Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Elk Mountains, Castle Peak, East Face.

Dropping into the East face, Castle Peak (14,265'). Photo: Niels Davis
     On our last break of the year, I decided to ski instead of going climbing.  This choice has become less rare, especially as we learn some of the better spots.  This is the first time all year that the steeps have given us full-on green-light conditions. Mike, Andrew, Niels and I went to the Elk Mountains and straight away decided to skin 6 or 7 miles up to Castle Peak.   We made good time getting to the face, and snapped some beta photos.  The upper section of the face features some very steep, blind rollovers, and to pick a safe line you need to extrapolate your position from above.
Andrew, Niels, and I climbed a couloir to the looker's right of our descent line, and then scrambled the north ridge with skis on our backs.  By 12:30 we were on the summit.

On the Summit, with the Bells to the west.
 We zoned out on the summit for a while, stared at the maroons, and grabbed a bite.  The feathery mare's tails of icy cloud signaled coming weather, and indeed, it would storm on us for the next couple days.
     We locked our boots in and began a steep descent on soft but variable snow.  Most of the face was fun, dense, responsive wind-powder.  Lower down we found soft snow in the middle of spring transformaiton, aka. mashed potatoes. Here it took some real effort to stay on-top.  Every rollover brought a bit of mystery, but we knew where to go.  Since I had the camera, I picked my way through the cliff-band first and found a safezone on a snowy rib.  I shot Niels and Andrew as they took more aggressive lines.  This was one of the best days any of us have had on skis, and the East face of Castle is truly dream terrain for mountain skiing.
Andrew drops in.


       Edward met up with us, and in a merry group of 5 we did another day trip near marble.  This time we did a couple of laps on the north face of Justice peak.  The sun eventually turned crisp powder into soup with a tendency to move.  By about 2pm, the face was coming loose.  Point sluffs were turning into moving slush trains, gaining alot of mass but never alot of speed.  I'm not sure if I would call this activity avalanche, since outrunning and even skiing through it was easy.  The efforts of these little slides to swallow our skis were hilarious. It was a strange and surreal experience, like petting a bear cub.  It was hard to remember that the real, grown up thing is powerful beyond reason.  Once the sun sluffs had stripped the powder, we took another lap on a peak to the northwest, skiing a leg-pumping shot of corn straight back to the road. 

Andrew givin 'er on the north side of Justice Peak. 4 turns in 600 ft.

The same face after some sun action.

The good weather started to go, and we called it off and went back partway to the springs.  On saturday, in a storm of sorts, we skiied the silver couloir on Buffalo Mountain.  It hadn't seen much sun so most of it was steep and chattery hardpack.  Not the best day, but still a chance to get out and do a continuous ~2600ft descent.  
   In the afternoon my friends regrettably found out about a free concert and spend the afternoon reveling in some sort of played-out 90s blues-jam scene at Breckenridge.  We should have just taken another lap on Buffalo instead, but alas, now I have Blues Traveler lyrics and harmonica solos drilled into my head.  The only cure I know is more vert and lots of dry electronic music.  I vow never to return to 'breck' for any reason.  And for that matter, summit county.  Although the Silver Couloir was a fun ski, it was a bad weather day and everyone(and their dog, and their mother's dog) was still stacked nose-to-ass on the skin track.  So crowded.
   We will have to make it back to the Elks though.  The approaches are prohibitively long for most, and the terrain is perfect for the kind of skiing we do.  This combination makes for big solitary days in the high mountains, and it might be as good as it gets here in Colorado.

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