Start Elevation: 11,200ft
Castle Summit Elevation: 14,265 ft.
Conundrum Summit Elevation: 14,060 ft.
Total Elevation Gain: 3350 ft.
Round-trip Mileage: 9 mi (my estimate)
TRIP REPORT:We headed up the road as far as our vehicle would take us for this hike. We ended up starting around the Peal Pass/FR 102 junction which is at 11,200ft. From here the hike is easy-going hiking the old mining road as it winds its way northwest into Montezuma Basin. The road switchbacks 2-3 times and then makes a sweeping traverse around the north side of the basin until it flattens out and ends around 12800. We enjoyed several nice photos along the way and enjoyed our first views of the aptly named Castle as we neared 12800.
There the real hiking begins. From 12800 the hike ascended steadily to the southwest until we began to hit the upper basin at around 13300. Here the views really began to show us what we had in store ahead of us. The next 400 feet were a well-defined trail up the scree slope that gains the Northeast Ridge of Castle. This got us to about 13700 and the ridge crest. From there the climbing was a real scramble. It never felt exposed or overly steep but it was a scramble over the talus and loose rock ahead of us. This was in fact incredible practice for us on this new type of terrain upon which we hadn't spent much time. It was great learning to routefind amongst rocks and to handle the class 2+ style of climbing. We gained the summit of Castle and the weather was holding nicely for us so we decided to make the push for Conundrum as well.
At first glance, the hike over to Conundrum looks like quite the challenge. As is typical of the Elks, you see plenty of loose rock and ledges to be dealt with. We found it to be a decent challenge and the real name of the game was loose rock. If you could keep your footing well moving along the ridge and above the saddle to Conundrum, you could do well. We made it to Conundrum and took our pics and promptly started making our way back to Castle.
We were privileged to run into several people along the trail there that day and it was a great first experience in the Elks.