Peak(s):  Malemute Pk  -  13,348 feet
Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  05/19/2009
Date Climbed:   05/17/2009
Author:  lordhelmut
 Skiing around Castle Creek   


Peaks climbed - Malemute via North Face(me), Cathedral via NE Gully(Glen), Castle via North Couloir(both)

Total RT mileage and gain = 22 miles, 8000ft

Car camped @ Cathedral lot (9,980ft) and parked at 1st creek crossing on Castle Creek (10,200ft)

My friend Glen and I, having a couple days to burn (I actually have an infinite number of days to burn, for now atleast) decided on some peaks in the Elk Range Saturday through Monday. Not limiting ourselves to the 14ers in the region, we chose a legendary Centenniel and a very imposing, smaller 13er in the Cathedral Lake region Saturday with a gametime decision of what we'd climb and ski Sunday, either Castle or Conundrum.

Day 1 - Supplies in Aspen, meal at the Hickory House, recon of Castle Creek road, recon of Cathedral Lakes trail and car camp at the TH

We arrived into Aspen around early afternoon, got some ancient Ortovox beacons from Ute Mountaineering, ate a feast at the Hickory House and made our way south down Castle Creek road later on in the day. We parked at an empty Cathedral Lakes TH, unloaded our stuff and made a quick sidetrip to Castle Creek to see the condition of the road, more on that later. After some dogs and marshmellows, we konked out for the night under a clear sky and quite warm temps.

Day 2 - Malemute Pk and Cathedral Pk

Alarm went off around 4am. After some breakfast, we hit the trail around 5:25am. The Cathedral Lakes trail is pretty much completely dry up until 100 feet of the lake. We saw this along the way though, which was cool...


Never saw this guy though. Ou initial plan was to climb Cathedral and traverse over Electric to Malemute and descend from there. Here was our first view of Malemute from the trail...


Upon further review of the region, we realized a traverse would make for an extremely long day, especially with all the snow. I had climbed Cathedral 2 summers ago and really liked the idea of Malemute. Glen really wanted Cathedral, even more so when he got his first glimpse of the SE Gully he'd be climbing. We agreed to split off at the lake and meet back up afterwards.

I made my way for Malemute, which rises a little over 2000ft directly west of the lake. Here was my view, right from where I first finally put on the skins...


For anyone interested in skiing, my line came directly off the summit down the obvious initial snowfield and then took a sharp turn right (skier's left) through the rock outcropping which was easiy navigated. I continued to ski down the next obvious open snowfield and then traverse left (skier's right) over a small lip, into that C-shaped chute, which provided the best corn skiing of the day and led me back down to the bottom chute down to the lake for a solid 2100-2200ft of skiing on a relatively straitfoward line.

Here is what Glen was looking at


This is the east side of Cathedral with the dramatic southern spires hogging the spotlight. Glen took the obvious couloir up its eastern flanks, topping out to a cornice, which he easily natigated around to the right and then hooked up with the east ridge to the summit, with a few class 4 exposed moves to boot.

Here was my view from right above the southern end of the lake, of Cathedral. Looks like there are a couple fun routes in this cirque for climbers and skiers.


Anyways, I made my initial ascent from the lake up a wide gully, which eventually led to a level tarn and my view to the entrance of the route.


I followed the route exactly as I had viewed it from below at the lake, using pictures I had taken as reference. The pictures helped immensely because the majority of the route seen from below was usually blocked from clear view and not obvious. I just had to trust my close up pics.

The climbing got a bit steep (for me atleast) as I got further up the North Face, according to my inclometer, the average reading I took was between 40 and 43, with a max reading of 47 near the summit. The last 30-40 feet or so were done on a mix of rock and loose snow, but my crampons actually helped me out on this section quite well. I topped out on the summit around 10:15am, a little under 5 hours.

Being solo, I tried to take 10-second delay pics from the summit and it was tough to push the button, scramble over to a decent vantage point over rocks with AT boots on and strike a decent pose. Here is what I came up with...


But I guess I did get Castle/Conundrum in the background. Here's a better close up of Castle from Malemute...


The obvious line I took the next day into Montezuma is not easily seen from this view, only the upper southern slope part of it was. As you can see, the SE side is full of dirty snow and would need to be done ass early for any sort of safe ascent/descent. It does look like fun regardless.

I signed the register, which hadn't been seen since August of last year, put on my skis on the snowfield on the summit and looked for a reasonable line off the top.

If it wasn't for this narrow section of rocks right below the summit, I could've started right away, but I decided to take my planks off, quickly downclimb this section and then put them back on.

Here are the rocks

And here are my Nomads with the route down below

From this view, I skied down some relatively rough snow out of view to the left, skirting around some small rock outcroppings and then doing a quick stop to scout out the rest of the line. I found the lip about halfway down, which was important, because the obvious, narrow chute that headed straight down the face, eventually lead to a cliff and rocky crap.

Here was my view of the last section of the ski


Even though shaded, I stuck to the sun exposed snow and had the best snow of the route.

A look back at Malemute with my tracks on the right (I ate shit near the bottom, I blame it on the dust)


I met up with Glen around the lake and we made our way back to the car, all on foot unfortunately, but we were back at the car around 12:30 or so, for a roundtrip of 6:30 to 7 hours.

