Conundrum Hot Springs is a 100 degree pool near Aspen Colorado, that is situated in a stunning alpine basin at 11,000 feet. At the hot-springs you stare up at two 14,000 ft peaks (Castle and Conundrum) and a 13er Castlebra.
Our faithful backpacking partners Erik and Steph drove up from Albuquerque to hike back to the springs with us. Our plan was to camp near the springs Friday and Saturday and climb a peak on Saturday morning.
We arrived at conundrum creek trail head a little before 11:00 am Friday morning. We made quick work of applying sunscreen, readying packs, and filling out the wilderness permit. The temperature was warm (high 70s) and the skies were completely clear as we began the hike. The trail follows an old wagon road built in 1883. It is a gentle grade with a smooth trail for the majority of the hike. The trail opens frequently which provides great views to entertain you as you hike towards the distant peaks. The trail follows conundrum creek from trail head to the springs. In the spring this means lots of water crossings. We counted 16 distinct water crossings. They included several small bridges over rushing whitewater, stepping stone to stone through small streams, balancing on logs across streams, and wading in knee deep water across the creek. I was very glad to have a hiking pole and waterproof boots for this trip.
The hike in took around 5 hours. This included a 10 minute break about 1/2 way in, a stop to filter water, and 20 minutes to deal with the third creek crossing. I was feeling strong due to training for Rainier so I hiked ahead after the last creek crossing to secure a campsite. The first sites you pass are 4, 4a and 5 these are all nice sites with a cool view down to the creek. However, they are a pretty far hike to the hotsprings and fresh water. I arrived in at the springs and chatted with some folks relaxing in the springs, they pointed me to where the open campsites were. I hiked around checking out the sites and settled on site 10. I would say site 8 and 14-16 are the nicest sites.
It was about 5:30 by the time we had camp set up. Thankfully it was summer solstice so we still had 3 hours till sunset. Note: the sun sinks behind the ridge at least an hour before sunset. We decided to head down to the hot springs to have dinner, filter water, and soak.
After dinner we set off to hang our food in a bear bag. After 15 minutes of searching we were unable to locate a tree to hang our bear bag. We hung an inadequate one between two trees 100ft from our camp.
We headed to bed around 9PM and I enjoyed some well earned sleep. My slumber was interrupted a few times by some strong gusts of wind which shook the tent. The stand of trees we were in offered some pretty good protection from the wind.
Triangle Peak / partial Castleabra
I intended to get up around sunrise to take some pictures, and prepare for the days hike. I woke up around sunrise, but the sleeping bag was comfy and no one else wanted to get up early to hike. So I rolled over and slept in until 7AM.
I was hoping to climb the 13,803′ Castleabra via the route described in roach’s 13ers book. As the 105th tallest peak in Colorado, this mountain misses centenial status by only five. Our camp sat directly at the base of the route for this peak. I brought my ice axe and helmet with the hope that some snow might still be in the gully to make this climb more pleasant and safe. As we were eating breakfast we noticed some climbers slowly picking their way down the lower scree slopes of Castleabra. As they finally came off the route we went over to talk to them. They said it was nasty, loose, and no fun at all. The rest of my group had little appetite to try this peak so we agreed to hike up to triangle peak via triangle pass.
We set off for the 13er triangle peak around 8AM. We were afforded a late start by a clear forecast, and our close proximity to this peak. The trail to triangle pass is pretty easy to follow. Due to the spring conditions the trail was wet and muddy from camp to 12,500.
We sat for a while and enjoyed the view of the rugged elks. One of the peaks we were viewing was Thunder Pyramid where in a few hours a Colorado climbing legend, and fellow 14ers.com member Scott Gladbach would loose his life.
We arrived back at the hot springs a little before 2PM and found a very different place indeed. Many parties had arrived, and were ignoring the “camp only in designated sites” rule.
After lunch I decided to ditch the crowds and go a little ways up the scree on Castleabra. The rest of the group headed down to the burgeoning party in the hot springs.
As the sun sunk behind the mountains the temperatures dropped quickly. We decided to head for our warm sleeping bags as the full moon fueled the hots prings party below us. We were up and packing camp by around 6AM. We shouldered our packs and made quick work of the hike out.