Castle Peak, Colorado, Backcountry Ski Descent (June 5, 2005)

Post by blogger | June 5, 2005      

After all the new snow accumulation this early June here in Colorado, we figured the central Elk Mountains might have some amazing backcountry skiing conditions. Correct. The highest part of the Elks is that in the area of Castle Peak a Colorado fourteener that rises above a permanent snowfield known as Montezuma Glacier. Louie and I met up with Mike and Steve Marolt, Kevin Dunnett and Aron Ralston for a fine Sunday adventure (Aron is correct spelling).

Backcountry Skiing Castle Peak
After a few thousand vert of powder filled bowls that made my jaw drop as to the quality of this June snow, we are on the final approach to Castle’s north face couloir. Marolts and Dunnett up ahead, Aron is over on Conundrum Peak out of the photo. He’d done this route recently and wanted to try something different for some backcountry skiing and mountaineering.

Backcountry skiing Colorado.
Climbing and skiing the north Castle couloir is an ancient tradition for Aspen area snow hounds, and somewhat a rite of passage. The Marolt’s father Max ran a summer ski camp here for a few years in the 1960s, and the Marolt boys experienced some of the first backcountry snow in this very spot. Come to think of it, so did I, and here is my son on crampons for the first time. Yes, there was some icy stuff under the pow layer so the spikes came in handy.

Castle Peak summit, Colorado
Castle Peak summit, 14,265 feet. Looking out over a few hundred square miles of the incredibly crowded Colorado backcountry that we’re all supposed to bum out about — except it looked pretty good from here. The Marolts, Kevin and Aron all ski on Atomic MX-9 planks with Fritschi bindings. I swear this is some kind of conspiracy.

Backcountry skiing Castle Peak.
Louie headed down Castle Peak. We skied from the exact summit down a wind swale that leads to the couloir. Route from summit is D-8, actual couloir is D-7 in our rating system.

Aron met up with us as we were slogging some scree over a shoulder to reach another great pitch. He skis very nicely using his prosthesis to hold a pole. Watching Aron today,I was reminded of the way climbers sometimes get seduced by ski alpinism. That happened to me way back when, and appears to be happening to Aron. He’s certainly got the skills for the "mountain blend," as well known California guide Bela Vadasz calls the melding of skiing and climbing.
(Red dots mark today’s route on Castle, Louie on left, Aron on right.)
Backcountry skiing four wheel drive.
And what’s a day of skiing without some four
wheeling to top it off? Louie just got his learner’s permit,
that’s him driving, take my word for it. I was out of the vehicle
taking photos legally under the Colorado Department of Transportation
parent’s hero shot clause (page 38, section C, paragraph 2, line
5, column 6).

All that radical skiing and 4-wheeling worked up quite an appetite. We ended up at Boogies Diner in Aspen with our crew of Aspen glitterati. The price of the burgers was worth the conversation, and I have to admit the milkshakes were impressive — definitely a step above a Wendy’s Frosty. And let me just say I’m glad Aron is such an easy going and nice guy, (especially since I was sitting to his right).

In all, a fun and interesting day. And how about our June powder skiing? It’s been quite a season, and it’s not over yet. Rest day tomorrow, then we hope to hit it again.


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