Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  09/26/2011
Date Climbed:   09/03/2011
Author:  Stee Vee Dee

 Castle at last  

Castle had been on my to do list as early as September 2003. I was staying in Leadville and started to drive up 82 to Independence Pass when I read the weather report that a front was coming through and there was La Plata much closer and easier so it became 14er #3 instead of Castle.

In 2004, the plan was to climb Castle on Labor Day weekend, but it snowed to beat the band in the high country so we bailed and returned to Kansas, instead.

And in other years, Castle was on my list, but never got any further than that. Either the weather was iffy, there was significant snow on the route or as the ultimate excuse, it was too expensive to stay in Aspen and too far from Leadville.

This year, none of those excuses held water so we headed for Snowmass Village for about $100 per night. Good weather and very little snow on the trail.

We tried to drive the Fusion farther up Castle Creek Road, but it soon became too difficult so we backed down to the lower trailhead near 9800 feet (39 01.311 W106 48.508) and the adventure began at about 7:15 a.m.Image
Castle Creek Trailhead 9813
Soon we could glimpse Castle through the trees. Image
Early view of Castle around 10500

The road was an easy hike with a few stream crossings. We slowed to watch several four wheel drive vehicles struggling through a rocky spot but all of them made it. There were several waterfalls along the way Image
Waterfall near a difficult spot on road
Lower slopes of Northeast Ridge
Wildflowers in Montezuma Basin
Within three hours we reached the upper trailhead and the end of the road (near 39 01.100 W106 51.304). The trail was much more crowded than we would have anticipated. Apparently the climbing season on Castle is rather short and this Saturday was probably the last snow-free Saturday for the season. Perhaps 50 people were on Castle. Image
Busy steep slopes of northeast ridge

Just beyond the upper trailhead, the trail passed through a couple of fairly level snowfields. Leaving the snowfields, the crowd got bogged down with route finding problems. We eventually went up a bit and across another snowfield. Image
Ridge down to Malemute Peak
Malemute Peak 13348
After this, the trail became clearer and we headed for the saddle between Point 13780 and the summit of Castle.Image
Looking up Northeast Ridge c. 13500
The going was slow due to steepness and high elevation and I lost most of the crowd. The books all say to stay on the crest of the ridge, but they also talk about dodging "difficulties" on the ridge proper. Meanwhile there was some great scenery. Image
Conundrum Peak 14060
Image Image
Cathedral Peak 13943
Castle's Rugged South Ridge
Looking down toward Cumberland Basin

I reach a point near 14050 where the trail forks. My options were several steep rock steps or a turn to the right on a dirt packed trail. I assumed the dirt packed trail dodged the "difficulties" and went that way until I hit a head wall. My options were to go back 150 feet to where the trail forked or go up the gully. The gully was well worn so I assumed this was the route until I realized this was class 3 and possibly easy class four. I was using hand holds to wedge my way up steep rock similar to the Homestretch on Longs. Most of the rock was good, but then I heard sounds of rockfall over on Conundrum. Without a helmet, I decided this was no place to be and I wormed by way up out of the gully.

A word to the wise. Stay on the ridge crest, no matter what. A rock knocked down this gully could have rendered me unconscious or worse, and no one would have seen me there. I get back onto the trail, a five hour ascent time is now out ot the question.Image
Nasty Gully
I learned later that this gully was well worn by people descending it as a shortcut. I just coulndn't see that all the footprints were going down. I manage to snag a good view of the Maroon Bells at the foot of the gully Image
Maroon Bells from Nasty Gully

Back on the trail, I wait for my climbing partner. She is amazed at the gully I ascended and said she had met people who had turned back at the near the summit due to a Class 4 move. I figure I have already done one class four in the gully so a second one is not going to deter me. I wish I had a picture of the supposed class 4 on the standard route, since it was no more than easy 3 and could have been dodged on looser rock to its left. It was perhaps a six or seven foot wall with good handholds and then we were on our way again. I summited at about 2:30, delayed by indecision near the snow fields and my "difficulties" dodging the "difficulties". Image
Final Scramble to Summit
The views were great from the top like always.Image
Beth victorious on summit
Image Image
Fourteeners to the West
Pyramid Peak
Summit Shot with Elks in background
Cumberland Basin
Castleabra 13803 to the west
Conundrum Cathedral

We had to hurry down to beat darkness. I got to do a couple glissades on the snowfields It is great how well you can slide on a nylon windbreaker.Image
Glissading Shortcut
Image Image
Resuming a More Pedestrian Mode of Travel
Heading Down
When I stopped to pump water, Beth got ahead of me, and I decided to catch up by trying to hitch rides from four wheel drive vehicles. One in particular was having a hard time finding a parking camping spot and I finally got a ride to the lower trailhead from just above the stream crossing. I felt guilty passing Beth, but my light was weak and I needed something to get down a little faster. Thanks for the ride.

All in all, a pleasant thirteen hours in the Elks. My only regret is that I did not go across to Conundrum since the views of Castle from Conundrum are even better.

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