January 13, 2012
Castle Peak (14,265ft)
Elevation gain ~5,000ft
RT Length: ~16mi
Total Time: 10 hours to the minute
Quacking. My phone was quacking. It was 4:00am and I had just woken up. I had set the alarm on my phone to the quacking duck sound. I reached over and silenced it and sat up. "Oh yeah," I thought, "I slept here". Looking around I remembered I had slept in my car in a Walmart parking lot in El Jebel 30 minutes outside Aspen. I had left Denver at 9:30pm the previous night and at 12:30 had decided against driving the remaining hour to Aspen. I decided to go to be and get up an hour earlier. I was warm and comfortable in my 0 degree bag but it was time to get out and get dressed.
The trip reports that had been posted since 12/26 had me curious about a winter Castle ascent. I kept seeing more 14ers.com members posting on it and I didn't want to miss a rare opportunity to see the elks in the winter. Thank you to those of you who posted, your reports and pictures were enormously helpful. And so there I was at 4:00am in the morning in a walmart parking lot.
I got dressed and headed to Aspen and was at Ashcroft by 5:15. I was hiking by 5:40am. I put micro spikes on and started heading down the long flat road towards pearl pass.
Moonlit road. You can see Castle to the right.
At the FR 102 turnoff the road started going up. 2 hours later at 7:40 I hit the pearl pass turnoff. To this point the trail was very well packed by snowmobiles. At this point I put on snowshoes (which took me like 15 minutes because of some frustrating technical difficulties) and made my way up the road.
As I got up above timberline the wind began to pick up just a little bit. Up higher I could see the wind blowing off nearby peaks.
Evidence of a small slide in the bottom right hand corner.
The snow on the road was soft and snowshoes were still the best method of travel. At one point I had to poke a hole with my ice axe through the ice that had developed around the opening of my water bottle so I could get a drink.
I trudged on to the road end at 12,800ft and saw the steep 500ft slope I had seen in other trip reports. It was steeper than I thought it would be. I stayed on the rocks towards the middle as the snow was soft and required too much energy to get through.
Now I was in a 20mph head wind and it began to suck the energy out of me. This is where my pace slowed. The wind began to suck the energy out of me. It was cold but not unbearably so. After I switched to crampons, I turned left and headed up the steep trail up the ridge, and I began to feel the first 7 miles. Once I gained the ridge the wind was now blowing across my body at 35-40mph which made traversing the ridge dicey. This was right on the verge of what I was comfortable with as the ridge was covered in snow and I was forced to make a few class 3 moves. I spent a lot of time making sure I took good routes and that my crampons were soundly placed. At one point I noticed both my trekking poles were gone. They had somehow blown off my back. I didn't care. I had no desire to even look for them. Maybe I'd find them on the way down.
At this point I wanted to turn around. I could see the summit thought and I knew the conditions would not worsen and that if I kept moving I'd make it. After a great deal of hard work in the wind on a sketchy ridge I reached the summit block and headed up. The last 250ft are steep but its exciting climbing. My axe and crampons led me up safely and I arrived at the summit.
To my suprise there was little wind on the summit. I sat down in awe of what had just transpired over the last 6 hours and 40 minutes and took in the stunning views. I was spent, but happy to be there. I spent about 30 minutes on top and then left.
Looking down on the ridge
Going down I still had to exercise caution on the ridge but I knew the hard work was over. The wind was now at my back.
Glad I had goggles.
I made quick time on the way down and it was largely uneventful. I stopped a few times for food and to change into snowshoes/micro spikes. The tracks I made coming up had already been erased by the wind blown snow.
The walk out on the road was relaxing. I had a lot of time to think and watch as the sun begin to set. When I got within 30 minutes of Ashcroft I began to see people cross country skiing in the trails to the side of the road. It was the only time I saw people all day. Finally I arrived at my car 10 hours to the minute from when I had started. First time that's ever happened.
It was an unreal hike and very challenging. Crampons and an axe were indispensable on the ridge. It took me 6 hours and 40 minutes to summit and 3 hours and 20 minutes to get down.
I stopped in El Jebel again to celebrate a successful winter solo in the elks. I stopped at Fine Line Bar and Grill and if you're ever in the area check it out. They have great burgers. Driving back I felt blessed to have had a great day in the mountains in a beautiful state. Looking forward to the next one.