Montezuma Basin is an alpine basin located in the Elk Range of the Rocky Mountains outside Aspen Colorado.
This post was supposed to be titled Castle and Conundrum Peak, since my intent was to summit both in one outing, but Mother Nature said nay-nay as last weekend’s snowstorm brought a whole bunch of light fluffy powder to the Rockies. Great if you’re going skiing or snowboarding, not so great if you’re trying to pick off a few 14ers.
The Jeep made it up to 10,700 feet on Pearl Pass/Montezuma road before the snow got too deep to where it was just pushing along with the front bumper. A good excuse for a 6 inch lift and 37s? Methinks that the CFO will deny this expenditure.

Cold Campsite

Cold Campsite
The Jeep made it through deep snow up to 10,700 feet to a nice level camping spot.

Mountain-Forecast blatantly lied, forecasting overnight lows around 14 degrees at this elevation.
When I woke up at 4am – 2 degrees showing on my watch from the Garmin Tempe sitting outside. Back to sleep.
6am – 2 degrees. Back to sleep.
7am – it’s not getting any warmer, might as well get up and get it over with.

Cold Wake-Up

Cold Wake-Up
2.6 degrees means roll over and get a little more shuteye…

I did NOT expect that all of my Nalgenes and my backpack water bladder would freeze solid inside the Jeep, so a cold half hour was spent boiling water and melting everything out. It IS really nice though to hike with warm water in your hydration pack, warms you up with every sip if you sip often enough to keep the hose from freezing solid.

Inside the Freezer

Inside the Freezer in Montezuma Basin
I didn’t expect all of my Nalgenes and my backpack water bladder to freeze solid inside the Jeep.

My feet wouldn’t warm up in the deep snow and I debated turning around within the first half hour due to frostbite concerns, but once the sun was high enough to hit me everything warmed up nicely and the rest of the day turned out absolutely gorgeous.

Pearl Pass Road

Pearl Pass Road is covered under a blanket of snow.
There’s a road under here somewhere…

The fresh powder is beautiful, but it’s really tough on the legs when you’re snowshoeing. Every step sinks in, then every lift up carries snow that you push along with you. It’s like doing weighted high steps for hour after hour.


Snowshoe trenching through Montezuma Basin
My snowshoes are digging a nice deep trench through the deep powder.

Montezuma Basin

Montezuma Basin in winter conditions
It’s a long tough slog up through Montezuma Basin. Conundrum Peak is visible straight ahead.

Montezuma Mine

Montezuma Mine remnants
Remnants of the Montezuma Mine litter the mountainside.

500ft Tall Shadow

500ft Tall Shadow stretching down to Montezuma Basin
Pretty cool seeing my shadow stretch down the mountainside to the basin below. Slip here and it’s a long slide down.

Snow Waves

Snow Waves below Castle Peak
The snowdrifts at the base of the ridges look like waves curling over before they hit the beach.

The entire Elk Range is known for really loose, crappy rock. I discovered that deep fresh powder covers up the rock and makes it almost impossible to pick good footing and handholds.
After slogging up to the ridgeline 500 vertical feet below Castle Peak, I decided that the powder and loose rock combination made the remainder of the route too sketchy for my sense of self-preservation and called it.
The mountains aren’t going anywhere, no sense becoming a statistic or needing to press the SOS button on the InReach.

Looking Back

Looking Back
Looking back down at my trail from 13,700 feet on the ridgeline below Castle Peak.

Castle Peak Summit

Castle Peak Summit
The summit of Castle Peak is so close, yet so far away.

Going down in powder is much easier, especially when you’ve trenched through the snow already. 6 hours up, 2:15 down.
If I rated this outing by summits it would be a dismal failure. If I rated it by sheer beauty, complete solitude, and a killer workout – I’d say this was a huge success.

Double Headwall

Double Headwall
This double headwall is a tough climb up, but a fun glissade down!

The Elk Range

The Elk Range
This is a classic Colorado winter shot.

Back Down the Basin

Back Down the Basin
Heading back down through Montezuma Basin.

White on Blue

White on Blue
Perfect photo skies over brilliant white powder.

Water Crossing

Water Crossing
It sure is beautiful out here!

Montezuma Basin Google Earth

Montezuma Basin Google Earth
Google Earth visual of the hike up through Montezuma Basin.

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