14er Ski Descents – Castle Peak – April 20, 2004
Route: East Face
Team: Ted, Dirk Bockelmann, Amos Whiting
With just a few days before a trip to Chamonix and mere hours since getting home from skiing Uncompahgre Peak with Christy, I figured I might just take it easy when Dirk’s name came up on my caller ID.
Not long after that, Dirk, myself, and Amos Whiting were skinning in to the Tagert Hut to spend the night for an assault on Castle Peak’s looming East Face. Amos was just days away from heading up to Valdez to take his AMGA ski guide exam where a passing grade would earn him the coveted pin from the IFMGA/UIAGM International Guides Association. At the time, there were only a few in the country with such a distinction (it’s still pretty exclusive). You could say Amos was in the “taper” phase that a runner goes through before a big event. That said, Dirk and I noticed he was so fired up for the 7-day exam, he took charge and called the shots here.
Shifty weather was in the forecast for the morning, when we woke several inches of new snow had fallen on the deck of the hut. Not too much to have to call the day off, but it was something to bear in mind as it was still coming down lightly. The decision was made to head towards Castle, at least the cloud cover could serve to keep the threat of wet avalanches down.
Skinning from the hut, we made good time to the base of the East Face, right to the side of the obvious exit of the route, which was marked by the enormous cone of snow that had been piling up all season. We were barely there for a minute when spindrift came pouring down near us. Not good. The snow was still falling lightly, we had thought it to be OK, but maybe there was too much on the face to safely climb. Before we could even come to a decision another round of spindrift came down. So we were quickly back in our skis and moving away from the face.
Still before dawn, we headed further northeast to seek out a way up onto the Northeast Ridge. If we could get on that ridge we could safely reach the summit and we could maybe still ski the East Face from the top. And as a backup plan, if upon reaching the summit we deemed it too risky we could always ski the more moderate Montezuma Basin side.
We came up on a prominent couloir that gains the ridge, at a lower angle than the central East Face. Thirty minutes later we were on the Northeast Ridge where it meets the summer trail, walking to the summit. There were big breaks in the clouds from time-to-time, the weather was definitely improving.
After summiting and conducting some assessment of the conditions we decided to go for the east side and it was good. The small amount of sun from breaks in the clouds made the spring powder a bit heavy and it sloughed out the main central gully after ski cuts. But for the most part it was really fun. Once down and off the face we were all psyched we didn’t throw in the towel earlier. The perseverance paid off— that line is a classic.
And Amos would pass his test.