Peak(s):  "Oyster Pk"  -  13,312 feet
Pearl Mtn  -  13,362 feet
Greg Mace Peak - 12,580
Date Posted:  05/28/2020
Date Climbed:   05/17/2020
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   whileyh
 These Peaks Aren't Gems, They're Pearls!  

The Castle Peak area of the Elk Mountains has numerous thirteeners that most people probably don't even realize exist. Besides Cathedral Peak, a Centennial 13er, the others no doubt are further overlooked. Why climb Elk choss? Most shudder at the thought. That's why Whiley and I decided to climb these peaks in spring with a nice cover of snow, so as to minimize the usual Elk rock.

The route I had originally mapped out took the Copper Creek drainage instead of Castle Creek, but I didn't realize that Copper Creek is closed right at the 2WD Castle Creek Trailhead; I don't know if this is a permanent closure, but the signs indicated as much. We thus drove up Castle Creek Road as far as we could, which was to the end of the campsites along the road at the first creek crossing. The road up to this point was dry but after the crossing there were still deep snow drifts.

20134_01
Greg Mace Peak in the early morning.
20134_02
First creek crossing. Cross the logs on foot, otherwise you can drive through the creek. The old bridge washed away/was destroyed in an avalanche.

The snow in the morning was nice and hard and our efforts up the road were minimal. I carried snowshoes and Whiley did not, but they weren't needed at this point.

20134_03
Making our way up the road and enjoying the views of Castle's ramparts.

When the road split to Pearl Pass and Montezuma Basin we continued towards the former. A snowmobile track kept us on the right path as the road disappeared into the snow covered open space.

20134_04
"Oyster Peak" dead ahead. Photo: Whiley H.
20134_05
Plenty of tracks to keep us on track.
20134_06
Looking back down towards the entrance to Montezuma Basin and Malemute Peak. Photo: Whiley H.

The route opened up near treeline into rolling terrain, probably moraines but hard to tell with snow cover.

20134_07
Rocky rolling romp. Photo: Whiley H.

"Oyster Peak" (also called "West Pearl") came into view as we slowly gained and lost elevation en route to "Oyster"'s north slopes.

20134_08
"Oyster Peak" from a distance. The peak could be done either up the snow to the left, or up the rocks in center. I chose the former, Whiley the latter. Photo: Whiley H
20134_09
Looking back at Castle and Malemute. Photo: Whiley H.

Since Whiley hadn't brought snowshoes and I had we decided to split here with me following a trio of skier's up "Oyster"'s steep northeast slopes and her going up dry rocks. The skiers had to switchback up the slope, which is steeper than it looks from below, while I was able to go directly up. Switching to boots with traction probably would have been prudent here, but I was able to make it without much issue.

20134_10
My route up, which I completed on snowshoes with the heel riser bars up all the way. It was nearly too steep to ascend with snowshoes, but it went.
20134_12
Looking back down; definitely not as benign as it appeared from below.
20134_11
Whiley's route up the rocks, which continue almost all the way to the summit.

After ascending the first few hundred feet of each of our routes the slopes lowered in angle and became easier.

20134_14
Up and across to the summit of "Oyster Peak".
20134_13
Up Whiley's route from where it rolls over. Photo: Whiley H.
20134_15
Me on the upper slope, which gives a sense of angle.

Whereas Whiley's route was more or less a direct shot to the summit mine traversed a little, which was somewhat irritating in snowshoes. Overall though our ascent was super fast, just over two and a half hours from the car.

20134_16
Castle Peak in center and Cathedral Peak A to the right.
20134_17
Teocalli Mountain. Doesn't that couloir to the left of the summit look spectacular?
20134_18
Point 13,550 in center with Treasury and Treasure Mountains in the left background and Point 13,537 in the right background.
20134_19
Greg Mace Peak looking mighty small compared to the views from the bottom of the road.
20134_20
Looking over to Pearl Mountain, with Star Peak to the left of center and Taylor Peak even farther left.

We didn't spend long on the summit since we still had a snowy ridge to traverse to Pearl Mountain, then snowy slopes to descend. We wanted to get it all done before the snow became unstable. Once off Pearl Mountain we didn't have anything to worry about with exception of possible postholing.

