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| | |-+  June 24, 2017, Castle Peak (14,265'), NW Ridge
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Author Topic: June 24, 2017, Castle Peak (14,265'), NW Ridge  (Read 1304 times)

Posts: 519

June 24, 2017, Castle Peak (14,265'), NW Ridge
« on: 06/27/17, 12:25 PM »

Castle Peak (14,265’)
NW Ridge
Elk Range, Colorado
Day 62

Arrived in Aspen Friday evening, driving past the Jerome Hotel about 700 pm and on toward Ashcroft after getting dinner from the Grateful Deli on Main Street.  (The Garcia sandwich did not even make it to the trailhead, BTW)  Shortly after the (spicy, late afternoon, snowmelt engorged, raging) Castle Creek crossing, the Castle Creek 4WD road is totally blocked by a huge avy debris pile and snow at 10,600’.  I parked the Toyota and walked the remaining mile or so up past the Pearl Pass road turn off to tree line in Montezuma Basin at about 11,200’.  Dropped my bivy gear and tossed the skis over the shoulder and walked up onto the snow in the bottom of the basin.  The stroll was an impulsive reaction to being near snow in Summer (!!), and to ensure easy route finding in the dark hours of departure.  No matter how easy the trail in the morning - and the jeep trail to follow in Montezuma is as easy as it gets - there is something about vacuous spaces and pitch darkness that bring out the mayhem in route finding.  It’s always nice to have in your mind’s eye the route ahead instead of stumbling around in the dark.  Satisfied I knew the way, and sure I was not increasing my pleasure with any additional rise in elevation, I snapped into the TRABS and enjoyed the twilight ski down to camp – ignoring the old, hard, melt-channeled-all-to-hell-rock strewn-and-embedded-with-pebbles-and-dirt snow. 

But it was skiing!  In summer! 

And I was grinning ear to ear as I lay down in my sleeping bag for my evening nap.


Not much sleep to be found and up at 2 am.  A couple sips of Coke (the “other” coffee alternative!), a chew on ½ a granola bar, stuff the bags in their sacks and I’m off. 

The Milky Way above and the ubiquitous meteor streaking across the dark sky light the way up into the Montezuma Basin.  The sounds of Trainspotting (Lust for Life!!) swayed in the air, eliminating the melancholy darkness and raising my spirits.  A couple hours later I awake from my walking slumber to the beauty of an early morning in the High Rocky Mountains.   

Early light hugs the eastern horizon beginning about 430 am on this long summer day, with sun hit on the peaks around me at 545 am.  Most importantly, a direct hit on my descent route, which I planned for 7 am.  Not much time for “corning up”, but at least not in the shade.

My first choice of descent was the North Couloir, but as I rounded the corner above the Moraine, the upper 1/3 and final summit ridge were devoid of snow.  Rats.   

It was ok, though, as the 2nd choice was the NW Ridge route, which shared a col with Conundrum Peak, the scene of a ski I had done in October years ago.  I certainly do enjoy repeating a route if it enables top out on another peak.

At the bottom of the headwall leading to the col I put my crampons on and switched out for my ice axe.  The going up the headwall was enjoyable, if not easy, as the night had left the surface hard and the melt channels icy.  It finally felt like climbing a 14’er though, and I was glad to reach the safety of the col.  It was 605 am.

I dropped my skis and other gear at the col at 13,800’ and scampered up the rocky ridge to the summit. 

I was on top at 635 am. 

The Elk Mountains around me glowed with not a cloud in the sky, but less snow seen then from Elbert a couple weeks ago. Summer indeed.

Back down to my pack 15 minutes later as I had a schedule to keep.

700 am, I drop into the 40 degree headwall to start the descent.

The first couple hundred vertical feet, as mentioned, faced due east, and while the skiing was not easy – deep, hard melt channels made “turning” kind of a joke – it was at least do-able, glad for all the time I’d spent in the White Mountains on 45 degree slopes of boilerplate.  Some of the jump turns were even enjoyable.  I was mindful not to drop too far into the upper bowl as I wanted to be able to traverse above the moraine without taking my skis off.  Therefore, ¾ of the way down the headwall I started to traverse toward the exit ramp below the cliffs of Conundrum.

Just as I reached the cliff bands, disaster struck.  A large microwave size rock had fellen off the cliffs above, splashing into the steep snow below and leaving a very impressive channel behind as it went by.  I misjudged how big the channel was, how fast I was going and I realized it was too late as I tried to jump the thing.  I knew my speed was a mistake and slammed my left wrist and ski into the hard snow slope as I tried to stop on the other side of the channel.  My left ski popped right off, and luckily fell just 10 feet below me on the steep slope, held up on a constriction in a melt channel.  No real damage done (other than my wrist which hurt like hell when the adrenalin wore off), I cut a shelf into a fin on the melt channel and put my dynafits back on, which was a tenuous, tricky balancing act in the hard snow sloping at 40 degrees, I can tell you! 

Ski back on, I made easy progress through the moraine and enjoyed pleasant turns down the newly turning corn of the lower headwall, finding a few smooth runways down the snowfields. 

Below the moraine I came upon the first in a wave of climbers making their way up the basin.  A few in the middle sporting snowboards and skis.  I was very envious of their later departure, certainly the skiing at noon would be better that 7 am on the upper headwall!

I was able to ski to the very bottom of Montezuma Basin, following the remnants of snow along the trail and hooked up with my waiting bivy sack and sleeping bag for a descent of about 2,200 VF.  So, like Stowe, but with no lifts and starting at near 14,000.  And (shall we reflect once more?) in summer!

With all my gear on the back, I made it down to my truck by 825 am and home (like a hero) by 1230 pm.

* Castle_Creek_crossing_more_challenging_than_it_looks.jpg (110.22 KB, 640x481 - viewed 555 times.)

* Nightfall_looking_down_to_bivy_site_Montezuma_basin.jpg (83.63 KB, 640x480 - viewed 552 times.)

* Much_less_snow_in_the_elks_than_couple_weeks_ago.jpg (83.91 KB, 640x481 - viewed 558 times.)

Posts: 539

Re: June 24, 2017, Castle Peak (14,265'), NW Ridge
« Reply #1 on: 06/28/17, 07:27 AM »

Awesome! Glad they let you out to play again after you were a couple minutes late last time.
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