Ascent/Descent Route: North face to upper east face
Members of Group: Andy "Danger" Mention
I had been traveling around Colorado climbing and snowboarding peaks for several weeks now, meeting up with a friend or two for a few days here and then another friend or two there to climb peaks in the Sawatch and San Juan ranges. Now I was beginning the last leg of my spring snowboard vacation as I met up with Andy to hang out in the Elk range for a bit.
A few years ago, I had climbed Castle in the summer and snowboarded on the glacier but had yet to do a full summit descent. While the north face is not a super extreme descent, it has some nice turns, and a reputation for being able to drive to snow, skin/climb on snow to the summit, and ski right back down to your car in the spring. The snow ended up being a little thinner than that, but not by a whole lot.
Andy met me on Montezuma road, just a little above Ashcroft, the night before. We camped just below the river crossing and got the usual predawn start. We hiked up the road for a brief bit but were able to switch to skins pretty quickly. The hard, frozen snow made for some interesting skinning in the steeper sections...
photo-Andy skinning towards Montezuma Basin. Photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
Montezuma Basin really is a beautiful place with big, open, long bowls running from the head of the basin below Castle peak back down to treeline and many steep, couloir/face options on either side of the valley. We enjoyed the skinning through the upper basin.
photo-Andy skinning through Montezuma Basin. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Andy skinning towards Castle peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
After a couple hours of skinning we were at the base of the north face and began the snow climb up. The north face is about 40 degrees in pitch and winds above some cliffs in places. Compared to some of the steeper lines we had been skiing lately, it looked pretty easy. That said, there is certainly still some fall potential if you are inexperienced or just not paying attention. There was a nice looking couloirish feature on the looker's left side of the face that we elected to climb up.
photo- Zach Taylor climbing the north face of Castle Peak. photo by Andy Mention, 2013.
The couloir topped out on the ridge, about 300' below the summit of Castle. From there we decided to step across and finish the climb on the much steeper, spicier, east face of Castle. We topped out to great views of the Bells, Pyramid, and the rest of the Elk range.
photo-Conundrum Peak from the summit pf Castle. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
It was a beautiful, bluebird day in the Elk range and life was good! We hung out on the summit for a bit taking in the views and discussed our descent route. The much steeper east face was definitely the prize line but we had only climbed the top several hundred feet of the route and were a little concerned about descending a cliffy, possibly melted out, extreme line that could have put us in a sketchy situation. After a bit of discussion we opted for a little safer descent; drop off the east face, enjoy a few steep turns, and then cut back across to the north face and descent the north face.
As we were readying to drop in, I realized that I had a forgotten flask of Jim Beam in my pack that I had just unwittingly carried to the summit of Castle Peak. If there is one thing I have learned in my mountaineering career, speed is safety, and extra weight slows you down! Well, that was weight I did not want to carry down so Andy and I, in the name of safety, took care of the weight appropriately...
.............and then dropped in. The turns on the east face were excellent corn and we enjoyed a few hop turns before traversing back across to the north face and riding the north face down. The north face was still cold and frozen but had several inches of dry, fresh powder from a recent, brief storm cell that had passed through the area the day before. Once we were below the face the snow corned up and we enjoyed some great corn turns down the long bowls down and out Montezuma Basin. Enjoy the action shots.
photo-Zach Taylor enjoying some Beam on the summit of Castle peak. photo by Andy Mention, 2013.
photo-Andy Mention enjoying a little Beam on the summit of Castle Peak.
photo-Andy Mention skiing out below the north face of Castle Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Andy Mention skiing the north face of Castle Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Andy Mention getting ready to drop the east face of Castle peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013
We were able to ski almost all the way back down to our cars. It was a really nice descent. Not too steep, good snow conditions, and beautiful Elk range views. On the summit we had gotten a good look at Cathedral peak and decided to stay in the area the next day and ski Cathedral. We drove a couple miles down the road to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead and then drank beer in the sun for the afternoon.
photo-Andy Mention skiing the Montezuma Basin bowls. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013
photo-Ranger IPAs after a good day of snowboard mountaineering. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.