Peak(s):  Castle Peak  -  14,265 feet
Date Posted:  06/03/2011
Date Climbed:   05/29/2011
Author:  rmiller
 Castle Peak East Face   

Peak: Castle Peak
Route: East Face
Vert: Approx 4,600’
Distance: Very Rough Estimate – 11 miles
Time: 1:15 AM – 10:15 AM (9 hours car to car)
Group: Jay (Post14rPBR+flipflops), David, and myself

I had heard that the East Face of Castle Peak was much more exciting than the more commonly skied North Face Couloir, but really knew nothing more than that until this past Sunday. I was skiing with two buddies who, along with seeking out a good ski decent, are trying to finish off climbing all the 14ers this summer, so we had planned the standard Conundrum Couloir/North Couloir circuit on these two beautiful peaks. It wasn’t until sunrise that we would realize our plans were changing. We didn’t like the forecasted low of 30 at 13,600’ for Saturday night, but with a strong team assembled and anxious to get back in the Elks with these epic spring conditions, we figured we would give it shot and turn around if need be.

We drove to Aspen on Saturday night and were shocked when the car thermometer read 70 degrees at 10:30 in Glenwood springs. “Oh man, this is gonna be an early one.” We arrived at the TH around 11:15 PM and found a huge patch of snow, shattering any thoughts of driving further up the road to the campsites. We “slept” in a cramped car for about an hour before the 12:30 alarm shot off. We reluctantly got ready in the dark and heaved the packs on our backs at around 1:15 AM. With our sleep deprived minds, we could barely even follow a snow covered road in the dark, moonless night. With route finding issues (on a freakin road!) and postholing through patchy, sloppy, not even close to frozen snow, we figured there was no chance of getting both peaks skied this day. We agreed that we would at least skin up into the basin and take a look before giving up. We found continuous snow after the bridge crossing and cruised up the valley.

At around 5:00 AM, we could finally see terrain without the use of headlamps and instantly knew that we screwed up. We had been skinning up some steeper terrain, but figured the snow had simply covered up a road cut in the side of the mountain. Now, after being able to see our surrounding terrain, we knew there was no chance a road came up this drainage; we skinned up the wrong one. Ooops!! After looking at a map I quickly located us directly at the base of the East Face of Castle. We had passed the correct drainage which the road follows and entered the second one. The snow had hardened considerably and the temp dropped down to what I thought was sufficient. We didn’t even question it, “I guess we’re ascending the East Face.”

David at Sunrise

We made quick work of the bottom of the route on a hardened slide path. Front pointing on the icy surface, we were glad we didn’t need to kick any steps, but our calfs were on fire after an hour of that.

Jay starting up the East Face


Eventually, the runnels we had been climbing in dissipated and Jay and I took turns kicking steps up the remainder of the East Face. Unfortunately, David was delayed with some crampon issues, but once he got it straightened out, he cruised right up to us.

Jay nearing the Northeast Ridge

Once we gained the Northeast Ridge, we knew right away that we had to ski the East Face. The North Face Couloir didn’t hold nearly as much snow and the conditions didn’t look as good. We had scoped a nice line down the East Face on our way up that was track and avy debris free and knew we had the perfect opportunity to ski this thing. We topped out at about 7:45 and took a second to admire the view. We were ready to drop in at 8:15.

The Elk Range

The top rolls over to a steep, but minimally exposed face.

The start of the decent

Me dropping in

Jay skiing this upper section

Followed by David

After skiing the first section we traversed to skier’s right to hit a wide open, steep slope, with beautiful untouched corn.

Traversing skier's right

David riding the middle section



David again


The top sections offered picture perfect ski mountaineering turns, but the lower sections grew sloppy very quickly. From a bench about half way down we entered into a chute that had not slid recently like the main chute had.

Jay in the exit chute


We were probably about a half hour too late for the lower sections, but they still skied well and we descended without incident.

David at the base of the East Face

After our exit, we had minimal avy debris to navigate and were then rewarded with about 1,500’ of hero corn through the drainage and back to the road.

David riding almost perfect corn through the drainage

Castle's East Face

Jay - more corn

With such a success on our minds after convincing ourselves the day was shot, we happily shouldered our skies for the remaining hike back to the car after the bridge crossing.

Hiking the road back to the car

You have to look no further than Jay’s name on this site for the rest of the story. PBR and flip flops greeted us at the car. After a well-earned meal at the Hickory House, we decided to head back via the recently opened Indy Pass.

Independence Pass

In my opinion, this line is right up there with the other CO classics. The quality of skiing was incredible. This route is fairly stout, with D14 rating, but I didn’t find it at all exposed; just fun steep skiing in a beautiful area. Best mistake we ever made!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

06/04/2011 15:06
”Best mistake we ever made!” Gotta like that. Good job taking advantage of it!


06/04/2011 15:21
The tracks I mentioned in my write up must have been yours. I'm glad someone got to enjoy the ripe-for-picking conditions on that side. Can't wait to do that one next.


sweet trip
06/05/2011 16:31
Great report! I'm glad that one little mistake led to an even better trip - thanks for sharing - awesome pics.


I think we can salvage this
05/04/2012 16:40
I'll never forget catching up to you just as the sun began to rise, something didn't seem right to me, especially when I noticed you were studying our topo printout. We began discussing how we ef'd up, and you kept looking up at the peak directly to our west, (which I didn't yet know was the summit of Castle) and then you said ”I think we can salvage this.” Great write up, Miller, I'm sure many will use this in the future.

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