Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  04/28/2010
Date Climbed:   04/25/2010
Author:  bergsteigen
 Skiing the Castle Blind   

Castle Peak

Snow Blinded Skiers: Darrin (kansas), Scott (edlins) & me
Ascent Route: Standard (Roach) - saddle
Start: Green Wilson Hut
Mileage: 6.6
Elevation Gain: 3,120'
Vertical Ski: 2,670'

4am Start... ouch

Headlamps on, we make our way out of the warm and comfortable hut, and ascend up Montezuma's Basin. Snowmobile tracks ease our way up for a short distance, until it ends at a camp. Beyond that the day old skin tracks eventually peter out to nothing. We will be the first group into the basin today.

We ascend higher and higher in the basin as following the flickering of our headlamps. The lack of wind below, has warmed us, but now its return in the higher basins makes the morning a chilly one. With each switchback up the slope we get more glimpses of sunlight waking up our surroundings.

The sky lightens

The basin ahead

Sunrise behind Malamute Peak

Almost there....


Almost to the upper basin

After a roughly 3 hour approach, we find ourselves looking at our targets for the day. The north face couloir on Castle looks rather appealing to both Scott and I. But lugging skis to the summit via the couloir in deep snow was not that appealing.



We cross under the Conundrum couloir one at a time. The cornice above is gigantic, and it's apparent that it hasn't fallen yet this spring. When that one goes, it will go big! No way we're climbing under it, or anyone safely for a while.

Traversing below the cornice of death!

It was decided instead, to skin to the saddle. Once there, Scott was take laps on the deep powder as we summited the peaks. The switchbacks got harder and shorter, the higher we went. The last 2 were pretty technical, with us having to face outwards and doing a complete 180 switch. But then, we could ski directly to the saddle, as Darrin wallowed upslope.

Castle close-up

Go Scott, Go!


Malamute Peak

Deep pow!

We're going to make it!

On the saddle, we wait for Darrin to swim to us, and Scott takes one glance at the Conundrum ridge and calls it spicy. We would see how spicy, the higher we got on Castle.

Waiting on the saddle

A brief view to the west

From here Scott would do his 2 laps, as we slowly made our way up the highly variable ridge up Castle. I left my skis at the saddle, in anticipation of a thigh deep powder descent.

The ridge snow was hardpack and icy in places, while in others light and fluffy, allowing little support to our AT boots. Being an Elk peak, the rocks are loose and make one think about the steep slope they are lightly attached too. The higher we went on the peak, the better the snow got, but also the steeper. We finally changed out our ski poles for an ice ax. Before too long we found ourselves on the summit.

Conundrum's corniced ridge

The tracks along the saddle

Breaking out the ice ax

The early morning sunlight and clear skies, have given way to general clouds and even some ascending misty clouds. Once again, I am on the summit of Castle, and can see very little. We snap photos before the clouds can close in any more. The way over to Conundrum is out of the question now, as the tricky route finding on a sloppy ridge with cornices in no visibility is not happening today.





Mini tripod ontop of the upright backpack... stay!

Scott is tired after his second lap, and waits at the edge of the upper basin for us as we descend the ridge.



Back on the saddle, conditions have worsened as snow has started to fall. The ski descent that I had been waiting for, will be slightly hampered by the fact that I can't see a thing! Everything looks white around me, nothing to give any indication to the slope steepness other than Darrin well off to the lower right, retrieving his stashed skis. As this will be my second time down this saddle, the first as a glissade 2 yrs ago, I have to rely on my memory and feel of the skis on the snow for this one.

I am glad for the 'Hero Powder' on this blind descent, as it was very forgiving. Only once did the sun glance through a thinner cloud to give any indication of the surroundings. It was enough to get the feel for the final push down to where Scott was patiently waiting in the storm. The turns came quickly, and were over too fast, as I then traversed around the lake below, trying to not loose too much elevation.

Poor Darrin floundered a bit in the deep powder, more troubled by the lack of vision, as he hasn't quite acquired 'skiing by feel' yet. But soon he arrives, and we decide to descend out of the wind before taking a break.


The rolling basin hills are fun, but vision is still a problem. Sunlight flickers down the basin, teasing us to follow it. Scott descends down to the 4WD high trailhead parking lot, and I follow in his tracks. At times it feels like a race track, trying to hold on in the curves, other times I hope I have kept enough speed to make it up the minor upslope ahead.

Darrin coming over the first slope

Scott laying down the race track

We take a much needed break here, and hope for some clearing skies. But no such luck. Now the snow has gotten soft, and it sticks to our skis. The lower hummocky valley provides some much needed humor, as the light is so flat, we still can't see where we are going.

One last view up basin

Lower down, the snow alternates between red-brown slushy and sticky to white and slightly less wet. The repeated transitioning whips us around on our skis. Falling occurred more frequently than desired by any of us. Amusing, the sun returns as we make it back down to the hill below the Huts. Tired of skis on our feet, we carry them up the frustrating slope ahead and back to the welcoming hut.

Saturday: West Pearl Mountain

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

Great pictures!
04/29/2010 04:58
as usual. Especially for such a foul weather day!


Great TR Otina!
04/29/2010 16:00
Looks like a fun weekend/hut trip! Sorry we couldn‘t make it. Fantastic photos!


04/30/2010 19:41
Glad there wasn‘t any slide activity. That photo with Darrin post-holing looked scary (as in avy potential). What kind of snow layers did you find under that most recent pow?
Looked like fun!


Deep unconsolidated new snow
04/30/2010 21:52
It was a lot of snow, but at that angle and aspect with cloud cover it wasn‘t too scary. We saw some thin windloaded surface snow layers on the south (climbers left) side of our skin up along the side of the basin, but not on the way up to the saddle. The older dirty snow below is pretty hard and consolidated, and so far the contact appears to be reasonably bonded at lower angles (not the case at higher angles). We didn‘t see any evidence for strong over weak layers (within the new storm snow), nor any of the other signs of collapse or weakness. The snow while deep, wasn‘t failing for me. The thick cloud cover protected the rather dry snow from getting wet and sloppy. Lower down in the valley it did get pretty nasty later in the day. Overall pretty tricky conditions, for anything steep right now.

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