The Kid is Back — Castle Peak East Face


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Backcountry Skiing

Castle, East Face

When the young college man shows up for spring break, the old guy has a tendency to come out of retirement. Into this past weekend it was pretty obvious our central Colorado 14ers were in excellent condition for early (not quite spring) ski descents. Avy danger was in the green zone, coverage was good — only concern being a warming trend. Indeed, knowing Jordan White and companions had recently nailed Mount of the Holy Cross and ever elusive Capitol Peak made me painfully aware our noble alps were caked and ready for the kiss of glisse.

Backcountry Skiing

Louie starts in. The route begins with a rocky section off the summit, which dumps you onto this wide apron, which then funnels you into the couloir.

The day began with our 4-stroke sled quietly purring up the Pearl Pass road like the high tech machinery it is supposed to be. We rode double, with my latest suspension mods and bar riser providing a stable platform. Exact parking spot was optional, and dictated by us seeing another party up ahead. Why harsh their groove? So we clicked the key off and began the muscle powered portion of our climb. We caught up with the trio at around timberline in Montezuma Basin.

Turned out we knew the folks. Ellen Hollingshead of Breckenridge, married to infamous humor writer and consummate politician Jeffrey Bergeron; Deb Curtis, well known Aspen ski patroller, and Exum Guide Wes Bunch . I was psyched to see this awesome crew all on Dynafits, with Wes sporting a pair of Goode skis as well (as if he really needs the weight savings). The crew was staying down at the Green/Wilson hut. I asked how much the girls we’re paying Wes, they corrected me and made sure I was aware he was paying them for the privilege of bunking with two ladies!

Backcountry Skiing

Spring breaker enters the upper basin on north side of Castle Peak, Colorado.

We all made short work of the ascent, as it’s only a few thousand vertical from hut or sled. My shiny ZZero boots got antiqued by the scree of the upper west ridge, and you had to watch out you didn’t slip on ice patches and get launched over a cliff. At the summit we slipped into our harnesses in case things got funky and we needed an anchor or belay. Doing steep descents in March means you really don’t know what you’ll find. Could be ice. Could be powder. Our you could end up in the middle of a wet sluff avalanche cycle and need to duck under a rock and wait it out ’till the evening freeze. Rope can be handy for any of that.

Last time we were here, I belayed then 14-year-old Louie off the summit and over to the North Couloir for a descent. That was in 2005. Farther back, before children and just after marriage, I’d done the first descent of Castle’s east face in 1990. The route has since become a classic. Not tough by today’s standards, but difficult to find in condition as Colorado east faces tend to get sun damaged and undergo an early morning thaw that makes for a short window of optimal time.

You get this route from the exact summit, with some of the steeper turns actually being on a wind swale just off the top. The summit slopes dump you into the sinuous main couloir, or your can traverse skier’s right and do an Alaskan style face. We chose the couloir, which is where I’d gone that first time — sweet to be here again. One section hourglasses to the point where jump turns are still possible but lateral movement is limited. Other than that, it’s just fun steep turns on terrain that probably averages about 40 degrees.

Backcountry Skiing

The route. Summit is 14,265 feet, one of our higher fourteeners and a terrific ski peak.

Judging conditions and start time are difficult calls when spring hits in Colorado. Too early and you may be waiting for an ice glaze to soften. Too late any you get ‘punch through’ snow that’s dangerous to your knees and bones, but can also avalanche. Problem is, you don’t know exactly what times these things occur. You can start super early for insurance, but end up sitting on the summit for hours waiting. We opted for a lazy man’s start and began skiing from the summit at around 11:00 AM, an hour or two past optimum time. It worked out, but by the time the two of us had skied the run was somewhat hacked, so our three friends made a good decision and skipped the glop fest for a descent of the north couloir.

Backcountry Skiing

Another shot of the start. Self discipline required to prevent publication of too many photos.


 Castle Peak east face ski descent.

