow (hopefully) slope under the saddle - #12. This slope is the crux of the route and, in late summer, you may encounter some loose dirt/scree below the saddle. Climb to the 13,800-foot saddle - #13 and #14.

Turn left and hike southeast along Castle's northwest ridge on a light trail - #15. Bypass some rock outcroppings on the right to reach steeper terrain near 13,900' - #16. As you approach 14,000', the rock becomes worse and you may have to search for the "trail" - #17. Pass the final rock outcroppings on the right (#18) and continue to the summit - #19.

Notes

If you don't have a good-clearance 4WD vehicle, park below the creek crossing. If you continue above the crossing, there are small pull-offs near 11,000' and the Pearl Pass road junction. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.

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