Mt. Conundrum

P E A K   D A Y

We consented to this shot by the clambering photo jockeys from SI Mountaineer.  It's the morning of the peak climb.  Our goal is Castle Peak; everyone is in high spirits.

Adam crossing none other than the illustrious Conundrum Creek. 

I'm not really sure why there are so many fallen trees around certain rivers.  It's almost as if the rocky soil can't support the root structure of trees once loosened by the moisture of a river.  If this were caused by massive rock slides, there would be lots of large boulders around, which there generally aren't.

Adam just above the "notch", studying Castle Basin.

That's me in the lower right portion of the picture.  We're trudging up to the base of what we initially believed to be Castle. 

Once everyone else joined me here, we had a lively debate on the subject-- bolstered by absolutely zero empirical evidence: No one had a compass, which made our maps useless.  My argument was that this hill couldn't be Castle, because I had never seen a 14er with snow this close to its peak.

This picture was actually taken chronologically much later, but it shows the hill we should have climbed.  This is one of those "13.9" pre-peaks; Castle is to the left.

At the time, we chose to go the other direction, on the basis of our chosen peak's position in the Basin, relative to the narrative account that Roach's book gives of that area, and based on the number of folks we could see headed to it over the ridge.

Me, up ahead and traversing the basin.

You will notice the amount of snow in this and the following pix.  This was our first year to climb with crampons.  Kenn and I had full crampons-- although just the kind that strap around your boot (not the ones that strap and clip into the heel and toe).

The verdict?  I would rather climb on solid snow with crampons than on any other surface: You don't have to watch where you step, and you're guaranteed traction with each step.  Kenn and I were even able to traverse small rock fields without removing them.

Next

Kenn and Ned.  If you look closely to the right of Ned's should, you can see two specks below him in the snow.  That's Marc and Adam, a few hundred feet below.

Kenn ice-climbing on Class 3 terrain.

And me, the same.  I specifically requested this shot, out of vanity.  Within five minutes of this shot, instant karma had released the bindings on my right crampon, leaving me grappling not to lose my balance on the rocks to my left with one hand, while I tried to fasten my bindings with the other.  It sounds and looks more dangerous than it was.

Kenn and Ned.  This is after reaching the ridge, and, of course, the wind starts coming on hard.  Hence the sexy jackets.  (Armani on Kenn, and Ermenegildo Zegna on Ned.)

The climb up to the ridge (which we're traversing) was over the talus that you see here.  It was ubiquitous and awful to climb on.  The stones were just small and loose enough that it made for an extremely unstable surface.  It was worse than skree, in that skree won't start a rockslide.

Here we are on . . . Conundrum Peak?  Pardon the pun.  We thought this would be Castle Peak, but were a little surprised to learn otherwise.  Nonetheless, it was a hell of a climb, and, as Ned so eloquently put it: "It doesn't matter.  We successfully climbed the one that we selected to climb," referring to our group decision on the direction.  Conundrum is 14,022 feet, and is considered a "sub-peak", on the basis of the fact that it's a less than 200 foot elevation gain over to Castle, its nearest neighbor.  Nonetheless, it was the most technically difficult peak any of us had undertaken, and not soon to be forgotten.

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