Castle Peak Trip Report

Trail: Sort of the Northwest\east ridge with some improvisation, Class 2, ~6 miles,  ~ 3500 ft elevation gain 

Wow, what a blast of a trip.  My first Elk mountain, my first real snow climb, my first real glissade.  My idea for this beautiful summer of 2004 was to get out and hit several mountains in each of the ranges.  I just moved here from PA last July and, while I have done 18 mountains before this one, I have so far confined my climbing to the Ten-mile, Front, and Sawatch ranges.  

I figured it might not be a bad idea to try to meet up with some of the members and try to head out to some of the other ranges to broaden my horizons.  To this end I responded to a post by Chris from the forums section of 14erworld.  He was looking for a Castle partner and I quickly emailed him.  We spoke for a bit and settled on June 13th as a date.  Come Friday, June 12th, I spoke with Chris to make sure everything was a go.  He informed me a few other people would be coming along and that we should all meet up at the Caste Trailhead around 7 or so Saturday night.

Jen and I borrowed our friend Brian's Ford Explorer (Brian is in CA right now visiting family but I will have him out again soon) and left Boulder at 3:00 P.M. Saturday, June 12th, 2004.  The drive to the Elks was just gorgeous.  I have never been to this part of Colorado and really enjoyed the scenery.

Unfortunately the Boulder to Idaho Springs traffic was abhorrent and we ended up about 30 minutes late.  Chris drove by in his truck and Jen said "Hey I bet that's the guy, he waved and stopped just down the road".  We waited a moment until Chris drove back and we made our introductions.  Chris had his long time friend Ryan along.  

We went to the trailhead and packed into the truck and Explorer and headed about two miles up to a nice campsite off of  the road.  The road up was fun and I got to drive through a stream.




At camp we made up some chili and clam chowder using my little MSR stove. Chris and Ryan shared some food and drinks with us and told us his other friends, Sonja  a (coworker and Climber Girl from 14erworld) and Troy (her husband) would be showing up at some point in the middle of the night (they were coming after a wedding).  We talked some and then all retired to sleep.

When I woke up at 5:30 there was a third truck at the site (apparently Troy and Sonja hadn't arrived until 3:00 A.M.).  Jen and I wandered over and introduced ourselves to Sonja, Troy, and  their dog Arwen.  Arwen turned out to be  an excellent hiker.  This dog fearlessly went up and down everything I encountered about 5 times without exhibiting the slightest fear.  This includes the gully climb and glissade I will describe later.

After getting dressed and having a bite to eat we all started heading up the 4WD road.

The road up was pretty straightforward and we just headed on up until we came to the area beneath the basin with the pond in it.  At the days beginning we were a bit worried about the clouds overhead but decided to trek on as we thought they weren't lighting clouds.  Luckily we did as the day turned beautiful.  We all chatted as we hiked and I can't help but find it ironic that my 3 of my hiking companions were actuaries when my good friend and prior hiking companion,  Jim, is also an actuary.


On the way up we also briefly talked to a couple of guys who were carrying skis with them, they were planning to trek up and ski down, as it turns out they nicely beat us to the top and back down again.

If you look at the picture above you can see the first snow slope we had to climb.  I would be lying if I said most of today wasn't a first to me and I wasn't sure how happy I'd be with the climb.  We all donned crampons, pulled out our  axes, and headed up the leftmost slope.  Once on it I had a blast.  The snow was good and I was in great company.  Everyone else were experienced climbers and were very helpful showing both myself and my wife the ropes.




We arrived at the basin pretty quickly.

We conferred briefly and decided to try a gully\couloir which connected to the NE route just shy of the ridge.  As it turns out this climb would be a whole lot steeper than anticipated (and unbeknownst to us, the site of a bad accident the previous day, in which a climber tumbled down and badly broke a leg).  The climb began relatively steeply but the snow was very good and we were making good time.  Chris, Ryan, and myself were leading with Troy, Jen, and Sonja behind.  I had the two guys with me giving me pointers while Troy and Sonja talked with Jen.

