Mount Raoul — 2nd Time is the Charm

Post by blogger | June 25, 2009      
Mount Raoul backcountry skiing.

Mount Raoul

John Doyle

When our friend and loved one Raoul Wille died at 45 years old in 1998, of altitude sickness in Nepal, the mountain community lost one of its champions. This was the guy who, in the Aspen area, was a winning nordic ski racer, ripping downhill skier, and the man who “was the gutsiest guy in town — if there was any physical challenge, Raoul was involved in it.” And now, Mount Raoul… but first:

Raoul and I were close. We were fast friends and he was my brother in law. His loss hit his many friends and loved ones hard. So unexpected, for a 45-year-old super fit athlete to die of altitude sickness at the height (around 14,000 feet) he’d climbed to hundreds of times, and lived just below for his whole life.

A few years ago we started calling a mountain by Raoul’s name.

Mt. Raoul is a 13,803 foot sub-peak of Castle Peak that dominates the upper Conundrum Creek Valley in the Elk Mountains southwest of Aspen, Colorado. It has a beautiful north face that can easily be seen from the top of Highlands Bowl at Highlands ski area.

Backcountry Skiing

Mount Raoul, as viewed from the north (from Aspen Highlands ski area).

Over the past few years, a group of us close to Raoul have been talking about getting the peak officially named. That’s difficult, but in the meantime we figured we can always ski it — and call it what we want. More, we also recently put together a memorial website for Raoul and his eponymous mountain, so what better time to get a backcountry skiing trip report blog done about it? Our group for this trip consisted of Raoul’s brother Pierre Wille, Kirk Brunswold, who was Raoul’s friend and myself.

Mount Raoul

Mount Raoul, as seen from Castle-Counundrum saddle. Our route (Sloman Couloir) is marked by red dots.

On May 16 we left Kirk’s Jeep at the footbridge up Castle Creek at 10,200’. We began the slog in walking shoes and carried our skis and boots. At about 11,500’ we made the switch to skis and skins and cruised up through Montezuma Basin to the Castle /Conundrum saddle.

From the saddle, we booted skier’s left, into the Conundrum side. We had to cross some loose scree until we got to a tongue of snow that we skied down about 800’ of vertical into the basin. We traversed as high as we could skier’s left under cliffs to the bottom of a couloir we hoped would take us to the summit ridge at the obvious low-point saddle between Castle Peak and Mount Raoul.

Climbing Mount Raoul.

We switched to crampons and kicked steps up to a casual summit ridge that divides the Gunnison and Roaring Fork drainage.

Near summit of Mount Raoul, Castle Peak in background.

Pierre Wille near summit of Mount Raoul, Castle Peak in background.

The three of us were elated to finally achieve the summit. With a little more thought and a little less effort we had succeeded where last year’s effort had failed — it is always sweet to get the backcountry goods when you’ve been previously denied. We ate, drank, took photos and enjoyed our time on top.

We were not sure if the couloir we were looking down was Sloman Couloir — the line we wanted. But it looked right and the snow was as good as it gets. Kirk dropped first. Pierre skied next. We leapfrogged each other down a fantastic upper face, letting out a few loud “Raooooouls!” as we descended. About half way down we found the rock lined couloir that would take us slightly skier’s right to the lower apron.

Sloman Couloir, Mount Raoul.

Pierre drops in.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Raoul.

Kirk in the upper section, a nice open face that funnels into the lower terrain feature that makes this route special.

We regrouped on the apron, exchanging wide smiles as we got the skins back out. Last year we had skied all the way down Conundrum Creek, not an option this season due to the lack of snowcover and heavy coating of “snirt” that made lower altitude skiing less than pleasant.

So we skinned back up to the Castle/Conundrum saddle, using crampons once more for the final 400 vertical feet. After that, we got the long backcountry skiing run down Montezuma back to parking. The snow was dirty and grabby, but still better than walking. We got back to the Jeep nine hours after we left it; all very happy we could go on shorter ski tours again.

Viva Raoul! And remember to check out the Mount Raoul website!

Stats: 10+ miles 5,700’ vert, 9 hours. First descent of Sloman Couloir was probably done by Bob Perlmutter and Bob “Sloman” Slozen around 1981. The peak is also informally known as Castleabra or Castlebra, just joke terms with no real meaning. We prefer Mount Raoul of course!

(Guest blogger John Doyle is a longtime Aspen resident who was a close friend of Raoul’s, as well as being his brother in law.)


