|Chad on Castle Peak’s SE Ridge, Elk Mountains, Colorado|
The New Rules of Ski Mountaineering:
1) Find a mountain with a steep face.
2) Climb said face instead of easy alternative routes.
3) Clip at least 1 carabiner to your pack or body.
4) Ski down.
In today’s backcountry scene, the rules for climbing and skiing difficult “plums” seem to be changing. No longer is everyone building their skills with patience, working up to bigger steeper lines over lengthy careers. No, now there are guys like me out there…here’s the story.
Chad (to me a couple weeks ago): “Want to ski Castle Peak’s East Face from the Taggert Hut?”
A week and a half later:
Chad: “You still in?”
Chad: “Great, you have an ice axe and crampons right?”
Me: “No, but I can get some…”
I then proceed to finally pick up the guidebook, open to the chapter on Castle Peak, and realize that the East Face of Castle is not the “intermediate” route up from Montezuma Basin I thought it was. Hmmmm. Better make a few phone calls and find some gear.
|Our proposed ascent/decent route (click to enlarge).|
Just so no one is too worried at this point of my story, I did have some experience that prepared me for this adventure:
1) I can ski.
2) I hadn’t climbed a 14er since 2002.
3) I had never climbed a 14er in winter, or on snow.
4) I had never used an ice axe or crampons.
5) I hadn’t skied a 14er yet.
So, I was ready. A few phone calls and I secured a helmet (slightly used, I think Captain Safety needs to update BJ’s wardrobe), crampons and a very nice combo of BD Raven Ice Axe and Revelation 45 L pack. Now, up to this point in my life, I have never owned or used an ice axe. But I have had a fascination with them dating back to high school and an Outside Magazine gear review. The review was (intentionally) written by a guy who had zero use for an ice axe, and he wrote of his imagined satisfaction after warding off a home intruder with it, and the resulting “thud” of the axe sinking into the unfortunate criminal’s torso. Wow! Why I hadn’t purchased one yet I’ll never know.
|Dave at 14,265 feet, summit of Castle Peak.|
Skip to 3AM Tuesday morning, Green Wilson Hut ( yes, I know I said “Taggert Hut” earlier, but that’s what was said at the time), after a really solid freeze the night before and some in-hut ice axe training, we are out the door for Castle Peak’s East Face. Great time to the bottom, so we spend 30 minutes freezing waiting for a little bit of dawn light so we could see the route. After clearing some wet slide debris and ice runnels at the bottom of the route we encountered a nicely bonded layer of winter-like snow over consolidated spring snow. About halfway up Chad even “let” me break trail for a while. So, 24 steps at a time, I made my way up the face to the SE ridge and to the summit. “Crampon, Crampon, Ice Axe.” “Kick, Kick, Ice Axe.”
|Mike cresting the summit with our exit route to the hut below him.|
At this point:
1) I have now snowclimbed a 14er
2) I had used an ice axe and crampons to climb said 14er
I hadn’t skied a 14er, however. So lets work on that. From the summit we traversed the SE Ridge back to our accent line and began skiing a nice, almost winter snow for half the face. Wonderful stuff for May 27th. Into the “pinch”, through a little bit of debris, and corn snow off the face and 1,500 feet back to the Hut. Wonderful.
I have now skied my first 14er!
|Dropping in on the upper East Face. Definitely more timid turns than your average powder day in Marble.|
Back at the Hut, my other climbing partner, Mike asks (regarding my first snow climbing, 14er ski, snow tool usage): “So, are you going to ski Pyramid’s Landry Route next?” After a brief pause, I say “Sure. And then I can call it quits on skiing 14ers, right?” Why ski the rest when you can skip right to the good stuff!
**Please note: the above Trip report is not the suggested way to do anything and is an attempt at a light hearted take. One of my partners was a local guide. And I’m not a certified roll model.
Dave “Snowman” Downing lives in Whitefish, Montana where Dave is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab Dave’s ski career began due to a lack of quality skiing video games for NES.