| Castle- Northeast Ridge Variation
The life of a seasonal worker has its draws and its setbacks. One of the greatest benefits is the month and half between jobs, the setback is this is an unpaid vacation. To this end, I spent months thinking of what I could do to keep myself occupied, yet keep my spending to a bare minimum. Touring and skiing the Central Wasatch all winter had me primed up to get back to my home state of Colorado and test myself against some of its signature peaks, the 14ers. My idea being to climb and ski as many 14ers as possible for the month I am home, late April until late May. With a few climbs under my belt, my goal has now been set at 14, we will see how this plays out. Finally, with all essential information I have found on this site I feel obliged to give back in the form of my experiences, please do the same. Hope you enjoy.
Months of planning boiled down to meeting my friend Tim in Glenwood Springs at 8 p.m. on Sunday. Not exactly sure he knew what he was getting into, but I had a plan. We piled our gear and bodies into one car and drove to Ashcroft. My minimal planning led to some uncertainty of where the road would be closed. Luckily we were able to drive all the way to the 2WD summer TH.
Summer 2WD trailhead. 10 P.M. Snowing. But of course Tim looks super overjoyed.We threw on our overnight packs and began skinning (through light snow), two miles or so until we the first of the major avalanche paths from the left (East) side of the trail. We found a safe area in some large trees and set up camp for the night.
We woke up in the morning had some hot drinks and snacks, and got back to skinning.
Early on Montezuma RoadDawson's book describes the approach to Castle via Montezuma Basin as: "the journey through the valley of death." Granted it was one stunningly beautiful valley of death, but dragged on incessently.
Still heading up the roadOnce we reached the Montezuma road, and headed toward the basin, the amazing expanse of terrain made movement seem miniscule. This is a feeling I have felt before, but always tough to overcome. We continued on, and on, and eventually decided to start doing some real climbing instead of slogging up the valley bottom. We spotted a large bowl which extends off of the end of the Northeast Ridge of Castle. We set an exhausting skin track up the lookers right side of it, always staying high in any zone, and I continually poked at any pillow looking drifts. Despite the 8" or so new inches in this bowl it looked pretty good. Eventually we gained the ridge of the bowl and saw the rest of the task ahead.
Castle comes into our view.The ridge consited of talus, with some sparse snow patchews and nasty ice between the loose rock. Still the going was much more level than the bowl before and we made good time mostly travesing over to the North coulior. A hasty pit revealed 8-10" new on top of consolidated rounds. we booted up the final 200' of the coulior and then followed the ridge to the summit. Travel was fairly easy although the avalanche exposure was decent. We summited and took in the surroundings. The views were as expected, spectacular. Specifically, towards Pyramid and the Bells, however, it was hard for me to tell what was what, when Capital did poke out it was quite obvious.
Tim after finishing off the climb. Elk Range beauty in the backround.
Never used the axe for climbing so had to use it for a photography prop.
We prepared to ski and headed back down the ridge. My usual summit euphoria resulted in me kicking on cornices like I was in Days Fork back in Utah. After two stomps I realized I was having enough fun without this foolish behavior. Luckily I was sufficiently off the cornice, because as I cut further away from it, I heard that dreaded whoomph. I was skiing away from the cornice, so I could not see a 30' wide, 10" deep slab break and run down most of the East face. Included was also parts of the cornice that extended for about 100' down the ridge. I was lucky to have little exposure, but the lessons were felt. We continued on to the North Coulior. As was now apparent a lot of the new snow had been stripped off the North Face and Deposited onto the East face. I dropped into the coulior first and basically ski cut/ enjoyed a few turns all the way down. I guess if it is knee deep, blower snow you are looking for the Elk Range in May is the place.
Knee deep in the North Coulior. Good to be back to CO.The skiing was excellent, although I could not give the snowpack my full confidence. Tim followed attacking the coulior a bit more aggresively, and certainly enjoyed it as much. It was winter powder conditions all the way down to where the drainage turns more East. From here it was a meticulous search for the snow in the perfect transition between melt and freeze. We did continually find that perfect medium and the skiing was fun all the way back down to camp. We packed up our overnight bags and headed out. The last half mile had melted our during the day, exposing many patches of dirt. 4WD rigs should be able to make it to the bridge over Castle creek soon. Back at the car the accomplishment set in. With smiles we contently drove back to Glenwood, and eventually made it back to my homebase in Avon. Ready for the next climb.
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