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32 Responses to “Mount Raoul — 2nd Time is the Charm”

  1. Mark June 25th, 2009 9:22 pm

    Beautiful peak, beautiful descent! Terry Cunningham of Bozeman, MT might be able to help you in your quest to name Raoul Peak. He was the main mover in getting Alex Lowe Peak named.

  2. pete anzalone June 25th, 2009 10:39 pm


    Nice TR and terrific pix!


  3. adam June 26th, 2009 6:38 am

    I thought 13,803 was in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness area? If so, I think one of the rules or guidelines on accepting naming requests is that the peak isn’t in a federal wilderness area.

    Also, Roach’s guidebooks give this peak the unofficial name of “Castleabra”. That might make it harder to get the name Mount Raoul accepted. Breckenridge’s Red White and Blue volunteer fire department tried to name “Atlantic Peak” after themselves several years ago, but since the mountain was well known informally as Atlantic the request was denied.

  4. Lou June 26th, 2009 6:57 am

    Thanks Adam, yeah, I’ve heard the Wilderness thing is a roadblock to official naming. If so, we’ll just have to do it the old fashioned way, informally… It’s named Mount Raoul in some guidebook by a guy named Dawson (grin). But Roach and the 13er baggers have a lot of influence on the culture, so it might be a deal where the summer climbers end up calling it Castleabra and the winter climbers and skiers call it Raoul. We shall see. At least Mount Raoul now has its own website!

  5. adam June 26th, 2009 7:34 am


    Which of your guidebook(s) call this Mount Raoul? I checked a 1999 (5th printing) of your 14ers vol 1 before posting and didn’t see it in there. BTW, while I’m on the topic, I really appreciate all the winter info in your books vs what Roach has. In fact, I did Castle’s East Face climb [not ski] this spring inspired by your guidebook. So Thanks!

    Anyway, here’s the official policy statement:

    sec. 1
    Within wilderness areas, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names will not approve proposed
    names for unnamed features, names in local use but not published, or unpublished
    administrative names used by administering agencies, unless an overriding need exists,
    such as for purposes of safety, education, or area administration.
    sec. 2
    Name proposals commemorating persons are discouraged and will not be considered
    unless the criteria in Section 1 and the Commemorative Names Policy are met (see Policy

    from the .pdf file at:


  6. CCD June 26th, 2009 8:27 am

    Raoul and I were close friends in high school, growing up in Aspen, and one of my best memories of him was watching a cross country ski race behind Aspen High that he won. He had an intense yet very joyful look on his face when he finished, still breathing so hard that foam was coming out of his mouth.
    It’s wonderful to here that his memory is being kept in the mountains that he loved as we all did.
    Good luck in getting the name permanent. perhaps one day I can stand atop Mt. Raoul and have a quite moment in memory.
    Thanks for the report and the great pics.

  7. Lou June 26th, 2009 8:36 am

    Thanks for the note CC!

    Adam, Mount Raoul is in my Colorado Backcountry Skiing guidebook, map on page 247 and photo on page 125. The book is out of print, BTW, and probably will never be printed again. I’ll probably put it online in one form or another.

  8. ted mahon June 26th, 2009 12:43 pm

    Nice work John.

    I’ve always felt Castleabra to be a silly name– in the same way the bump down the ridge from Thunder gets called Lightning by some, or how others want to rename a point near Challenger (in the Sangres) with Columbia. Mountains deserve their own identities and shouldn’t be named as though they are some stepchild, like Castleabra. Raoul it is, official or not.


  9. Lou June 26th, 2009 3:45 pm

    CC, what’s your best Raoul story?

  10. Bob Perlmutter June 26th, 2009 10:58 pm

    John, way to go to you, Kirk and Pierre on a great ski adventure and more importantly commemorating a true brother, in-law, friend and loved one. Skiing Mt. Raoul with Bob Sloezen is still to this day one of my favorite ski mountaineering memories. It was sometime in the early 80’s(I don’t remember exactly what year) and was not part of our original plan). We skied up to the Montezuma parking lot the day before and set up camp for the night. Starting out early the next day we climbed a ridge from just above our camp over Conundrum Pk. and continued on to Castle Pk. We intended to ski Castle but something about Mt. Raoul must have caught our eye because before you know it we were walking the ridge between Castle and Raoul. Once on top the obvious line down the north face was like a siren’s call. Next thing you know we were in the Conundrum valley saying, “now what”! Particularly since it was getting on into the day and the snow was getting too soft to think about going back over to Montezuma. We decided to slide around the corner to the hot springs and hang out there for awhile and relax. Well, awhile turned into evening and with a full moon and firmer snow from falling temps we worked our way over the Castle/Conundrum saddle and back to the comfort of our sleeping bags and tent.

