Post #61 Castle Peak
in Winter, Highest in the Elk Range (14,265’)
Awesome training for Pakistan! A Rare Winter ascent of the highest peak in
my favorite mountain range was in the cards for the weekend of February
16-17. I was determined to take my skis,
skin to the summit and then ski down!
Snow conditions were superb for mid February. Relatively stable for above timberline and
even some fresh powder from a storm that came through Thursday and Friday.
I parked my vehicle by 2p at the packed Ashcroft trailhead
on Saturday afternoon. TONS of
weekenders were exploring the lower X country tracks and doing small hikes and snowshoes in 38
degree winter sunshine. But once I got 20 minutes up the Valley, I headed into
lower Montezuma basin and away from the crowds, and had the basin all to
It took two hours time to skin up to the timberline in the
Montezuma basin. Originally I thought I
would climb all the way to near the summit in the afternoon and spend the night
above timberline. However, the trees in
the lower basin at about 11,500’ provided a great place to establish a camp in
the Snow and provide good shelter out of
some of the winds up high and rest for
an ascent first thing in the morning.
I stomped out a nice tent platform with my skis, unpacked
my gear under a couple of nice spruce trees, put my tent up and then headed up
part of the basin for some sunset photos and a powder ski while the tent platform
The evening was nice and
calm, and temps probably fell to around zero overnight, but no wind and I was
treated to a full moon.
On this trip I was able to test out some incredible Wigwam
socks, given to me by a rep at the Winter mountain Games in Vail, her name is
Margaret Chesebro. I tried out two pairs
of socks, the first being the Wigwam Ultimax
Snow Moto Pro, Merino Wool Lightweight.
These sleekly designed, thin lightweight orange, black and red socks
(Ski, ride skate designed) fit very well
on my feet. I actually started the day
in them from the time I left my house, including the initial 2-3 hour skin to
camp. No hot spots developed on my feet
whatsoever, and when I took my boots off in the dark after dinner after having
established camp, the socks could barely show signs of being wet and
I actually took the socks off and
changed out to my next pair of Wigwam socks, the Ultimax Hiking/Outdoor Pro Midweight socks (Green and Gray
When I hung up the snow moto pro
pair to dry I usually frown upon being able to wear the socks again on the same
trip, but in this case, those socks had little moisture in them, and so I
wouldn’t be afraid to put them back on to ski the next day if this was a multi
day trip. But by changing into the Ultimax Hiking/Outdoor Pro Mid-weight socks
I guaranteed that my feet would be warm and very dry all night long.
The next day I would just leave these socks
on and my feet were warm, comfortable and when I skied up to the summit and
back down to my camp and then out to the car the next day, my feet felt only
slightly sweaty when I removed my ski boots at the car. The lightweight grey and green hiker socks
are winners in my book because on that summit day, (story continues below) it
was very windy with up to 50 mpg gusts and temps around zero, and my feet
stayed warm and dry!
Check out the summit video below to see how brutal it was
up there! I do love Smartwool socks, but I was pleasantly surprised at the
overall comfort, warmth and the Wigwams socks ability to wick the sweat. I
admit, I liked these socks more than smartwool! …I hope to be able to take a
few more pairs to my next expedition to Pakistan in July and would even love to
endorse Wigwam for my next book project!
I packed these socks for my west coast trip which begins this week end
of Feb and will wear these socks on Mt Shasta and Mt Hood in the coming
weeks! Thanks Margaret and Wigwam, you
That night after changing my socks,
I feel asleep easily and woke to my alarm at 330am to light the stove. After some hot drinks I put on my ski boots
and strapped on my skis in the darkness, departing camp at about 5am. Slowly but steadily I made fresh tracks up
Montezuma Basin. Winds were no longer
calm like they were all evening, so I knew I’d have to bundle up and move
At first light I was at the end of
the summer road deep into the basin, with the summit of Castle to my left and
Conundrum to my right.
Above 13,000' the sunrise was stunning, and you felt like you were climbing a remote peak on another continent.
ridge was my goal, and I decided since I was solo that I would avoid the steep
chute leading to the NW ridge of Castle.
It looked solid and not too avalanche prone, but I decided I would climb
the NE ridge.
It was impossible to ski off the summit to any
of the east facing aspects of the peak because the snow had been blown off the
summit areas and high ridges. I left my
skis and poles at 13,600’ and continued on to the summit.
Winds were whipping all over as I climbed the
class 2-plus rocky ridge. I covered up
and pushed up through a powder field on the steep final 150 years and got to
the coveted summit just after 8am. I was
Felt great to have the peak all
to myself. Castle probably sees less
than 10 people on the summit over an entire winter. Conundrum to my right to the North in the Photo above.
After some photo and a summit
video, the 40-50 mph gusts told me to get outta there fast. It was by far the windiest Elk Range Summit I
have ever experienced in all seasons. Skiing down was a real treat. After about a 20 minute descent on rocks down
to my skis where the snow started, I jumped on my skis and was off and down the
basin in a flash! It was a quick
I arrived back in camp before 10am
and couldn’t believe that my summit climb was done.
In another hour I had eaten some
food and took off with my gear packed and skied back to the car before
lunch. What an incredible trip!
Follow me as I head to the West
Coast for a trip to Speak at Venues in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and
Eugene OR just to name a few from now until March 7. The list can be found on my speaker tour
dates page. I will be climbing some peaks along the west coast as well as I packed my skis too, so stay tuned for more exciting adventures!