10 December 2009

Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak

Castle Valley Sunrise
Friday the 13th, August 2004

We left the car at 5 a.m., and The Lizard returned to the car at 8:30 p.m. I wish I could say we bagged Castle, Conundrum, Castleabra and Cathedral, and that's why it took so long. But two 14ers in a day will have to suffice.

Castle Peak

Two in one day!!! Woohoo!!! I finally did it!!! And it wasn't on one of the “easy” double baggers!

What would have been an epic day and magnificent sense of accomplishment was slightly tarnished, however, when upon the descent of Conundrum we happened to be in the right place at the right time, nearly completely helpless. A party of two had stymied themselves below the melted-out saddle of Conundrum and Castle to avoid reclimbing Castle.

Without snow, the slopes below the saddle are ugly ball bearing scree. Two climbers had tossed their packs down thinking that would aid them in their miserable descent. By the time we reached the saddle, they had realized they were in trouble, they had no warm gear or water, they couldn't go up or down, one was obviously panicked, the other still bent on not having to reclimb and descend Castle.

The Lizard had a small piece of rope, but it was not long enough to help pull these two back up. He tied the rope to my ax hoping to give the closer party at least some aid in descending or reclimbing the slope, but the rope was about ten feet too short, and the stranded climber was too paralyzed with fear and lack of confidence to try to reach the now stranded ax.

Fireweek Along Castle Creek

The Lizard tried to coax both parties into moving back to the proper route up the saddle because both had crawled into steeper and looser portions of the col in their attempt to find a better way down. One had all but cliffed out. With daylight waning, The Lizard decided the best thing to do would be to get the panicked climber stabilized and still, then the two of us reclimb Castle and either find a camper on the descent to call for help or get back to my own car and cell phone to call for help.

After helping me down the scariest portions of Castle, The Lizard went ahead to find a cell phone or get to mine, whichever came first. Fortunately, the campers in the Montezuma Basin had already notified Search and Rescue, so The Lizard made his way back up to me, shifted some of his load to me and then headed back up to the bowl to let the stranded parties know help was on the way and to try to get some warmer clothing to them, if possible.

Picas seem to know when you're too tired to whip out the camera.  That's when they pose.

On my way down the long, seemingly unending four-wheel-drive road, two ATVs came racing up. The drivers asked if I had information. I told them what I knew, and they proceeded up, instructing me to notify the rest of the SAR crew because they had no signal and no way to communicate with the rest of the team.

Before I reached my car, the campers from the Montezuma Basin passed and informed me both stranded climbers had managed to make it back up to the ridge and that SAR was going to go ahead and go up to make sure the stranded hikers were able to make it down Castle, being as they had no water and no lights. So I waited for The Lizard when I reached my car, and he joined me about half an hour later. When he reached the bowl on his reclimb, he could see both climbers had indeed made the ridge and were working their way back up Castle. They signaled The Lizard that they were okay, and he turned back. He then crossed paths with the two SAR ATVs and informed them of the current situation before turning down a jeep ride back down the road and hiking all the way down. !!!


The Lizard had wanted to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics; I had wanted to snap a daylight photo of a beautiful cluster of fireweed with a picturesque waterfall in the background. What should have been about a ten- to twelve-hour day turned into nearly 23 hours without sleep for both of us. Just a week earlier I'd realized how shortsighted I have been to allow my first aid training to expire following a choking incident at my work. In combination with my Conundrum, my ambition to become First Responder certified has been renewed.

Climbing My First Chimney

Now that I've got that off my chest, I suppose I should say what an incredible day my Friday the 13th was. I immensely enjoyed the wildflowers once the sky began to lighten, and I loved seeing the sunrise paint the surrounding pinks flaming orange. Hummingbirds darting among the fireweed and columbine made for pleasant rest stops along the way, and the abundance of waterfalls filled the air with the soothing lull of distant roaring water.

These were our second and third peaks together, and I think we make an awesome team, even though I am much slower than him. I am anxious for our next adventure!

Pt. 13780


  1. What a wonderful adventure! I also love your beautiful photos. Thanks for stopping by Healthy Moms!

  2. Beautiful pictures and a very cute rodent:)


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