    We knew that the yet to be named Mt. Raoul had a certain spirit but little did we know just how much that spirit would mean to all of us who knew Raoul and are drawn to a life among the high peaks. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute. Congratulations.

  11. Lou June 27th, 2009 5:37 am

    Thanks Bob!

  12. Pierre Wille June 27th, 2009 2:41 pm

    Thank you for your inspiration and stimulus. What a mountain – exciting skiing with fantastic rock formations and ski touring the only logical way to access. Team Quasimoto is grateful.

  13. Lou June 27th, 2009 8:53 pm

    Pierre, thanks for the words. Yeah, what’s cool about the peak is it’s not a roadside attraction. Takes some fitness and skill to get it! Stuff that Team Q is all about .

  14. Mark June 27th, 2009 10:01 pm

    Lou, you have a Colorado Backcountry Skiing guidebook that’s out of print? That’s the type of book I really like to have on the shelf.

  15. Mark June 27th, 2009 10:03 pm

    Did you guys mean Quasimodo, not Quasimoto? Quasimoto is some hip-hop producer’s concoction.

  16. Lou June 28th, 2009 7:09 am

    My recollection is that Raoul started his references to Quasimodo long before hip-hop, so that’s probably it. The Hunchback of Nortre Dame. But I defer to Pierre for the true history of team Q.

  17. Mark June 28th, 2009 8:47 am

    I figured it was a mere typo. Anyway, you guys have a great group and cause. I’m going to check out the website.

  18. Pierre Wille June 28th, 2009 9:40 am

    Team Q origanally started as the Quasimoto Climbing Club in the mid 80’s. We changed the “d” to a “t” to make the word our own. Over the years we became just plain Team Q. We were, and still are, a loosly knit band of derelicts on an endless worldwide quest, for adventure, bakeries and brew pubs. Racing, climbing, boating, and skiing. It was a very elite group, but anyone who was on the mission was an instant member. Our trademark is to build fantastic rock carrins and leave our business card on the summit of countless peaks. We wear our hand made t-shirts proudly. We have slowed down just a bit, but are working on the next generation of Team Q members. One of our latest accomplishments was winning the team division in America’s Uphill for the second year in a row, over the well funded and organized Team Beaver Creek. Raoul was always a vital member of the team. We have also lost Josh Hane and Chuck Drake to the high peaks. Naming a peak, official or not is a fitting tribute to a truely amazing character.

  19. Lou June 28th, 2009 10:31 am

    Aha, truth be told!

  20. Lou June 28th, 2009 10:52 am

    For the record, University of Wisconsin-Madison:

    JOSHUA G. HANE (1968-1996). On July 1 1996, we were shocked to learn of the death of Josh Hane in a climbing accident in Denali National Park, Alaska. Josh and his companion Chuck Drake, a 27-year-old climbing instructor from Seattle, whom he had known since his days at Dartmouth College, were attempting to climb a previously unclimbed buttress on the west side of Mount Hunter, 14,570 ft., some five miles southwest of Mount McKinley (Denali).

    According to rangers, the easiest routes up Mt. Hunter are more difficult than the most difficult routes up Denali. The mountain had been plagued with ice falls this year, and it is thought the pair rose very early on the morning of 22 June and tried to reach the upper ice pack above a 2,000 ft. cliff before the day’s warming succeeded in loosening this glacial overhang.

    Several hundred feet up a ramp in a small ravine hidden from frontal observation, the two were hit by falling ice or very heavy snow and probably died immediately. They were roped together, but the impact of the icefall apparently snapped Chuck’s rope, and his body was swept down the rock face to a snow cone where it was retrieved by a high altitude helicopter on July 8. This maneuver was so dangerous that distant spotters with radios were posted to warn the helicopter pilot if there were more falling ice and give him a second or two early warning to abort the rescue.

    Josh’s body remains on the mountain.

    Josh was a delight to know and had an extraordinary range of talents. He had a wonderful sense of humor, well attested by his presentation in April 1995: “Two Short Walks in the Nepal Himalaya, 1987: A Hysterical Essay.” He had just completed his Master’s degree in cartography, with an original thesis on the social and aesthetic context of the design of the famous London Underground Map of 1933. He was lead cartographer for the Cultural Map of Wisconsin, on which he worked for a year and for which he made a central contribution. The map is dedicated to him. He was also well known and liked beyond the department in his brief three years on the Madison campus and was active in many local groups. Some 150 people attended a memorial celebration of his life in Madison on July 8. The University Librarian wrote a letter of tribute to the Wisconsin State Journal (July 17). Another service for the two climbers was held in Warren, New Hampshire on August 17.