My favorite shot. In the couloir. Yeah, pretty similar to the photo up above. But that’s what happens when you’ve got a good skier in the lens — they tend to repeat the same moves. Please click image for massive enlargement.

Backcountry Skiing

These have become known as 'Davenport shots,' but I've got a few in my album that were taken when he was still a pup.

Backcountry Skiing

You need a lot of gear to do these things safely. We ended up not using our ice axes, rope or crampons, but we had it all. Our cord choice was interesting -- 29 meters of Blue Water Titan 5.5 mm Dynema, with a Yates screamer shock absorber on each end.

As I write this, a winter storm blows the last vestiges of spring away from our house and town. Spring will be winter by tomorrow — but what good is a spring break without some powder skiing to top it off?

More Castle Peak blog posts.

Comments

23 Responses to “The Kid is Back — Castle Peak East Face”

  1. Sky March 23rd, 2009 8:50 am

    Right on, L&L, great spring break move. Looks like spring skiing.

  2. Gregg Cronn March 23rd, 2009 10:19 am

    Great pictures and story Lou. Your son is a smooth skier. I enjoyed watching him when I went out with him and his friend earlier this winter. You blog continues to provide many lunch time sessions of envy.

    Gregg

  3. ScottN March 23rd, 2009 1:32 pm

    Right on Lou! Its really cool to see a father / son team ripping it up together. Doesn’t look like being at sea-level has hurt Louie at all. Nice shots.

    Boot question. I found some Scarpa 05/06 Magics (womens) for a dirt cheap price. If I measure my wife’s foot in cm, is that the same as mondo sizing scarpa uses? She measures at 25 ish cm, so a 25.5 mondo should work, or no?

  4. Jed March 23rd, 2009 7:25 pm

    What What What? No one’s caught mention of the super slick rope trick? 5.5 cord with screamers, how provocative! Any data/disclaimers/testimonials from those whipping on such a system? I think it sounds sweet!

  5. Jack March 23rd, 2009 8:19 pm

    Very kuhl trip, Lou & Louie!

    My kid’s home on spring break, too – very special. Made the Ski Train – a classic day trip on the Alaska Railroad to the wilderness ski destination. Highly recommended experience.

  6. Randonnee March 23rd, 2009 9:22 pm

    Nice TR. My 8mm x 30 m Beal Rando rope is< 1 lb. Your 5.5 mm cord weighs what?

  7. Rob March 23rd, 2009 9:53 pm

    5mm Dyneema seems like it would basically be (light, mostly) static cord, hence the need for screamers. Sounds great as long as you don’t shock load the system enough to rip all the tacks in the screamers, after that happens, one would think it turns into a fall onto static cord and webbing – ouch.

    It would also seem that you have to recognize the limitations of such a system – it doesn’t sound like Lou expected to use the cord much at all…..

    What’s next? Tiny cord with a via ferrata system like what BD recently came out with:
    http://www.bdel.com/gear/via_ferrata_overview.php

    Nah, too heavy.

  8. Lou March 24th, 2009 4:34 am

    Yeah, the static line is for occasional use only, and still not refined in terms of technique of use. Static line is also problematic for rappels as every tiny bounce becomes a big shock load to the anchor and the body. We’re thinking the system might need something more absorbent than the screamers, to be really functional.

  9. Mark March 24th, 2009 6:42 am

    Excellent descent. Hopefully the snow that made it feel like winter around Copper Mountain where I was yesterday hit a lot of the mountain areas. I’m not ready to call it quits on spring descents yet. May we all remember that the first Monday in May last year was a roaring maelstrom of a storm in parts of CO.

  10. ellen March 24th, 2009 8:08 am

    Glad to finally meet the infamous Lou and Louie duo. Lou – your guidebooks are right next to my bed and totally worn out, even though I’ve barely scratched the surface of skiing all those lines…You both are so lucky to have each other. Can’t wait to see Louie’s video of this as well as the good tunes he does seem to pick for his videos. Back in Breckenridge now where we actually had a couple days of bonified corn skiing from about 12,000 feet on down. Hopefully in the next couple weeks we’ll be back to ski that elusive east face of castle.