20134_21
Most of the ridge to Pearl Mountain. Photo: whiley H.

Along the way we scared up a Mountain Chicken (a ptarmigan) from its rocky home. It was in mid-transition from winter plumage to summer.

20134_22
Mountain Chicken!

The ridge down to immediately prior to the saddle was all snow covered and would go at Class 2 when dry. As we found it snow prevented the easiest descent to the saddle and we had to make a move or two of snowy Easy Class 3 down several ledges to reach the low point. Exposure was minimal.

20134_23
Ledges to down climb to the saddle. Photo: Whiley H.
20134_24
Looking back up the ridge just prior to the minor scrambling. Photo: Whiley H.

Once down the ledges to the saddle there were a couple of small, rotten towers to scoot around. We just had to move around them on solid snow but there might be some minor scrambling involved if dry. Past the towers was a short, blunted snow knife edge with extreme exposure on both sides, but someone had already come across the ridge and left footprints for us to take advantage of.

20134_26
Well that looks safe. Photo: Whiley H.
20134_27
Me beginning the short snow section.
20134_28
Whiley coming across the snow with "Oyster" in the background. The bit we scrambled down is left of the discontinuous snow strip above the tower in center. The snow and loose rock prevented a direct descent.


20134_29
Do Not Look Down (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUuXiAsV7BQ, it's a mountain lullaby) Photo: Whiley H.

The knife edge ended on Pearl Mountain's northwest ridge, which had a brief, wide snowfield to cross and then we stuck to Class 2 rock the remaining distance to the summit. The short bit from the saddle was the only real excitement on either of these peaks and it had lasted nowhere near long enough, but that's often how these things go.

20134_30
Remaining route to Pearl Mountain.
20134_31
Looking back towards "Oyster" and the herd of Elk from the summit of Pearl. Photo: Whiley H.

The descent off Pearl was easy enough, just a bunch of talus and moderate snow, so we struck off northeast in search of the least steep path down we could find. The snow proved a little easier and there wasn't enough of it in any one spot to be a wet slide concern this late in the day, so we linked together a bunch of snow patches as we headed down.

20134_32
Pearl's northeast ridge before it curves further to the left. The black tower to the left is visible in the photo below. Photo: Whiley H.
20134_33
Curving around before the black tower (from the photo above). Photo: Whiley H.
20134_34
It rolls over but continues much like this, just a mix of exposed rock and snow.
20134_35
Me descending the final snowfield.
20134_36
Potentially steep enough to slide, which is why we went one at a time.

The snow was still mostly firm so I didn't need my snowshoes as we made our way over to 12er Greg Mace Peak.

20134_37
Pearl Mountain on the descent. Photo: Whiley H.
20134_38
"Oyster Peak" on the descent. Photo: Whiley H.

Greg Mace Peak is named in honor of Greg Mace, an Aspen Mountain Rescue member who died in 2005 on a training climb of the Bells. For more information please see http://www.wildsnow.com/754/mountain-rescue-honor-guard-greg-mace-tribute-june-2005/.

20134_39
En route to the southwest ridge of Greg Mace. It's easy until the summit block smack in the middle of the ridge.

We stashed some of our gear at the toe of the ridge (snowshoes, packs) and took our axes, microspikes, and my inReach with for what we expected to be a simple peak. 500 or so vertical feet stood between us and the summit. The majority of the ridge was Class 2 with a bit of Class 2+ thrown in at the bottom on solid (for the Elk) rock.

20134_40
From the toe of Greg Mace's southwest ridge.
20134_41
Reminiscent of London Mountain's west ridge.
20134_42
Past the initial Class 2/Class 2+ scampering. Looking good so far.

When we topped out on the ridge Greg Mace's gnarly summit block popped out.

20134_43
Looks scrambly. Photo: Whiley H.
20134_44
Interesting looking summit ridge and summit block. Photo: Whiley H.

