Castle Peak Route Guide | The Best Elk Mountain Beginner 14er
The Elk Mountains are the most dangerous Colorado mountain range. Their loose, rotten rock makes rockslides and accidents more common than any other peaks in the state. The six fourteeners here aren’t to be taken lightly. Castle Peak is one of the easiest 14ers in the Elk Mountains, great for those looking to get their feet wet in this area without the risk of the Maroon Bells or Capitol Peak. It’s still a long, touch climb that deserves to be taken seriously. Start planning and researching your trip with my Castle Peak Route Guide below.
Castle Peak Route Guide Fast Facts
Castle Peak Route Guide - Northeast Ridge
The Castle Peak route starts at the Castle Creek trailhead. If you have 4WD, you can drive up the road where there are some spots for camping along the first mile. Near 10,200 feet, 1.5 miles up the road, reach a creek crossing. Low-clearance cars, whether they have 4WD or not, shouldn’t attempt this creek crossing. This is especially true. in early summer when the water is higher. If you do want to cross, take a look from the footbridge to see what you’re up against.
After crossing the creek, keep hiking along the Castle Peak route almost 2 miles to the Pearl Pass road junction around 11,150 feet. Turn right at this road junction and follow the old mining road up into Montezuma Basin. You will pass the Montezuma Mine along your right. Continue a half mile to the end of the road which tops out around 12,800.
At this point, you have a great view of the headwall ahead you which you’ll climb to reach the Northeast Ridge. Pass the creek and meltwater to your left and continue to the steep slope in front of you. Ascend 600 feet up the headwall. Snow may be on this slope late into the summer, in which case you should be prepared with traction and an ice axe. Around 13,300′, enter a large basin. Castle and Conundrum peak rise above you.
Follow a trail to ascend up to the ridge sharply to your left. Hike over 300 feet to reach the crest of the ridge, around 13,700. From here, the route is tougher along the ridge, maxing out at a difficult class 2, unless you go off route. Bypass some initial touch sections on the right before continuing directly on the ridge crest. Around 13,900 feet, with 100 feet or so to go, go around another difficult section on the right and return to the top of the ridge crest. Be careful not to drop too far to your right or you’ll hit steep cliffs. Near 14,000 feet, you can preview the final 250 feet to the summit.
Drop to a small saddle and start up the final pitch, the crux of the Castle Peak route. You may run into some tougher rock sections or obstacles but it should be somewhat easy and obvious to get around them each. Finish climbing up the steep, loose slope to reach the summit of Castle Peak.
At the summit, enjoy your accomplishment! After you enjoy the view, make sure you head back down with plenty of time to reach treeline before afternoon thunderstorms become a problem. I hope you enjoyed this Castle Peak Route Guide.
This topographical map of the Castle Peak Route is perfect for your trip. Download it on your phone and print out a paper copy so you have a spare in case anything goes wrong. Click on the map to view it larger here.
Besides researching the Castle Peak route, you should research the weather conditions for your climb so you can pack and prepare properly.
Hiking & climbing 14ers is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe. Good Luck!
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Hiking, scrambling and climbing up Colorado’s high peaks are inherently high-risk, dangerous activities. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my Castle Peak route guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.
About the Author: Alex Derr
Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.