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Castle Peak - 5/22/13

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 

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)


post #2 of 18
Thread Starter 

An open grave for snowmobiles (I found this at the bottom of the chute where the hiking trail began).


Looking up from the bottom of the second chute I schussed.


Never judge a book by its cover. The frontside of Castle Peak is devoid of snow, but lurking behind the ridge was all of this.


The sliver visible from I-80 and the impetus for the whole journey.

post #3 of 18
Looks like a lot of fun. This has definitely been added to my to-do list.
post #4 of 18

I like the way you seize the snow fields in the summer!


post #5 of 18

Sometime in the early 90's a group of us hiked up there around the 4th of July.  We were greeted by the Monarch butterfly migration. It was an amazing experience.  Literally thousands of butterflies all around you in a never ending river of butterflies. I've yet to see anything like it again. We sat at the top and just watched them flow by for at least an hour. 

post #6 of 18
Thread Starter 

^interesting. will have to keep that in mind.

Monarch migrations were huge where I went to college, although the entire time I was down in SLO I never once went to view the event:




post #7 of 18

We basically lucked into it.  We had noticed more than a normal number of Monarchs everywhere else that weekend but nothing to really get excited about. About a mile up the trail it started, like swimming upstream into a schol of fish. They would never hit you but just flow around you on the wind. By the time we got to the top it was stunning. I wonder if they follow the same route every year?

post #8 of 18

Nice work Dooks. While you and Stev were skiing Independence Chute at Lola a few days before, Nat & I were scoping out those very lines in the distance at Castle. It's funny you found them a few days later without me mentioning it.



post #9 of 18
Thread Starter 

been perusing the Webz to garner more info on Castle Peak and the surrounding area.


i'm not 100%, but i think the basin/valley I "stumbled" onto is called Coon Canyon.

post #10 of 18

That's a beautiful trip, dookey.  Thanks for putting up the report.


Looks very cool.

post #11 of 18
Thread Starter 

^thanks for taking the time to read/view the TR Bob! Dug the pix of your Mem Day skiventure, btw. Good show!

post #12 of 18

would be interesting to compare dates on the butterfly migration, as every summer in July (I think) there is a time frame where Timberline gets inundated with the winged beauties, maybe a route along the cascades and Sierra's?


Awesome summer hike pics, congrats on some good turns. Weather gets better here going to try hiking into the sisters wilderness for some glacier skiing.

post #13 of 18
Thread Starter 

I'mma have to ask around about the monarch migration as this is the first I've heard of it up here. Some Old School local has gotta know something!


We had some rain and supposedly snow (at higher elevations) on Monday, not to mention some freezing at the higher els, too.


I skied yesterday and the snow I took advantage of was back to spring soft-serve.


Planning to re-visit Castle Peak either tomorrow or Friday to ski the chutes I didn't get a chance to hit last Wednesday.


Not quite ready to start skiing our glacial stuff (usually reserve that for later in the summer/early in the fall when everything else is burnt out and done).

post #14 of 18

I could be wrong about the time I saw the Monarchs.  There was no snow around so mid-late summer or early fall.  They seemed to be heading south.

post #15 of 18
Thread Starter 

coming up a bit empty-handed in regards to finding any conclusive info when searching "monarch butterfly migration in Tahoe"...


did find these somewhat broad maps of their general route: http://monarch-butterfly.info/Maps.html

post #16 of 18

The map looks like you're on the route.  There were butterflies around everywhere along I80 that weekend. Should give you a clue when they've arrived. Do they follow the exact route? Maybe a once in a lifetime fluke.

post #17 of 18
Thread Starter 

banged out a 3.5 hour hike up the west end of Castle Peak this evening as a recon mission.


found plenty of snow lingering on that side, enough that i kicked myself for leaving my ski gear back in the truck.


that said, my graffiti from almost two weeks ago is still visible in those chutes, albeit they are a bit narrower this time around.


planning to storm the Castle tomorrow on a west-to-east loop, bagging the remaining chutes and a couple of new lines, as well.

post #18 of 18
Thread Starter 

Today I managed to rope Stev into joining me on a somewhat ambitious jaunt: we did a west-to-east loop up Castle Peak.


10.5 hours and at least 12 miles total.


We bagged two chutes and a few miscellaneous shots/patches/snowfields.


Full TR forthcoming once we sort through the visuals.

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