| Skiing the Castle Blind
Snow Blinded Skiers: Darrin (kansas), Scott (edlins) & me
Ascent Route: Standard (Roach) - saddle
Start: Green Wilson Hut
Elevation Gain: 3,120'
Vertical Ski: 2,670'
4am Start… ouch
Headlamps on, we make our way out of the warm and comfortable hut, and ascend up Montezuma's Basin. Snowmobile tracks ease our way up for a short distance, until it ends at a camp. Beyond that the day old skin tracks eventually peter out to nothing. We will be the first group into the basin today.
We ascend higher and higher in the basin as following the flickering of our headlamps. The lack of wind below, has warmed us, but now its return in the higher basins makes the morning a chilly one. With each switchback up the slope we get more glimpses of sunlight waking up our surroundings.
The sky lightens
The basin ahead
Sunrise behind Malamute Peak
Almost to the upper basin
After a roughly 3 hour approach, we find ourselves looking at our targets for the day. The north face couloir on Castle looks rather appealing to both Scott and I. But lugging skis to the summit via the couloir in deep snow was not that appealing.
We cross under the Conundrum couloir one at a time. The cornice above is gigantic, and it's apparent that it hasn't fallen yet this spring. When that one goes, it will go big! No way we're climbing under it, or anyone safely for a while.
Traversing below the cornice of death!
It was decided instead, to skin to the saddle. Once there, Scott was take laps on the deep powder as we summited the peaks. The switchbacks got harder and shorter, the higher we went. The last 2 were pretty technical, with us having to face outwards and doing a complete 180 switch. But then, we could ski directly to the saddle, as Darrin wallowed upslope.
Go Scott, Go!
We're going to make it!
On the saddle, we wait for Darrin to swim to us, and Scott takes one glance at the Conundrum ridge and calls it spicy. We would see how spicy, the higher we got on Castle.
Waiting on the saddle
A brief view to the west
From here Scott would do his 2 laps, as we slowly made our way up the highly variable ridge up Castle. I left my skis at the saddle, in anticipation of a thigh deep powder descent.
The ridge snow was hardpack and icy in places, while in others light and fluffy, allowing little support to our AT boots. Being an Elk peak, the rocks are loose and make one think about the steep slope they are lightly attached too. The higher we went on the peak, the better the snow got, but also the steeper. We finally changed out our ski poles for an ice ax. Before too long we found ourselves on the summit.
Conundrum's corniced ridge
The tracks along the saddle
Breaking out the ice ax
The early morning sunlight and clear skies, have given way to general clouds and even some ascending misty clouds. Once again, I am on the summit of Castle, and can see very little. We snap photos before the clouds can close in any more. The way over to Conundrum is out of the question now, as the tricky route finding on a sloppy ridge with cornices in no visibility is not happening today.
Mini tripod ontop of the upright backpack... stay!
Scott is tired after his second lap, and waits at the edge of the upper basin for us as we descend the ridge.
Back on the saddle, conditions have worsened as snow has started to fall. The ski descent that I had been waiting for, will be slightly hampered by the fact that I can't see a thing! Everything looks white around me, nothing to give any indication to the slope steepness other than Darrin well off to the lower right, retrieving his stashed skis. As this will be my second time down this saddle, the first as a glissade 2 yrs ago, I have to rely on my memory and feel of the skis on the snow for this one.
I am glad for the 'Hero Powder' on this blind descent, as it was very forgiving. Only once did the sun glance through a thinner cloud to give any indication of the surroundings. It was enough to get the feel for the final push down to where Scott was patiently waiting in the storm. The turns came quickly, and were over too fast, as I then traversed around the lake below, trying to not loose too much elevation.
Poor Darrin floundered a bit in the deep powder, more troubled by the lack of vision, as he hasn't quite acquired 'skiing by feel' yet. But soon he arrives, and we decide to descend out of the wind before taking a break.
The rolling basin hills are fun, but vision is still a problem. Sunlight flickers down the basin, teasing us to follow it. Scott descends down to the 4WD high trailhead parking lot, and I follow in his tracks. At times it feels like a race track, trying to hold on in the curves, other times I hope I have kept enough speed to make it up the minor upslope ahead.
Darrin coming over the first slope
Scott laying down the race track
We take a much needed break here, and hope for some clearing skies. But no such luck. Now the snow has gotten soft, and it sticks to our skis. The lower hummocky valley provides some much needed humor, as the light is so flat, we still can't see where we are going.
One last view up basin
Lower down, the snow alternates between red-brown slushy and sticky to white and slightly less wet. The repeated transitioning whips us around on our skis. Falling occurred more frequently than desired by any of us. Amusing, the sun returns as we make it back down to the hill below the Huts. Tired of skis on our feet, we carry them up the frustrating slope ahead and back to the welcoming hut.
Saturday: West Pearl Mountain
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