Castle Peak, 2019

  • Date: September 30, 2019
  • Partner: Meng Zhang; Quichen Li partway
  • Height: 14,265 feet
  • Range: Elk
  • Route: Northeast Ridge (Class 3)
  • Overall Distance: 7.00 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,100 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 37 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 16
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: The Castle Creek Trailhead is just over 12.5 miles south of Aspen.  You will hang a right on Pearl Pass Road.  A 2WD vehicle can make it about a mile before the bomb drops.  From here on out, you’ll need a good high-clearance 4WD for the next 2.5 miles or so until you get to about 11,100′. There is a semi-serious river crossing you will have to navigate along the way (take it slow).

Finally, I have caught up with blogging about my last climb of 2019 just before we turn the page to a new year.  I am glad to say this one was a doozy.  My former graduate student Qiuchen Li and her husband flew in from China and stopped by Denver to join me in the fun.  The day of the climb was about as fine a Colorado fall day as you could imagine.  Funny thing is that the weather turned cold and snowy after this climb and the gate closed on any additional summer-type climbs.  So I am glad to have snuck this one in.

The three of us arrived at dawn and started an easy, but ever-ascending walk of the old Montezuma Mine Road.  Really, this is an easy walk of about 2 miles until you get to a lake.  We were stopping occasionally to snap some pictures and enjoying some light conversation.  However, once we got to the lake, the story changed substantially.

There was so much snow from the previous year that the traditional route was obscured.  Yikes!  Hence, we had to sidehill to the east of the lake over a large boulder field with no visible trail.  We crawled along until we came to a steep slope of loose scree.  Then we had to scramble up the slope about a quarter-mile to the top of saddle.

Once at the top, Qiuchen decided she had had enough and would wait for Meng and I to continue the journey.  At this point, Meng and I ascended a series of very steep switchbacks to gain the so-called Northeast Ridge.  At the very top of the ridge, the climbing now became truly Class 3.  Staying to the right, we took our time and finally arrived at a pronounced dip in the ridgeline.  We could plainly see the summit above us a couple hundred yards in the distance.  Meng, who is not even used to this altitude, did a super job of pacing and leading us up the final, and most technical, slope.  

This was Meng’s first 14er and we were both really happy.  On the top, you can see all the other 14ers in the Elk Mountains.  Because we knew his wife was waiting for us below, we did not dilly-dally too long after snapping a few celebratory pictures.  

Meng and I made relatively quick work of the descent to Qiuchen.  The three of us decided to try to avoid the expansive boulder field we encountered on the way up, so we took a different way back to a point above the lake.  There was a long slope of hard snow, about 100, 150 yards long, at about a 30-degree plus angle.  We decided to do an impromptu glissade, maybe not the smartest and safest choice, but certainly the quickest choice and fun (see the picture album below).  

From here it was a simple retrace of the walk of the Montezuma Mine Road.  We arrived back at the Jeep mid-afternoon and started wolfing down snacks … lol.  On a scale of 1-to-10, I would give Castle Peak something in the 4-to-5 range in terms of difficulty.  From the lake to the summit will catch your attention.  

And so my 2019 climbing season comes to a close.  I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.  I have moved to North Carolina now so the quest to separately climb all 53 of the Colorado 14ers will become more difficult, but that’s ok.  I’ll just continue to gratefully do my best and enjoy the process.  If anything, striving for this dream will become more meaningful.  I wish anyone who is reading a great Happy New Year.   


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