The plan was simple at the outset: hike up to the top of Castle Peak and ski an east facing strip of snow which is clearly visible from I-80 (at the time it was the only skiable looking bit of snow still clinging to the frontside of the peak).
As is often the case the simple plan mutated, evolved, and, well, ended up becoming a bit more complex. But more on that later.
I left Truckee around 9 in the morning and was geared up and hiking by 9:45. Having never been to Castle Peak before and wanting to maximize my hiking-to-skiing ratio, I planned to more or less bushwhack my way to the top, heading slightly east to reach the aforementioned sliver of snow as fast as possible. My first attempt to blaze a trail found me thwarted by a river. After about 20-minutes of wrangling with the thick foliage surrounding said river, I back-tracked to my truck and set out on the well-marked (but closed) 4x4 road/trail that leads to Castle Peak and the surrounding outdoor playground (quite popular with snowmobilers in the winter, so I’ve heard tell).
After a few minutes I came to a fork in the road. To the left was a sign with a snowmobile illustration on it; to the right (actually straight-ahead) was a sign with a x-country skier on it. I followed the skier sign. Many paces later I found myself at another crossroad and again chose the right fork, which took me across that pesky river, through a meadow, and out onto a legitimate hiking trail. I followed the well-groomed trail for a bit until it appeared to be taking me in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. From there on out I whacked my way through shrubs, dead tree detritus, and did a fair share of rock hopping (lottsa granite boulders up there) until I found myself looking up at the most easternly part of the Castle Peak ridge line. The last 1/3 of my journey was nothing short of a full-on storming-the-castle (so to speak) effort straight up to the top.
Approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes since leaving my truck I now found myself at the top of a pretty decent swatch of snow. However, while I had reached my original destination, I discovered that there was even more snow up on the ridge (snow that was not visible from the highway). Having never been up to Castle Peak before I felt the need to explore, not to mention that I found myself entranced by the seemingly endless expanse of rolling waves and sun-cupped snow that stretched out in the distance before me.
I began traipsing across the snow and between the often times thick clumps of trees. After another 20 minutes I found myself staring at a wide canyon, the proverbial backside of Castle Peak. Lo and behold it was littered with mucho grande snow and a “hidden” cache of skiable chutes. I gawked and gaped at the plethora laid out before me, a veritable playground of potentially sweet spring skiing. The chutes I glimpsed were virgin, nary a turn or smear on them. On top of all that, it was quiet and serene: nothing to do but ski and soak up the scenery.
I immediately began hiking east along the ridge scoping out the various opportunities that lay before me. Being solo I passed over a couple of gnarlier looking chutes and plunked myself (and my gear) down atop one of the wider and slightly mellower options. I ate lunch. I took in the scenery. I lapped up the tranquil surroundings and enjoyed the bliss of quietude. Then I suited and booted and banged out 22 turns on my first lap. The snow, while mildly sun-cupped, was smooth and creamy; not to soft, not too firm, but Goldilocks through and through (that would be “just right” for the fairy tale impaired).
At the bottom of the chute I took the time to further survey my surroundings, checking out which of the other chutes I had seen actually went and which didn’t, looking at the many skiable slivers (i.e. elongated patches) of snow nestled amongst the chutes, and salivating over the open bowls further to the north. I also spotted a dry hiking trail slightly to the east and since I was solo and like to play it safe, I opted to follow it back up the ridge for a second helping.
The hike up allowed further views of the area and revealed even more skiable terrain; there was too much not only to take in, but to ski in one day. Once again atop the ridge I headed back toward the chute I had just graffitied and chose another chute next to it for my next exercise in two plank spring painting. Even an hour later the snow was still just right and another 22 turns found me back at the bottom with a giant grin slathered on my face. I swapped out my gear and dry hiked back up the ridge, snapped a few parting photos, and headed back toward the frontside and that initial sliver of snow that had enticed me up here in the first place.
By this time it had turned a wee bit overcast and a brisk (i.e. cold) wind had picked up. The temperature drop was just enough that my 130 race boots firmed up (it took me 10 attempts to get my right boot on!). Once I was finally geared up, I skied a rolling low-pitch slope back to the sliver. Thankfully, the cloud cover dissipated somewhat and the sun poked out for my last run of the day. With full views of Boreal, Donner Ski Ranch, Sugar Bowl, I-80, and Donner Lake laid out before me, I schussed down the east side of Castle Peak, smearing sun-cups and leaving some pretty decent S-turns in my wake.
The hike out was more or less without incident: I just pointed myself slightly west and downhill (it’s kind of hard to get totally lost up here since you have so many easy visual references, at least while you are above tree line). However, my latent Boy Scout orienteering skills were a bit rusty and I ended up about a 1/2 off course (I inadvertently stumbled upon that snowmobile road I chose not to take at the outset of my journey). No serious harm was done, but my accidental “scenic route” probably added an extra 30-minutes to my exit time.
In the end it was 7.5 hours from truck to snow and back again and I skied 3 runs. When all was said and done it wasn’t a half-bad way to spend a Wednesday.
Storming the Castle
Looking up the first chute I schussed from the bottom
The view of my graffiti from the top.
Obligatory gear shot (for you tech heads I use: Tecnica Diablo Inferno 130 boots, Blizzard Bushwhacker 180cm skis, Smith Variant helmet (customized with psychotropic rainbow design), and a Granite Gear Pilius pack)