June 15, 2000 - Northeast Ridge
Castle was my first peak of the Elk Range and I was curious about the “red, rugged, and rotten” motif mentioned in the earlier Borneman and Lambert guide. I figured I would start with the least challenging of the range and had checked out the approach during the fall of 1999 when Debbie and I had camped at about the 11,000 mark on the Montezuma Road. I returned to the same camp spot, just above the Pearl Pass road cut off, and made camp for the night.
The next morning I started out from camp and headed out up the Montezuma Road to the 4WD parking spot at 12,500 feet. I could have driven to about the 12,000 mark but I was, and remain a 3000-foot gain proponent, so the road march was inevitable. Castle Peak rises above the end of the road and may be reached from the road’s end by the northeast or northwest ridges. I chose the route to the northeast ridge because except for the final 500 feet of vertical, it would be exclusively a snow climb. I climbed the berm at the end of the parking flat and hopped onto the snow. The route is flat, then climbs, then a gentler rise and a climb to the saddle between Castle and Conundrum Peaks. The snow climbing was moderate and as I was a beginner, I took it easy and prepared for the self-arrest option in the event of a fall. The snow was hard and perfect for cramponing, making a degree of caution for a beginning cramponer the appropriate option. I topped the saddle, added a wind layer and made for the summit
The trail to the summit wound up the reverse side of the slope and provided easy access to the top of Castle. After a snack on top, I headed back to the saddle, tried the glissading technique, and soon arrived at the base of the slope. Up on my feet; walk across the flat, and then onto the butt again for the slope leading down to the end of the road parking spot. It was one hell of a lot faster trip down than my climb up just an hour or two before. Castle on snow was both a good climb and means of putting to use the snow travel skills I had learned during a three-day course with CMS in Estes Park. The course had covered the use of crampons and ice axe for ascents and the axe once again for unanticipated descents. Without such background, I would not have set foot on the hard snow on Castle or any other 14’er.
Alternate routes: the Northwest Ridge and the North Face Direct