Hiker Found in Conundrum Couloir

Lost Hiker’s Body Recovered in the Conundrum Couloir

Pitkin County, CO – On the morning of August 2, 2023, a somber discovery was made in the Conundrum Couloir located between Castle and Conundrum Peaks. The body of a 37-year-old Aspen local was recovered after an intensive two-day effort.

The individual was reported missing by their employer on July 30, after failing to report to work. While the hiker had mentioned plans to embark on a hike on July 29, detailed information about the trip was unknown. A pivotal lead in the case was the discovery of a rental car, similar to that of the missing person’s, found at the end of Castle Creek Road.

The combined efforts of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA), the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office, and Care Flight were all instrumental in the recovery mission. On July 31, the search was intensified after a climber from Boulder, Colorado, reported seeing what appeared to be human legs protruding from the snow in the Conundrum Couloir. Harsh weather conditions initially thwarted the recovery attempt.

It wasn’t until August 2, with improved weather conditions, that recovery teams could retrieve the body. In a strategic approach, one team scaled the ridgeline of Castle Peak, while another team surpassed Castle Peak to access the Conundrum Couloir from above. The body was subsequently lowered to awaiting vehicles at the base.

According to the climbing website 14ers.com, the Conundrum Couloir is a challenging Class 3 Steep Snow route that commences at over 13,000 feet, and includes a demanding 500 feet climb. The route reaches a steepness of approximately 47 degrees at its most difficult section. Notably, the recovered individual was not equipped with mountaineering boots, crampons, or a helmet, though an ice axe was found nearby.

The deceased’s identity will be disclosed by the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office in due course.

Castle and Conundrum Peaks can be accessed by traveling 12.5 miles up Castle Creek Road from Aspen, followed by an additional journey of around five miles up Forest Road 102. It’s important to note that Forest Road 102 can only be accessed by highway-legal vehicles, with Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) strictly prohibited.

Safety Tips and Lessons Learned

The tragic incident underscores the importance of safety when hiking and climbing. Here are some essential tips for those attempting to climb 14ers:

  • Be Prepared: Always wear appropriate gear, including mountaineering boots, crampons, and a helmet, especially when tackling challenging routes.
  • Communicate: Inform someone about your hiking plans, including your route and expected return time.
  • Check the Weather: Before embarking on a hike, always check the weather conditions, as mountain weather can change rapidly.
  • Stay within Your Limits: Only attempt hikes and climbs that match your experience and skill level.
  • Vehicle Safety: Ensure your vehicle is suitable for the terrain. Remember, only experienced offroaders should attempt to drive in certain high-consequence sections.
  • Educate Yourself: Familiarize yourself with the route beforehand, using reliable resources like 14ers.com, to understand the terrain and difficulty.

Remember, the mountains can be unpredictable, and safety should always be the primary concern. Climbers and hikers are urged to always prioritize preparation and caution. Learn more in our complete mountain safety guide.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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Hi, I'm Alex!

In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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