Colorado has 58 mountains over 14,000 feet (4,266 meters) in height but only 53 are noted as '14ers'. To qualify as a 14er the peak must be 300 feet higher than the saddle of an adjacent peak. A notable exception is North Maroon Peak so 54 has become the 'official' number.
But for only 40' Conundrum would be part of the 54 club however since the summit is only 260', not 300', above the saddle with the adjacent 14,265 Castle Peak; it is relegated to being one of the 58 Colorado 14ers. However, it is in good company with Cameron, El Diente and North Eolus - all aspiring to be in the club and still sought after by those of us going for all 58 14ers.
So with that as motivation and being denied by an early June blizzard when Patrick and I summitted Castle, I returned in August to tip my hat to Conundrum and touch the top.
Click on any picture to enlarge it.
This time, I combined it with a planned climb of the very difficult Pyramid Peak with my other 14er partner Robert the next day and set off once again to Aspen. Amazed by the traffic on a Thursday afternoon, I made my way through this mountain sanctuary for the Stars and drove up the very rough 4WD road to over 12,000'. OK, I know some people say you must climb at least 3,000' to claim a summit but since I had hiked this 4 mile road and over 4500' for Castle, I felt I had paid my dues. And after all this was not an "official" 14er - whoops, there I go!
I arrived at the end of the road and set up my tent well above treeline enjoying the total isolation except for a frisky marmot that looked at my jeep with lust in his eyes - or her eyes; I can't tell with marmots - too much fur! I knew that some rodents chew wires and hoses so I spoke softly and threw a big rock to let him/her know my jeep was not for dinner. With the excitement over, I crawled in my tent for a restless night between hearing chewing noises and the 40 mpg wind gusts.
Morning came none too soon as I was joined by another Jeep with three skiers looking to ski the north couloir of Castle - the same route we climbed a few weeks earlier. After a quick marmot check, I took off for my Conundrum.
The headwall was still covered with snow so I put on crampons and kicked steps for a few hundred feet. Soon into the basin, I saw that Castle was devoid of all snow but the slope to the saddle between the two 14ers was covered.
With my crampons still on and ice axe in hand I took a sharp and high angle from the basin towards the saddle. I was surprised how quickly I made the 500' climb. The ridge was wide and the trail well marked as it led directly to the first of Conundrum's two 14,000' summits.
Pausing to consider poor Conundrum had two summits over 14,000'; my empathy went deeper for this underdog.
The climb to the summits was swift and windy on this early August morning and soon I stood on the proper summits and enjoyed the views of the Maroon Bells, Pyramid (up next) and of course Castle. By now there were several parties climbing Castle by the Northeast ridge and one team of two heading towards me from the saddle.
I met the other team as I headed down and we exchanged some thoughts on the peaks and next I was down climbing the snow slope this time without my crampons. It wasn't long before I was back at the jeep for another marmot check - the rodent was nowhere to be found - probably sleeping it off.
I liked Conundrum. Maybe it was the solitude, maybe the fact I pull for the underdog. Or maybe it was just because climbing any 14er that asks you to use crampons and an ice axe makes it special.
All I know is that 40' be damned, this is a 14er in my book.