Castle Peak, CO- Elevation 14,265- 09/24/04
The Fall colors are beautiful in Colorado and this week they are peaking so I headed out to Aspen where the colors are the best and Castle Peak is waiting to be Climbed.
I got a late start today leaving Denver around 6:45 and took my time getting out to Aspen. I went via Leadville and drove over Independence pass, pictured here. It’s a beautiful drive and the west side of the pass is much prettier with aspen fields everywhere. The pass itself is a little hairy with no guardrails on parts where there is a 1000 foot drop down one side. You definitely don't want to take your eyes off the road here, and its probably really bad at night with animals in the road and no road lights.
Here is the road up to Castle Peak. Again you can see the fall colors shining. The road goes over 12,000 elevation but I parked about halfway up at a bridge and waterfall just before pearl pass road. I estimate my roundtrip hiking length is around 6.5 miles and 3500 elevation gain.
Here is the castle creek road section I hiked up. In the middle you can see a sharp peak that is in the vicinity of Castle Peak.
When you get near the end of the road you can see Conundrum Peak on the right and on the left is a 13er point. Your goal is to hike up the middle to the ridge between Castle and Conundrum. Once you achieve the ridge you can finally see Castle Peak to the left.
Here is a closer look at the ridge you need to hike up after crossing the short boulder field where the road ends.
This is a picture looking back at the boulder field and the valley where the road starts. In the picture is Steve on top and Tom working his way up the mountain. I met Steve near the beginning of the hike and walked with him up to the end of the road where we met his brother Tom. Steve has hiked a couple 14ers before and Tom has summited 26. They tried Castle before but couldn't summit due to a snowstorm which caused them to lose the trail.
Is that a beer Tom is holding up?
A nice picture of Steve left, and Tom right. Tom told me that Steve is the kicker for the semi-pro football team the Denver Titans. I found their website and will have to check out a game sometime. Denver Titans
One more look back at the valley and Tom working his way up the icy slopes.
Finally we can see Castle peak in the middle left of the picture. Steve takes in the vast views of the Colorado countryside.
I was really enjoying the different terrain and views in this area. You can see just how steep this section is when you spot Tom in the Background working his way up.
Wow what a view, its simply amazing!
At this point we met another hiker Dan England that was coming down from the summit. I remember vividly he said "I don't want to sound like a mom or anything, but its really bad up there and getting pretty late". Turns out Dan writes outdoors articles for the Greeley Tribune and has hiked 48 of the 54 Colorado 14ers, plus Mt Rainier in Washington, so I figured he should know what he is talking about. I believe he said Rainier was the toughest, and he had to use all the same ice climbing skills on this mountain, as he did today on Castle. He took the ridge up which is the route on the left, and the snow filled couloir route down which is the one on the right. He had an ice axe but no crampons, and highly recommended taking the couloir route up and down, stating the ridge was icy with lots of exposure. I have since read some of his articles online and he does have good advice on other hikes and subjects as well. I'd like to thank him for the route suggestion which made the difference in me making the summit. After I got home I looked at the map and book a little closer and believe the standard route is neither of the ones I outlined in the picture. Its seems to be even further to the right of my route, straight up to the saddle then up to the summit, however that may not apply in these conditions and I think the couloir was the best route under the circumstances.
I had crampons but Tom and Steve didn't, and felt their chances were better on the ridge. So we parted ways and I went the couloir route per the suggestion of Dan. I really didn't want to go on another ridge anyway after the 3 mile long Halo ridge on Holy Cross last week, and this ridge looked icy which couldn't be good. Here Steve and Tom are small dots about halfway up to the ridge. I was sliding and struggling through the hardened ice and finally decided to put the crampons on.
In this picture my route is outlined. It looks steep, and guess what, it is! I don't think I could have ever made it up without crampons. I would have liked to had an ice axe but my trekking poles were a good substitute most of the way. I'm getting my ice axe next week!
I followed the tracks Dan left making it easy to stay on the route. It’s steeper than it looks and started snowing on my way up. Fortunately it never came down hard enough where I was in whiteout conditions.
The final pitch up to the summit. It was about right here where I looked back down and saw Steve and Tom back in the valley. I figured the ridge was to icy for them and was wondering if they were going to try this route. I'm kind of glad they didn't because it would be very unsafe without crampons or ice axe. Also half my foot was frozen and I had to stop to put in toe warmers, which did the trick. Additionally I had rain pants and jacket, which kept me dry in the snow and 30 degree temps.
Before you make the summit you have to get past this, a near vertical section of rock and ice about 5-10 feet high. I guess you could say it's the crux of the route. Probably not such a big deal in the summer but I had to climb up this very carefully because one slip and I'd be tumbling down either side of the mountain at least 1000 feet. IMHO this is definitely a class III (thankfully short) section since it was as hard as anything I had to do on Kelso ridge during my Torreys climb. The standard route is normally considered class II+ during summer.
I'm not to sure I would have made it past that section without these on. They were well worth the investment and made this hike much more pleasant than it would have been otherwise, not to mention easier. I finally made the summit around 4:15.
The view from the Castle Peak summit is fit for a King. I guess I was king of the mountain for about 15 minutes before I headed back down. To bad I couldn't sign the 14er scroll, if there was one it was buried under a couple feet of snow.
This is the ridge over to Conundrum which is another 14er. Its not an official 14er though because it doesn't rise more than 300 feet from Castles saddle. So I wasn't to worried about trying to summit there and as always it's more of a hike to get there than you think when looking a the map.
Here is a look from the summit down the side of the mountain and into the snow basin. Steve and Tom were waiting down there to see if I made it up. I could barely see them in this picture, but reduced at this resolution they are too small to point out.
On my way back down this is a look at the crux. It’s more of a crux going down than coming up. I admit I was a bit scared and very very careful descending this section. The large rock in the middle right of the picture is the top of the vertical section. The rocks were loose but I was able to dig my crampons into the snow/ice and safely make it down.
Once I made it past that I decided to glissade down which is basically a butt slide. I guess its an "advanced technique" but I have done this many times on my snowboard when getting stuck in near vertical terrain in the backcountry, so it was really nothing new to me and quite fun. What took me over an hour to go up took about 5-10 minutes to do down. This is a picture of my tracks; I used my trekking poles to slow me down and stopped every so often to gain control of my slide. I must say this is the way to go down, no pressure on your knees and lots of fun, if only I had my board with me.
I was able to catch up with Tom and Steve halfway down the road thanks to my quick descent glissading. I feel great today, with only having to work on about 2/3 of the descent my knees won't be so sore. We made it back to the jeep about 7:00, and I gave Steve and Tom a ride back down to the start of the road where they parked. They didn't mind cheating since they didn't make the summit. They did make the ridge however which was about 13,800 and hiked more overall elevation than I did. I was hoping they could make the summit too but Steve says no hike is a failure as long as you enjoy it and take in the views.
On the road home I enjoyed the fall colors and a beautiful sunset to end an outstanding day.