I was originally not going to up a report for this trip but some people have expressed interest in the conditions so here it is.
After leaving Denver around 9:30 am and making a few stops along the way, Kiefer and I arrived at Ashcroft around 3 pm where we happened upon the climber’s arch nemesis this time of year…the dreaded winter closure gate. We threw on our modestly packed 40 lb+ bags and headed up into the frosty mountains.
We actually conversed with a worker at the Ashcroft cross country ski resort and he notified us that the area had received very little snow in the past month, but naturally, it was snowing on us quite hard as we set out up the road.
We made it up the road a few miles before we called it and set up Kiefer’s brand new, bomber Hilleberg Tarra. This tent was serious luxury. We woke up the next morning, boiled some water and hit the road with far more sensible pack weights and a little less that 3” of freshies.
The infamous avy paths that plague this area were not loaded enough at this point. Despite this, Kiefer and I didn’t want to stick around to see them go. Snowshoes were brought along and needed.
First view of the bowl below Castle, note the Mai Tai-like weather
We went up the standard NE ridge on the left. Thankfully, avy danger was low. We ditched the clown shoes around here.
Kiefer and the resounding Conundrum Couloir
Looking down the ridge we came up
Since departing early in the morning, winds were ever present, temperatures frigid and the tempest from the night before was proving to be a worthy adversary for the sun to break through. However, almost fairy tale-like, as we crested the summit of Castle, the clouds parted and the sun shone its effulgence. It was truly a surreal experience for me and the even the more experienced Kiefer whose summited the likes of Denali and Rainier to name just a couple.
Looking east from the summit (photo: Kiefer)
Ridge to Cathedral with Conundrum in the foreground left (photo: Kiefer)
After summiting Conundrum and signing the register (last signed few months ago), we came back down to the saddle and descended a gulley filled with snow that borders the permanent snowfield in the bowl (pretty sure this gulley is used in the summer as it is the obvious choice to take down rather than resummiting Castle and descending the NE ridge). Admittedly, it was a little sketchy going down this way because of the facetted, loaded face but we tried to stay in the rock bands as much as possible.
*EDIT*: Resummiting Castle is by far the safer option especially when snow conditions are poor. It may take a little longer, but its better than being avyed on.
Around 2 pm as we were leaving the bowl, the soup finally lifted, the winds abated and we were able to enjoy a wonderful, beginning to winter with 2 14ers in our pockets. This was the first time I had done Castle and Conundrum and it is Kiefer’s 29th winter 14er!
Thanks for reading.