Gunnison County Highpoint Trip Report

Castle Peak (14,265 ft)

Date: September 5, 2004
Author: Kevin Baker

We headed for Glenwood Springs and Aspen for the weekend with hopes of me knocking out my first Elk range 14er, Castle and unofficial Conundrum. The forecast for the Elks did not look good, although it looked like there was a shot the system would blow through by Sunday morning. On Saturday, we did a nice hike up to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon just off I-70. The rain had already begun there but it let up as we headed down to Aspen.

We had a nice dinner at a BBQ place in Aspen away from the high roller crowds, then we headed up the Castle Creek Road with plans of sleeping in our SUV for the night. The forest road leading into the basin is not too bad as our fairly low clearance Hyundai Santa Fe made it all the way up to the 2nd stream crossing at 11,000 feet without clunking any rocks. Beyond that point, the road gets much rougher. We parked our car in an open space at around 10,800 feet. We hit the sack at around 8:30 but some rowdy dogs kept us up much of the night. Seemed like they would bark anytime there was a stir in the woods. It snowed occasionally during the night but it did not accumulate much. I awoke at 6:15 and was off at 6:45 while Jenni read and did some work for school in the car.

The snow at this point was very light, although it looked like the cloud ceiling was pretty low. I made good time up to the Montezuma mine and the end of the road at 12,800 feet. A group of 3 guys were behind me about 20 minutes or so as they had driven all the way up to about 12,000 feet on the road. At the end of the road, it wasn't real clear where the "trail" went, so I just went southwest up the slope amidst snow-covered talus and snow fields. Above 13,000 feet, the snow depth was a lot more than I expected, probably 5-7 inches of fresh snow. This drastically slowed down my pace. I made it up to a notch that opened up with views of the upper Montezuma basin and I could see the trail leading to thenortheast ridge. The standard route which ascended a gully leading to the Castle-Conundrum saddle did not look very appealing to me, with loose rock and rotten snow. At this point, the winds really picked up and the visibility started to get worse.

I decided to wait for the party behind me and proceed with them. They met up with me about 30 minutes later and we all decided to try the northeast ridge, since it looked a little easier and was not as steep. I was worried about the wind up there along with the route-finding that is necessary to get around some exposed towers on the ridge. The trail heading up to the ridge had quite a bit of snow and I finally attained the 13,740-foot saddle that Gerry Roach describes below point 13,780. I was a few minutes ahead of my group at this time and decided to press on as long as they could still see me. I followed the trail up to the first tower which must have been point 13,780 and skirted around it to the right. I tried to stay off the ridge proper to avoid exposure but couldn't get around the corner. I ended up doing some scrambling back up to the ridge proper which I was not comfortable with, given the conditions. On a dry day, this would be fun. Some of the rocks had a coating of ice on top of them, which made me nervous since I did not have crampons. I decided to wait for my group at 13,900 feet, just 0.2 mile below the summit according to my GPS. It took me about 3 1/2 hours to get to this point. As I watched the clouds, I thought I was in the Himalaya as you could see snow covered rock faces appearing and disappearing in the clouds. Hard to believe this was early September! I could see down to the basin but above me the visibility was 100 feet at most. I never saw the summit of Castle. I could tell the guys I came up with were making a decision as they paused and they decided to turn around. A group of 2 continued on past them, so I decided to down-climb and meet up with them. As I struggled to make the down-climb, I knew that coming down from the top would be even harder a I had read about a minor chimney that has to be navigated below the summit. The couple made it to the saddle and also decided to turn around. I knew I would not try this ridge with limited visibility solo, as Castle would be there for me another day. I radioed my wife that I decided to head down and we quickly scooted our way down to the basin on the fresh snow. We took advantage of a couple of good glissade opportunities on the snow fields, which saved us a little time.

There were probably 10 other people making there way up but I doubt many made it. Maybe the standard route was easier since you could at least see up to the saddle for much of the day. We met back up with the group of 3 guys and they kindly gave us a ride back down. Lists are fun to achieve, but getting back down is the #1 goal!

Climb statistics: About 4.5 miles round-trip, with 3,100 feet of elevation gain.