If you’re in search of a fun 14er with a permanent slow field/slide, hiking Castle and Conundrum Peaks is the perfect adventure for you! Just 20 minutes outside of Aspen, located in the Elk Mountain Range, this (difficult) class 2 trail is classic for many and a great way to introduce yourself to snow conditions. Getting up the mountain requires traversing a jeep road that will push your vehicle to the limits. And the decent offers a near vertical snow slide for those brave enough to try.
Tips for Hiking Castle and Conundrum Peaks
Drive a 4×4 With High Clearance- The rout up the mountain is a jeep/4×4 road that you can drive as far as 12,500ft or as far as your vehicle will take you.
Make sure you acclimate – For those of you lucky enough to fly into the Aspen Airport, make sure to take a day or two to acclimate before making the hike. If you’re coming from or flying into and making the drive from Denver, just take a night before you make the hike.
Bring a water filter to save in weight: There is a little lake with flowing water at the true trail head. A great place to fill up on amazing mountain water before and after you take the summit. I’d bring 1 liter and refill with the filter.
Check the weather – The Rockies and (and especially the Elk range) are notorious for afternoon thunder storms. Make sure to check the forecast before you leave and that you have the right gear.
Gear To Bring
Shoes – I love the Hoka One One Torrents. Just make sure they are comfortable for loose rocks up and down hill.
Day Pack – You are going to need water, food, first aid kit (one per group), and anything else you may want. I’d recommend anything from 12 to 25 liters will be plenty for most people. Just make sure it’s comfortable and secure to your body.
Water Bottle – I’d recommend a water bottle over camel back. At 14,000ft being able to squeeze the water directly into your mouth makes it much easier.
Water Purifier – Bring a water filter, check out the Sawyer Mini water filter.
Food/Fuel – Easily digestible carbs, protein, sugar, and salts are perfect for quick energy while on the trail! We typically make a few different sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly/honey and ham & cheese. Add in 4-6 snacks each and you’ll have a great treat at each peak.
*Micro Spices/Crampons – Not necessary but will make it a lot easier.
*Helmet (if your making the slide)- If your going to make the shortcut slide (more below) it’s not a bad idea to protect your head. Check out the Black Diamond Half Dome here.
Getting to the Trail Head
You will see a lot of different distances for hiking Castle and Conundrum Peaks. This is because your starting point all depends on how far you can drive up the mountain. Once you reach the park’s parking lot you will split up off onto a rough dirt road to the right for about 1-2 miles.
Then you will face a creek crossing. There is a log that you can walk across but crossing the creek in a vehicle will depend on a lot of variables including water depth and ground clearance.
Once across the creek you are in for a good walk/drive from around 10,000ft to 12,500ft. The road is a rough drive with some parts being worse than others. We had a Jeep Wrangler Sahara and made it up to around 11,100ft. Just past the waterfall. You can see in the photos below where we parked. Other jeeps (and a Tesla) decided to stop here too. The two vehicles we saw make it past this point were both lifted Jeeps.
From here you are going to continue up the jeep road until you reach the split. Stay right.
Then just keep going well out of the tree line! After a few switch backs you will be able to see the parking lot and trail heading up the slow. Both are visible in the pick below.
Now the fun begins!
At this point Castle peak still wont be visible so just keep going. At the parking lot there is a little lake with flowing water. This is a great place to eat some food and get your spikes on. If you don’t have spikes just carefully work your way to the rock like and scramble your way up following the snow. If you have spikes just start hiking.
Once you make the first saddle, entering the bowl of the mountain Castle Peak will come into view. Castle Peak is on your left and Conundrum is on your right. The main trail will start to your left, with cut backs leading up to the main ridge trail up Castle Peak. Below is a photo looking back on the main trail leading up to Castle Peak.
From here you get a pretty standard class one route right up to the final summit push. This is where you get your “difficult” class 2. There are a couple easy climbs and one exposed move to make before your standing on top at just over 14,200ft.
To get to Conundrum Peak you will just follow the trail off the other side of Castle. Made primarily of cutbacks through loose rocks the path is clearly visible even in summer. Down the saddle and back up, placing your self on Conundrum Peak!
Two Ways Down
Now the real conundrum. The standard route is an out and back which has you summiting Castle for a second time on your return. As you can image, the idea of going back up isn’t the most efficient way down. And you do have a second option. Glissading/sliding down the low point in the saddle.
There are a lot of posts and videos of people talking about this, All making it seem easy. I can tell you on our first assent we watched three groups stop and ponder the slide down only to either slowly work their way down using spikes or going back over Capital. The drop is a lot more sketchy in person. That said, my whole group took it. Below is a pic showing the route.
My advice is to work your way down the rocks as far as you can. The look for a line that doesn’t have any dark spots (yet) and let go. Without an ice ax you will get some speed and be out of control. But do not sick your feet into the ground to stop, Lean back and use your shoulders to guide yourself towards the loose snow. This will slow you down.
Either way you take will lead you back to the top saddle you initially climbed leading to the view of the peaks. From here the snow slide down is clearly defined and an easy fun ride. The slope is much less steep proving a quick fun way down the mountain to the parking lot. Trust me when I say that this alone makes hiking Castle and Conundrum Peaks a must for your bucket list!
14ers.com Pics and Info
Castle and Conundrum Peak Videos
A great video that shows the slide down!
Another good video showing the trail in different conditions.
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