On the upper ridge the rock quality deteriorated significantly. This stuff was beyond rotten. It would crumble in our hands. Stepping on one part of a tower would cause the opposite side to shake. The scrambling wasn't particularly difficult but it was exposed and it felt like the whole damn thing could collapse on top of us. Scrambling to the right was out of the question, with rotten ribs extending too far down to safely cross under, but the left side would go.

20134_45
Don't breath too hard, lest this mountain fall on you. Photo: Whiley H.
20134_46
Despite the horrendous quality rock this is more fun than it looks. Photo: Whiley H.
20134_47
Directly under the crazy summit block.

We scrambled around the underside of the rotten block to a 20 foot wide snowfield that snaked down a rubble filled gully. The snow was only a couple of inches deep but soaking wet on top of soft, wet dirt. It was slick and our microspikes wouldn't cut it. Crampons would have, as would dry ground, but we didn't have either, so we turned back and planned to come back when it was dried out and make a quick morning out of it.

20134_48
The strip of snow on the left prevented us from safely traversing around to the backside and up easier terrain.

We carefully scrambled back across the choss and raced down the ridge to our gear. Even if we didn't get Greg Mace, the views of Pearl and "Oyster" were spectacular.

20134_49
Pearl and Oyster from Greg Mace's southwest ridge. Photo: Whiley H.

Back at our packs I put on my snowshoes and led off on the snow. Whiley stayed close behind and stepped on my tracks, hoping that the snow would be supportive. It only partially worked, and even I postholed into waist deep sinkholes of wet slop numerous times. When we reached the road Whiley went ahead, no longer caring about the postholing; her feet were soaked already, so no point in trying to save them from getting wetter. The road felt like it took forever but we made it back to Whiley's truck where she dumped out the fishbowl that had been floating around in her boots. The weekend was over and what a great weekend it was! Five more thirteeners, four of them ranked, and all in the Elk; a fine start in one of Colorado's most notorious ranges.


Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Whiley H.
Trailhead: Castle Creek Road (near the first creek crossing)
Total distance: 10.27 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,212 feet
Total time: 6:35:20
Peaks: Two ranked thirteeners

  • "Oyster Peak", 13,312'
  • Pearl Mountain, 13,361'

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Caste Creek Road "Oyster Peak" 2:35:23 2:35:23 4:11
"Oyster Peak" Pearl Mountain 0:45:02 3:24:36 4:48
Pearl Mountain Castle Creek Road 3:05:56¹ 6:35:20 Trip End

¹Includes attempt on Greg Mace Peak.


My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49


 Comments or Questions
d_baker

Good combo
05/28/2020 19:34
A group of us did that loop in June of '14 but never considered Greg Mace Pk.
The duo with snow made for a nice day!
I'm surprised you didn't do Malamute while you were in the area.

Nice report, Fein'steener.


supranihilest

Feinsteener
05/29/2020 12:28
I love that, thanks for cracking me up, Darin.

We ran out of days for Malemute but I'll be back for it soon!


d_baker

your new username
05/29/2020 13:22
How do you run out of time when you don't seem to work and you live out of a van??!
Also, living out of that van, a new name may arise...
Funksteiner


supranihilest

Dirtbaggin'
05/29/2020 13:44
Hahaha. I do work, doing full-time remote IT infrastructure for the USGS. My boss loves that I live this lifestyle (this could go one of two ways: either I do such good work that my freedom is a gift, or I do such horrible work that they're just happy to not have me working) and is super supportive of me taking time and climbing, so I basically just say "hey I'm going to climb tomorrow/whenever" and off I go. They also pay for a Mifi for me to have my own personal, secure internet connection, so I can work from wherever.

As for the van (I assume you saw my comments in the 4x4 thread a while back) I'm not in it - yet. It'll be ready for pickup from the builder in exactly two weeks. That's when I'm really going to go balls to the wall. Expect me to blow up the Recent Conditions board more than I already am. For now I'm just a boring suburban tech nerd living in Louisville. Womp womp.

Keep bringing the nicknames, I'm loving them!


d_baker

Mario
05/29/2020 13:49
I'm responsible for his nickname, and he even put the character on his avatar (Mario jumping over some Himalayan peaks or something...)
Keep your avatar in mind when you change your ZERO sense username. ;)



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