9.12.2005

Storming the Castle

This weekend we decided to head over near Aspen and climb the monarch of the Elk Range, Castle Peak. It is 14,265' high which makes it the 12th highest peak in Colorado. The Elk Range is one of the most rugged in the state, and Castle is the easiest fourteener in the range. Don't let that fool you though, it is still a tough hike! My friends called me Saturday and thought it would be a good idea to head down Saturday, hang out in Aspen a bit and then camp at the trailhead, so this is what we did. We camped just off the road a little bit above the trailhead at about 10,200'. Sunday when we woke up we actually had 2 deer, a male and a female, grazing near our campsite! The hunting season has just started, so they are lucky we weren't hunters! It is archery season right now, so we didn't have to worry that hunters would mistake us for animals when we were hiking as it is a much shorter range sport. The initial part of the hike follows a road that winds its way past a few cabins and old mining structures to 12,800'. From here the fun begins as you first have to climb a steep slope to the upper basin. There was still a lot of snow in this basin. The slopes leading up to it had some snow as well and we chose to climb directly up the snow face instead of the steep rock. The maximum pitch in this section is about 30 degrees. At the top of the snow field there is a trail heading up a steep shale slope to the left. The lower part of this trail was a little loose, but as it levels out and heads toward the ridge it was in good shape. The ridge was fun, steep slopes to either side made for a dramatic view of the surrounding areas and the peak ahead of us. There are a few steep rocky fins along the ridge, but the trail skirts them to one side. There was one or two brief steep sections that required a little mild scrambling, maybe 10 feet of so, but otherwise it was pretty much just a steep hike. The views from the summit are amazing, this peak is the highest in the area and the views are far reaching. It is also the farthest west peak I have climbed, all the other peaks have had the Elk Range "blocking" views to the west. This peak definitely gave me a new perspective from which to view Colorado's high peaks. We descended back down the ridge and even had some fun sliding down the snow slopes before hiking the road back out. It was a great peak, and a lot of fun to climb.