Date Hiked: 09-26-2016
Mileage:12.7; 6.5 hrs
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 4-5 groups
Standing prominent at an elevation of 14,279 feet, Castle Peak is the 9th highest summit in Colorado, and the highest of the Elk Mountains and the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. And while this is a class-2 hike, I think it’s a good introductory climb for those looking to get into class-3 and above because it has more exposure along the ridge than the usual class 2 climb, and a few borderline class-3 moves to reach the summit
Castle was another peak first summited and mapped by the Hayden Survey, way back in 1873, and has since become one of western Colorado’s more popular climbs, partly due to the fact that you can drive all the way to 12,800 feet on the original Montezuma Mine Road with good-clearance 4WD vehicles…but, that is cheating. Make sure to keep right at the Pearl Pass road a little over 3 miles from the pavement.
The Montezuma Mine was one of the highest, if not the highest, mine in Colorado, with most of its tunnel entrances at or above 13,000 feet. The miners had to live and work at this altitude, which combined with a low silver content brought about an early end to its production. The last remains of the mine lasted only until the ’50s, and now only mine tailings and discarded wooden boards can be found in the area.
From Montezuma Mine, the route heads straight up into the barren, rocky basin between Castle and Conundrum Peaks, where you have two options of gaining the summit. The first is the northwest ridge, which veers closer to Conundrum, an unranked 14er, before gaining the saddle between the two peaks. But with poor snow conditions and loose rock, I opted for the standard route which follows the northeast ridge. The mountain also has a good ski route down Montezuma Glacier, a permanent snowfield on the North Face Couloir. In the 1960s, ski racers trained here.
Grinding through the loose scree, not much of a route marks the trail, especially with the snow on the ground, so veer right and ignore the chaos of social trails that gain the ridge to soon, or you’ll find yourself in a very dangerous situation.
About 5 miles from the trailhead, the route starts making its way to the ridge along a series of sweeping switchbacks. By the time you climb fully out of the gully, you’ll have gained nearly 4,000 feet from the trailhead on Castle Creek Road.
Along the ridge, the route levels, but grows more demanding with the elevation. A broken trail navigates the exposed ledge over the next 400 feet to the false summit, and while the route is classified a difficult class-2, I had some troubles with wayfinding, and found that two or three moves felt more like class-3 to me, and may be uncomfortable for those without much experience in this kind of terrain. Keep in mind that snow during the late spring or late summer will exaggerate this, so crampons and an ice axe may come in handy. The final 150 feet from the saddle is much of the same, but grows steeper with another couple tricky moves.
(From Aspen):From the roundabout west of town, head south on Castle Creek Road for 12.9 miles. The trailhead is on the right side of the road just before the road block.
12.9 miles; 26 min