I awoke at 4:30 am, ate the last packet of Kristen's Special Oatmeal Blend, had a bit of coffee, and was off at 5:30am. The jeep trail switchbacks up to about 12800 feet, then one drops into Montezuma Basin. I climbed a snow field toward the saddle between Conundrum and Castle. The approach to the Northwest Ridge route is pretty clear as given by Roach. GPS always helps. The snow was soft enough to allow kick steps, hard enough for me to avoid post-holing. I could have gone up without an ice ax, but was glad I had it, and knew it would make the descent more fun.
The climb gets steeper as one nears the saddle, at which I arrived a bit after 8:30 am. The final ascent to the summit is easy, a bit steep near the top, but still requiring only occasional assistance of the hands. I arrived at the summit about 9 am, with a bit of nippy wind, but was able to abide in relative warmth for about 1/2 hour. I dug around in the snow in search of the summit register canister, to no avail.
I considered Point 13820 and Castlelabra, but said "Nahh", and descended back to the saddle. Again, I considered Conundrum (the weather was great) but again, decided "another day". The snow descent indeed was a total blast, with an ice-axe controlled (somewhat mushy) glissade from the 13820-foot saddle to the 13,000-foot Basin. I encountered my first fellow peak-baggers here, with several more to follow along the way back to the car. I arrived back at my car-camp at 11:40 am, 3165 feet of gain in a bit over 6 hours. I packed it up and headed back to Aspen about 12:30 pm. It was a brilliant, beautiful day and an excellent hike.
Gain/Round Trip Distance: 3165 feet, 6.2 miles
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