Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rockin' the 'Rado

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A visit to Colorado started with several days in Boulder meeting up with old friends, hiking around the Flatirons and Eldorado canyon, and cutting a rug at Erica's sister Rachel's wedding.  Then we hit the road, driving over Independence pass (a paved road, 12,000 feet!) to Aspen.

After a big snowfall this winter, there was plenty of water to make everything green.  The valley was beautiful, flowers were in bloom, and the rivers were running big.

But we were headed to the alpine!    Erica points out Castleabra peak in the distance.  This peak rises right up from Conundrum hot springs, where we camped for 2 nights.  We spent most of our first day of climbing thinking this was actually Castle . . . 

On the road again . . .

The further up the valley we got, the wetter the trail became.  For the last few miles, the "trail" was actually a tributary of Conundrum Creek.  Erica was much smarter than I, and brought Chacos.

We set up camp on a cool rock outcropping above the hot springs.  The noise from the river below was awesome, and made it easier to forget we were camped next to a bunch of other folks.  After a nice long soak in the hot springs, we cooked up a delicious couscous dinner (the food so nice they named it twice!) and crawled into our sleeping bags.  The alarm was set for 4:30.

It turns out, it was set for 4:30 pacific time, so we woke up a bit late but quickly made coffee, breakfast and were on the trail.  Within a half hour we had reached the snowline, donned crampons, and were headed up into the cirque between Castle and Conundrum.  As we climbed, we watched beautiful alpenglow crawl down the peaks on the opposite side of the valley as the sun climbed over the ridge.

We reached the top of a snow couloir, excited to be on the ridge towards the summit.  Unfortunately, we realized our earlier peak identification error, and we were between Castle and Castleabra, not Castle and Conundrum.  The cliff above blocked us from climbing over to Castle Peak.

The ridge to Castle was loaded with other obstacles as well.  If we had reached the Castle/Conundrum saddle, a trail links the two peaks and would have given access to both.

Even after discovering our routefinding error, Erica had the energy to strike badass mountaineer poses.  It was too late in the day to safely climb over to the correct route, so we chalked our morning up as reconnaissance, and decided to come back the next morning after another rejuvenating hot springs soak.

After setting our alarm even earlier, we again climbed up frozen snow as the sun rose.  This picture was taken just after a cheery, hot-coffee-deprived Erica insisted "I do NOT want my picture taken right now".  Searching for a way up Conundrum Peak (normally climbed from the other side of the mountain . . . ), we found a steep snow couloir that led to a few hundred feet of talus scrambling, and then the summit.

We finally made it!  After struggling with sub-optimal climbing conditions, we were both excited to be on the summit of Conundrum, enjoying awesome views of the Elk mountains.

Erica snapped this cool photo of me exploring the far end of Conundrum's long, narrow summit plateau. Just below me, the Conundrum couloir drops off for a few thousand feet, and was still packed with snow.  We've gotta bring skis next time!

Remembering that we not only had to descend to our camp, but walk out 9 miles to the trailhead and then drive to Boulder, we headed back down to the valley in suncupped snow.  The far side of the valley shows one of many waterfalls caused by massive snowpack left over from this year's long, snowy winter.

We managed a quick soak in the hot spring, packed up camp, and headed down the trail towards our car, cold beer, and burritos.  Looking back up the trail, we could see a thunderstorm brewing.  We tried to outrun it, but ended up getting pretty wet.  All part of the Rocky Mountain experience!

Conundrum peak is second from the right, and we were excited to enjoy the view as we headed home.  Two happy adventurers!

Full photo gallery here.

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