  11. Bill March 24th, 2009 11:39 am

    Dude his poles are too long for the downhill. What does he think he is an euro rando racer :)

  12. sean ashcroft March 24th, 2009 2:31 pm

    hey lou do me a favor and stop printing my name associated with anything in the BLOG( Boasting Loudly Over Greatness) world… I am sure you remember a day when people just skied for the joy of it ,… Not to print or take photos to post immediately over the world wide web for everyone to see… This box score mentality of who skied what , and were they first.. ,, in winter , spring or summer for that matter to ski it , has sullied what was once a pure endeavor… Besides that not everyone feels they have to Brag Loudly Over their own Greatness over the web or to others… Sean Shean ashcroft

  13. justin March 24th, 2009 2:47 pm

    Sounds like a fun trip!

  14. Lou March 24th, 2009 3:03 pm

    Man with no name, I’m sorry to offend you… thanks for the feedback.

  15. Adam Olson March 24th, 2009 3:05 pm

    Randonnee,
    Are you sure you are dealing w/ 60 meters of rope? My Beal Rando rope is only 30 meters long! I would have bought the longer rope If I had known it came in longer lengths.

    Lou,
    It sounds like you are becoming a much better “sledhead”! (lol)

    ao

  16. Lou March 24th, 2009 3:10 pm

    Randonnee, is that a typo? If so let me know and I’ll fix…

  17. Randonnee March 24th, 2009 6:25 pm

    Yup, typo. I realized it as soon as I posted it. It is 30 m. Thanks.

  18. Lou March 24th, 2009 6:37 pm

    Fixed it Randonnee

    BTW, my Beal 30 m rando rope weighs 40.4 oz, the Titan 5.5 mm titan cord with two Screamers weighs 24.3 oz and packs smaller. For an ultra light emergency cord, the Titan cord can be carried without the Screamers and weighs only 19 oz!
    Correction to what I wrote in blog, rather than the 5.5 mill being 30 meters, it is actually 29 meters.

  19. Randonnee March 24th, 2009 6:58 pm

    Thanks Lou. My impression reading the g/ m for my rope was less than that., never weighed my rope.

  20. Mark Sevenoff March 24th, 2009 8:52 pm

    Dawson(s) -awesome blog of your adventure. Which day did you actually ski E.Face? 20th? or 21st. Winter or Spring? Four of us hippies from Moab we’re @ the Taggert hut Mon.-thurs. & also summited Castle while staring down that E. Face. We eventually walked back to our skis @ the saddle then climbed Conundrum & skied C. Couloir in nice corn. Why didn’t you just climb that E. Face? Do you think it would have included some postholing? Also met new & old (Ellen & Deb) friends up there then skied out on Thurs. to meet the family @ Snowmass. From the top of the lifts I saw some sweet tracks on the N. Face of N. Maroon. Now who made those beautiful turns?????

    Mark from Moab

  21. Lou March 24th, 2009 9:01 pm

    Mark, cool you were up there.

    Jordan White and friends made the tracks on North. We got to watch them from Snowmass, and got photos (tiny dots on the face).

    Skied E. Face on Friday, 20th, first day of Spring. Back in my day I wouldn’t have thought of skiing the face without climbing it, but I’ve been schooled by the new generation about how that’s not always necessary. If we’d climbed the face, it would have been posthole city, and I knew the way down, so all good.

  22. Tom March 25th, 2009 5:11 am

    Looks like Louie had on his helmet cam. When and where can we expect to see some video? Looks like a great time and excellent photos as usual.

  23. Lou March 25th, 2009 6:19 am

    Tom, the video exposure got messed up so not sure that’ll get published. We’ll see. Thanks for asking.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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