After five days of not skiing I began to feel the jones creeping back into my bones. So it was on Sunday evening that I finally managed to pry myself off the couch and away from an overcrowded Netflix queue whereupon I soon found myself hiking up the Castle Peak trail around 5 pm. I’d brought my gear, but for some reason decided to leave it in the truck. Armed only with a Kleen Canteen and a canvas shopping bag (my initial goal was to do a little recycling clean-up by hiking in a short distance to where some park rats had left behind terrain features and a ton of empty beer cans, however when I got to the temp park it had already been cleaned up), I soon found myself 3/4 of the way up the west side of the Peak and staring at some decent snowfields/patches. Spurred on by the snow at this low elevation, I continued on to the top of the Peak proper so I could gaze into Coon Canyon on the backside and see how the snow was holding up almost two weeks after I’d been there last. Not only was there still plenty of snow, but my tracks were still visible. I spent about 45-minutes scoping out various entries from the west side into Coon Canyon, hiking all the way out to Basin Peak in the process. I finally headed down the hill around 7:15 and was back at the truck just as the sun began setting around 8:26.
[Read about my previous excursion to Castle Peak here: http://www.epicski.com/t/120488/castle-peak-5-22-13]
Earlier in the week Stev had contacted me expressing a desire to do some hiking/skiing as his teaching job had just ended for the year. Given the plethora of snow I had just reconned, I sent him a text that stated “We’re doing a west-to-east loop of Castle Peak tomorrow. Meet me at the trailhead at 9.” The next morning, after sorting our gear, we were heading up the trail around 10. The first part of the hike, up to Castle Pass, is relatively easy; it’s on a well-maintained dirt road and the elevation gain is mellow. The middle part of the hike boosts the elevation gain considerably, and the last 1/3 is full-on storming the castle (so to speak) straight uphill.
STEV STORMS THE CASTLE
After a short lunch we scoped out the first entry point I had chosen. It was steep, had boulders poking out of the snow on both sides, the potential for hidden air pockets, but after about 3 turns it flattened out into a fairly wide bowl. It looked hella steeper now than it did the day before, which was weird. Being a tad skeptical now of my choice, I volunteered Stev to drop in first. He banged out 3 turns with no problem, making it look eezy-peezyy-blazzberry squeezy. I followed suit, but would be remiss if I didn’t admit that those first three turns were a bit steep and adrenaline was boosting through my system something serious.
STEV GETS FIRST DIBS ON THE WESTSIDE SLOPE
From there we scoped out and skied a chute that got us down to the Coon Canyon floor and then we traversed our way over to the northeast facing chutes I had skied previously. On the way we discovered a number of equally good looking chutes and lines, enough that one could easily spend 2-3 days back here ticking them all off the list. Oh yeah, we managed to knock out a nice little slot that got us right to the bottom of our intended eastside chute, too.
DOOKEY SKIING INTO THE CHUTE UNDERNEATH THE WEST RIDGE ENTRY
Given the time, we decided to hit a chute that I hadn’t skied the last tiime, one with a fairly narrow looking chute that probably wouldn’t last much longer. We also made the decision to boot-pack up the chute rather than swap into hiking boots and take the trail that goes up and around the ridge.
A long slog later we found ourselves at the top of the chute enjoying the expansive view out and over Coon Canyon; we admired our west ridge tracks and geared up for some turns. The snow was much better on this side; a little firmer and less sludgy.
THE REWARD FOR ALL THE SLOGGING
Once at the bottom of the chute, we traversed as far as we could, then swapped into our hiking gear, loaded up our packs and took the well-trodden trail up, out, and over the eastern most side of the ridge. At the top we took one last lingering glance at Coon Canyon, and all the lines we’d skied, took a compass bearing, and began bushwhacking our way to the last bit of snow we would ski this day: a pure east facing patch that is clearly visible from I-80.
While 2 weeks earlier this swatch of snow was a continuous strip that went from the eastern tip of Castle Peak 3/4 of the way down back toward the trailhead, now it had been segmented into 3 parts. We skied the top portion, removed our skis and whacker our way through some thick vegetation to ski the second portion, and bagged the last bit as it had dwindled to a size that only a squirrel would enjoy schussing.
THE LAST PATCH
Taking another compass bearing, we loaded up and headed down the hill. Our hike out was without incident, though not devoid of some serious mosquito attacks.
All in all I would guess that we hiked somewhere in the neighborhood of 15+ miles round-trip, probably a bit more considering the traversing and boot-packing. Still, despite the long hike, it was a glorious day of skiing.