Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Conundrum Peak  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  02/15/2012
Date Climbed:   02/11/2012
Author:  Furthermore
 Anchor of the Elks.  

Castle Peak 14,265

February 11, 2012
~15.7 Miles, 5,400 Gain
Trailhead: Town of Ashcroft on the Castle Creek Road.

"Montezuma Gulch is no place to get silly." -Ken Nolan


How handy, a partner request for the weekend for which I had no plans. Dwight needed a partner, had a list of ideas and after speaking with Ken, we were sold on Castle Peak. I made the drive down to Ashcroft Friday night and met them around 7-8 PM at the outhouse just a few hundred yards from the Castle Creek road gate closure. Since it was going to be a long day, an early rise was mandatory.

My alarm went off at 3:30 AM, and I ate breakfast packed and made the short drive to the gate closure. Ken started hiking up the super trench of snowmobile tracks around 3:45 AM, Dwight around 4:00 AM and myself around 4:10 AM. I started out on skis and within a mile, I realized I forgot my avy beacon. I ditched the pack, returned to the car, grabbed the beacon, returned to the pack and then was finally underway.

I caught up to Dwight at the FS102 road junction and shortly thereafter, we caught up to Ken. Dwight and Ken had to strap the snowshoes on at the FS102 junction and our trench building began. As we slowly made our way upwards, the snow became significantly deeper. Ken was discussing how much more snow was in the area from his successful ascent last month.

Dwight and Ken nearing the Peal Pass/Castle Creek Junction.

When we reached the the Pearl Pass/Castle Creek junction, we started to evaluate the conditions. Dwight asked Ken, "Would you have come up here, if you knew there was this much snow in the area?"

Ken's responded, "No, you?"

Dwight, "No, probably not."

Sunlight on Malamute Peak.

At the Pearl Pass/Castle Creek junction, the real trail breaking began. There was a very faint track heading into Montezuma Basin but it didn't do us much good. Making our way to the first set of switch backs, we started seriously considering the conditions. Dwight and I dug a pit, checked for weak layers and did some compression tests before committing to the spooky, well loaded, south slopes of Malamute Peak. The result from our pit was within reason and we continued our ascent. As we traversed our way up into Montezuma Basin, we spread out.

Working our way into the base of Montezuma Basin.

Working our way into the base of Montezuma Basin.

Traversing below the south slopes of Malamute.

Loaded slopes or as Dawson says, "the journey through the valley of death."

Loaded slopes.

Traversing below the south slopes of Malamute.

When we reached ~12,000, we "left" the road and continued climbing up the center of the valley. Our avy slope crux was now behind us. Ken joked that we had been climbing for 7 hours and we still couldn't see the peak we were climbing. Always comforting; ugh.

Higher into the basin.

Climbing up to ~13,000. Ken with Malamute in the background.

Looking at Conundrum.

6-7 hours in we finally get our first look at Castle.

Between 13,200-13,400, we spread out again to climb a short questionable slope before the final basin below Castle. The right/western side of this slope had slid at some point as we traversed over freshly snow covered avalanche debris. I ditched my skis at 13,200 and switched to snowshoes since climbing this slope in skins was questionable. The snow was deep and powdery but we were able to gain a rock rib near the left/center of the valley which took us safely into the high basin at the foot of Castle.

Questionable slope into the higher basin. The right side had slid.

Gaining the rock rib.

Climbing the rock rib.

Climbing the rock rib.

Reaching 13,400 in the upper basin.

From the upper basin at ~13,400, we were able to gain the northeast ridge via the standard route which was mostly wind scoured and snow free. Travel was a bit slow to gain the ridge as the fresh snow made things a bit tricky. Now, for the technical crux just below the summit. Just a few very short class 3 snow covered moves and we were on the summit. Bypassing this short cliff band on the southern side wasn't feasible due to the snow conditions. We arrived on the summit at 1:10 PM with excellent weather and very little wind.

Gaining the NE ridge of Castle.

Looking back on Cathedral Peak.

Climbing the NE ridge.


Gaining ground on the NE ridge.

Nearing the summit of Castle.

Summit views.

Our stay was short as we headed towards Conundrum. The snow on the south ridge of Conundrum was particularly obnoxious and trail breaking was energy consuming. We arrived on the summit of Conundrum at 2:15 PM and enjoyed the excellent views of the South Maroon and Pyramid.

Dwight descending Castle towards Conundrum.

Deep snow on the south ridge of Conundrum.

Rocky step on the south ridge of Conundrum.

Summit of Conundrum.

South Maroon and Pyramid from Conundrum.

We enjoyed our stroll back up and over Castle arriving back on the summit of Castle at 3:20 PM. Descent off the northeast ridge was uneventful and I was glad to put the skis back on at 13,200. I made good time skiing back to 12,000 where I waited for Dwight and Ken. After we regrouped, I carefully skied our traversed path beneath the slopes Malamute and waited to make sure Dwight and Ken had safe passage through the avy zone. Once they were in the clear, I enjoyed my ski back to the car. On my descent, fresh snowmobile tracks were found at the Pearl Pass Junction. Why couldn't they have been there this morning? I wasn't disappointed as it made for a close to groomed ski descent back to the car where I arrived at 6:50 PM. A long rewarding winter day in the Elks!

Descending Castle.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/15/2012 15:19
Thats some serious endurance. Great report


What Kushrocks said...
02/15/2012 15:20
Couldn't have said it better myself! Great pics, too.


02/15/2012 15:42
It was a tough climb last spring to get these two, can't imagine doing it in these conditions. Great work!


beautiful place in winter
02/15/2012 16:53
Great report, thanks. It's hard to get accurate snowfall readings for the high peaks. I think what saved the day was the fact we traversed the south slopes of Malemute. North and east slopes might have been turn arounds. I was surprised how consistent the snow was all the way too the ground, 4 feet down. The last few inches were ice hard but no hoar frost layer. We heard no whumps and saw no cracks.

It is soo beautiful up there, well worth the huge effort.


Great write up and solid work
02/15/2012 16:18
Those trail-breaking photos make my eyes water. Tremendous work, gents.


Strong Work!
02/15/2012 23:07
While I was doing La Plata I was wondering how things were going for you guys on Castle. Way to go!!! 8) 8)

Holy schnikes Batman ~16mi?!?!


02/16/2012 01:28


02/16/2012 05:50
Congrats, gentlemen. Looks like you had more pristine conditions than we were blessed with earlier in the season. Beautiful photos, Derek.


02/16/2012 13:36
a TR that somewhat looks a bit like winter. Solid work.

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