My cousin's boyfriend was kind enough to lend us the keys to his place in Snowmass for the night so we could get a solid nights rest for Sunday. We grabbed some brats, steaks and beers and cooked out on the deck with a view that looked something like this (w/ Capitol sticking out over the right side of the ridge, rough life)


After the meal, some flicks of the likes of Slapshot and Groundhog Day, we konked out for the night. The hospitality was much appreciated.

Day 3 - Castle Peak

Alarm went off at 3am, we hit the road around 3:30am and we at the Conundrum Creek road soon after. Around 4:30am, we arrived at the 1st creek crossing. From our recon a couple days before, we knew that there were impenetrable snow banks a couple yards past the crossing, so we parked right there and began the approach. Glen elected to leave his skis in the car, I had to hoof it on AT boots on rock and dirt yet again.

A quick overview of the approach this time of year. The skinning is extremely frustrating. I put them on about a mile from the creek crossing, but the snow was runneled and very dirty and not 100% consistent. I had to take them off and put them back on about 8 or 9 times and I finally got fed up and kept them on my back all the way until the end of the road near the mines. Also, we were both very tired, not so much physically, but just sleepy tired. We were so weary by the time we reached the summer parking area, we found a nice sun soaked flat rock outcropping and took a hour long or so nap.

The nap helped and we were looking Castle straight in the North Face about an hour later.


We chose the obvious couloir on the left side of the face. The snow over on Conundrum had been getting cooked all morning and it was covered with dust, plus there were signs of a lot of wet slides all along the face. The couloir wasn't as dust covered, but the danger of rockfall and the amount of rocks we saw flying down detered us from any hopes.

The Conundrum Couloir from the bottom of Castle's North Face

Glen heading up Castle

As you can see, the snow coverage was quite thin, but the snow was very good for bootpacking. Glen led the entire way up this gully to the saddle, linking us up with the NE ridge route and another 100-200 feet to the summit. I took over the reigns from the saddle, which flirted with a the south side of the ridge, which was pure sugar and sun banked corn, great for skiing, not great for climbing. We stuck to the ridge crest and minutes later made the summit.

Glen climbing the ridge with the southern slopes to his right, the saddle we topped out on to his left

This was a look down the south side of the NE ridge route. It looked like a much more fun ski, but since it was late in the day, I was skiing solo and I hadn't researched the route, I opted for the N.Face


And a close up look of the Conundrum Couloir from Castle's summit

Glen on Castle Pk's summit

We were extra pumped to make it since 2 hours before, we were out cold and more importantly, it was a bluebird day with no winds.

Don't have much beta on the ski section, but its a pretty straightfowrd line. I made a bunch of turns into soft, deep corn off the summit into the southern slopes with a lot of sloughing. I met back up with the saddle 200 feet below and got a good view of the rest of the route from there. The snow wasn't too soft, but not too hard at all. Since the North Chute is a run thats been done countless times before, I'll stop here, but it was a fun ski. I was back at the base of Montezuma within minutes and watched Glen glissade the bowl. We met back up where we took our nap earlier and descended back to the car. The snow down low was completely miserable, but I was able to jerry rigg a ski to within a mile of the car. I met a guy from this site, Joe (couloirman) along the way as well, which was pretty cool. Nice meeting you Joe.

Some pics of the ski :

my tracks off the south slopes

View down the N.Face

And our parting view for the day

Solid weekend, decent ski descents and perfect weather. Get on these peaks quick if you want a reasonable snow climb or ski, they are melting very, very fast.

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

 Comments or Questions

05/19/2009 16:06
Yeah, the pictures arent showing up for me either. They probably never actually skied any of this...

Edit: Got this pictures now. It‘s amazing how much less snow there is compared to this time last year!

05/19/2009 18:16
Good job on the TR man, looking forward to the next trip.


Snow on road
05/19/2009 18:50
Hey Brian,

Any chance an ATV could squeeze by that snowbank on the road, after the river crossing? Is there one size that is fairly low vs. the other. Thanks!


05/19/2009 19:16
The snowbank slopes down, its lower on one side than the other. You might be able, if you get by, to go another mile or so before the snow gets continuous. Or you could stop being an old man and hike the road.

Just kidding. But yes, I imagine, with a little creative manuevering, an ATV could squeeze by.


Nice little road trip
05/19/2009 20:35
I was expecting that north couloir on castle to look worse than what you mentioned in the email. Nice report, Brian! Let‘s get out soon!!


05/21/2009 23:08
Sounds like two great days, nice pix. Like to get over there myself soon.


11/30/2010 17:28
I'm not seeing em either, I'm sure Brian is just having technical difficulties . From what I've read it sounds like a great weekend man! By the way, do you own a camping grill??


11/30/2010 17:28
are up guy, sorry about the ass backwards way I post TR's. I've been posting the text first, followed by the pics since it takes so damn long. Anyways, thanks for the comments.
Scott - they should be up now, thanks for takin the time to read this

ScottN - you're right, since my face isn't in any shots, I could've very well been driving up and down Pikes P road all day, eating donuts and laughing at hikers who could've taken a train to the top. Bunch of idiots!! (edit - ditto on the snow, I was looking at Carl‘s report last spring from mid-june and its almost sad. Still a solid ski, but time is running out quick).

Ben - I surely do have a camping grill, something in mind, I think I have an idea.....


the usual interesting itinerary
02/05/2011 00:22
I've come to expect nothing less from you, Brian. Is it just my browser, or do others not see any photos either?

EDIT: I see the photos now!


Missed you on Longs
05/02/2011 14:23
But it looks like you had a great multi-day trip.

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