    This Fall, Josh had planned to pursue a second Master’s degree in Art, and his appointment as a teaching assistant in that department was a source of great delight and confidence for him. Under Professors Phil Hamilton and his colleagues, he planned to develop his considerable printmaking talents, and an exhibition of his work in the Memorial Library opened on October 4. As we celebrate his creative cartographic and artistic achievements in October and November, the occasions will be more than tinged with sadness for such unrealized potential.

    A Memorial Fund was established for Josh. Funds will be donated to the National Park Service in Denali, AK and to the climbing safety programs run by Outdoor Programs at Dartmouth College. Send donations to the Josh Hane Memorial Fund c/o Jay Benson, P.O. Box 123, Norwich, VT 05055-0123

  21. Mark June 28th, 2009 11:23 am

    There is an unnamed peak near where I grew up in the Spanish Peaks area of the Madison Range in Montana that friends and I attempted after my father passed away in 2002. Weather and time thwarted us, but the future may allow other attempts. I like to call it David Worley Peak in his honor. It may remain in an informal sense only, but that’s okay.

  22. Shauna Young June 28th, 2009 2:51 pm

    I am Raouls’ younger sister, and I can hear Raoul laughing, dancing around and possibly pounding his chest at the thought of having a mountain named after him…….Mount Raoul! Only a mountain is a fitting memorial to his wild spirit. He would love it.

  23. Lou June 28th, 2009 7:26 pm

    Hi Shauna, thanks for dropping by!

  24. johndoyle June 30th, 2009 8:58 am

    Thanks to everyone for your positive comments.
    Lou, I’d like to thank you once again for planting the seed and supporting the effort, in large fashion, to get the name ‘Mt. Raoul’ into public use. We have achieved that.
    Thanks Pierre and Kirk, there are plenty of easier ski tours out there but none as rewarding. Mt. Raoul truly is a beautiful mountain.
    Raoul lived life large and enriched those around him by living life large. As his father Louis said, “Raoul was always willing.”

  25. Lou June 30th, 2009 9:12 am

    Thanks John, it’s been a pleasure!

  26. CCD July 1st, 2009 2:04 pm

    Just logged back in after some busy days here in Cal,
    My best Raoul story??
    It would have to be camping up near the end of Maroon Creek off the road on a wonderful Colorado summer night, leaping wildly around a camp fire under the full moon, then running for several miles up the road to Crater Lake and back in the buff, with only our shoes on!!! I think we called ourselves the Purple Streakers!!
    Or–I have many more…
    Those were the (high school) days.

  27. Lou July 1st, 2009 2:27 pm

    Was the purple color before the dip or after, and what body parts (grin)?

  28. CCD July 1st, 2009 5:21 pm

    For all I know and can remember, you may have been there, too.
    Suffice it to say, at midnight in the mountains, any dip in the lake is more like a very quick in and out, without much swimming around. good times…

  29. Jared Hargrave July 1st, 2009 7:52 pm

    Andre Willie taught science at Basalt High School when I was there in the early ’90’s, and he led outdoor trips such as when we skied Mount Sopris one spring.

    If memory serves me well, Raoul and Pierre met us all at camp near Thomas Lakes and made cheesecake on a camp stove. The next day, I was amazed at how fast they billy-goated up to the top of Sopris like it was no big deal.

    For my first time skiing in the backcountry, seeing that left a big impresssion on me. I graduated in ’95 and never heard that Raoul had died in ’98 until reading this. That’s huge and the fact that a mountain in Aspen is now named for him is really awesome.

    Thanks for posting.

  30. Todd Stone August 1st, 2009 11:57 pm

    Team Quasimoto.

    Wow, that brings back some memories!

  31. Andre Wille November 22nd, 2009 11:01 pm

    A number of Team Q members emeritus (T. Moore, P. Wille and myself) were recently spotted with the next gen Q kids extreme skiing from very near the summit of a noteworthy Colorado peak (Grand Mesa) after a three day enforced bivouac of brew and chili. Snow coverage was thin but sufficient for good kick with Rode blue and Elmers glue.

    Jared, that was an excellent trip when we all skied Sopris that Spring many moons ago. Thanks for the memories. Get stoked for another winter in the wonderland of peaks…..

    I guess I will have to go check out the skiing on this remote Mount Raoul, is it too late to bag the first nude winter descent?

  32. Lou November 23rd, 2009 6:46 pm

    Andre, for a first you’d have to be nude AND wearing snowler blades. Sorry about that.

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