Here is a picture of the initial climb.  Note the basin we had already climbed to.  I think the basin is at 13,400 ft so the vertical gain on this route is about 800 ft.

Here is me on the slope (it was really that steep).

The last stretch of this climb got very steep.  I have limited snow climbing experience so I can't give an actual degree.  One of my crampons kept popping off so I carefully but speedily kicked up to the ridge as quickly as possible (where Ryan was waiting).  Below is a picture of Chris who was right behind me.

Here is a picture looking over the gully we climbed.

The approach to the summit was quite short.  We had to do a bit of skirting on narrow snow banks or direct climbing up some rocks to get to it. 

  I chose the rock climb as the side of the ridge was pretty steep and I didn't fancy falling off.

Sonja and Arwen summated shortly thereafter.   I had a nice shot of us but the white balance on my camera kind of pooped out so it came out terribly.  The summit itself was gorgeous, Capitol, Pyramid, Snowmass, and the Bells were quite visible.  The view left me salivating and hounding everyone to climb them with me. 

After a while it dawned on me that the snow was warming to postholing temperatures and Jen wasn't up yet.  Call me a nervous husband but this really freaked me out.  I didn't want Jen to try to posthole up a 45-50 degree snow field when it was both of our first real snow climbs.  To top it off I figured the higher she got the harder it would be to back off.  I started panicking that she would get trapped in slushy snow and be unable to advance or to retreat.  When I noticed her on the slope I managed to signal for her to turn back.  Luckily Troy was able to head back to her and accompany her down, I am very grateful for this as it saved me quite allot of nervousness at the prospect of my wife (it's our 1st year anniversary tomorrow) retreating down a snow slope, for the first time, by herself.  If Troy reads this thanks again.  As it turns out a man broke his leg on this very colouir the previous day, I am glad I listened to my instincts and asked my wife to back off.

When I was comfortable that Jen was safe, Chris, Sonja, Ryan, and myself headed down the NW slopes to the ridge just below Conundrum.  I had originally been planning on summating Conundrum but I  wanted to get to my wife in the basin as quickly as possibly.  I have done some minor glissading before but this was a grand daddy of a real introduction for me.  The whole slope down to the basin was covered and some areas were very, very steep.  I watched everyone else go first (Ryan happily threw himself into the glissade) and then it was my turn.  


I chucked my pack down and held my speed down to a crawl.  When I tossed my pack down  I hadn't realized the people below might think I had tumbled, I think I gave everyone a brief scare.  I didn't really enjoy my first glissade and thought it was nerve wracking. The picture below shows the glissade, it doesn't do justice to the length or steepness.

 At the bottom I watched as Troy and my wife  Jen made it back down safely.

When Jen got down I gave her a big hug and we headed back to the first climb connecting the road to the basin.  Not being one to quit I figured I should try glissading again.  This time it was a blast, I felt more in control and had a great ride down.  I yelled up and convinced Jen to try it.  We both ended up loving it and went down a couple more slopes like that.  Someday I'll have to go up and do the slide that scared me.  Having gotten a better feel for glissading I think it would be great fun.


The walk back to the cars was easy enough and crossed over and through a beautiful stream. 


 We finally came to a spot where we could see the cars at about 1:30.  When we arrived back we all had something to drink and Arwen promptly went to sleep under the car.  That dog was great. She kept running up somewhere then running down to make sure Sonja was safe, she never faltered on the climb and ran right down the slope which I glissaded on. 

We all said our goodbyes and took this group photo.

Me, Chris, Jen, Ryan, Sonja, Troy

This was a great group.  I feel like my comfort level for things has expanded allot today.  I hope I'll hike with and talk to all of them again.  This was definitely one of my favorite climbs and I can't wait to go out and hit more of the Elks.

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