| A Great Change of Pace
Castle Peak, seen just off CO 131
Castle Peak, 11,300' (CO Rank #1644)
3040' prominence (CO Rank #20)
6.5 miles, ~2200' gain
After four straight weekends of packing in--all solid trips featuring interesting peaks--I was ready for a day hike, maybe some car camping for a change. Routines make us boring, predictable, and who wants that? Lucky for me, Chris (ChrisinAZ) was looking to escape his first week of med school drudgery and he tossed me some ideas for peaks less traveled. We'd both had our eyes on mysterious Castle Peak for a long time, so we decided to hit it up. The first step always involves gathering beta, but this one proved a challenge. Go ahead, google "Castle Peak." Add whatever search terms and exclusions you like. There's a 9er in California. There's an impressive 11er in Idaho. Even Colorado has a 14er named Castle Peak. Good luck finding any beta on hiking this peak beyond a single thread on the LoJ forums. (Chris has now fixed this; his SP page is linked below) I'd like to send a big shout out to John K, who graciously provided us beta on which roads to access the peak (some are gated). Thanks very much!
Chris has also posted a detailed report on LoJ, which tells the story well. For the record, I'll repost his description on how to access the TH: Exit I-70 at CO-131 N. Go about 3.6 miles north to a left turn onto Horse Mountain Rd (shown as Milk Creek Rd on many maps), which has a mileage sign at the turnoff. Follow this well-graded road to a right turn to continue on Horse Mountain Rd (39 44.560 N, 106 42.378 W). The road from here on necessitates high clearance, if not 4WD, and there are few places to pull off or turn around. Follow the main track of the road as it dips down into a drainage and re-emerges. The next turn of note is at 39 45.606 N, 106 46.072 W, where the road splits at a Y junction at a sign--go right. Continue to a left turn at 39 46.480 N, 106 46.612, and follow this road ~3/4 mile to its end at a small parking lot and information stand with room for a few cars to park.
TH and boundary of Castle Peak Wilderness Study Area
Anyway, we headed out from Denver, stopping in Dillon for some Chimayo (nothing New Mexican about it) burritos, my JJ's #1 for the summit, and a sixer of Happy Camper. The turnoff from CO 131 came quickly enough, and as darkness fell, we were within a few miles of the TH. While the road isn't too rough, there are some DEEP potholes lurking under overgrown grass, and I bottomed the FJ at least once. Drive with caution, and it's no problem, but I would not want to be on this one when wet. It's no Lead King Basin road, but it's rutted and would be slicker than snot.
We arrived, set up my tent, admired the moonlit views of the Vail Valley with I-70 below, and then Chris dove inside to study for a while. Having no interest in protein transport mechanisms (I don't have to know that anymore), I pulled out my chair, cracked an IPA, put on some Railroad Earth, and got mellow. Then, the moon and the clouds started dancing, so I started playing around with the camera.
I don't have special photo editing software or a tripod, but this one looks cool to me.
After about 45 minutes of childlike fun, my reverie was interrupted by headlights coming up the road. WTF? This is an isolated peak with no beta, right? Well, ignorance has never stopped brovilles before, and they were headed right for us. A shiny Ford Escape lurched and jerked to a stop about 15 feet from me. Three very (very!) drunk guys spilled out, one nearly landing on his face. I turned off my headlamp, stood in the shadows and listened. This had to be good. This was a new species of broville--very preppy, wearing Abercrombie and J Crew-looking clothes, big shiny watches, and using words that might show up on the SAT verbal section instead of in a smoke shack at Breck. What makes them brovilles? I listened... They'd abandoned two of their friends about a mile back because the car was bottoming out, but left them with some beer, so they'd be ok. "Where are we, anyway?" was asked, but not answered, at least twice. They kept stumbling around, eventually finding the wilderness info sign. "WE'RE GONNA CLIMB CASTLE PEAK! LET'S F**KING DO IT!!!!" They grabbed a flashlight, headed through the gate, then quickly returned. They'd forgotten their beers. After a quick cooler trip, they were off, and disappeared over the hill within 10 minutes. They were so drunk that they never noticed me after I turned on my headlamp and walked straight toward them (within 10 feet or so), thinking I might warn them it's a few miles and a couple thousand feet up. Oh well! I went to sleep, and they were gone in the morning.
Knowing the forecast was stellar, we slept in, and got going on the trail around 8am. The hike starts out in open meadows, with sweeping views of the Vail Valley.
Pretty soon, we reached the limit of broville grazing range. This was the first of three signs of their presence, none further than 1/2 mile in (we packed them out on our return).
The trail winds through grassy, occasionally flowered meadows to a marshy area, where it disappears for a bit, but we found it again with little effort.
Eventually, we got our first look at the Castle, peeking out through some trees.
Soon after, the trail ends and the bushwhack begins--in earnest. However, we found this nifty ramp to start out on...
...got another peek at our objective...
...I took a fish-eyed view of things distant...
...then we really started having fun.
Who loves deadfall?
We descended one ridge, ascended another, and found ourselves at the base of some chunky, volcanic talus.
We stashed our poles and started climbing. The peak's rated class 4 on LoJ, so we went looking for the goods, and found some interesting moves on our way to the ridge.
However, on our descent, we found a much easier path, class 3 at best.
We topped the ridge between the summit tower and its slightly lower and more difficult twin.
A right turn, some easy scrambling, and a few minutes later, and we were Kings in the Castle!
As I took in the views and munched on my sandwich, I felt a wave of relief cascade over me. Up to that point, I'd been torn by a decision to skip Yarmony Grass, the festival down the road at Rancho del Rio. However, as I looked out across almost limitless expanses of Colorado, it became apparent that I already had my freedom and open sky. It is good to be alive.
If the King of this Castle is the ruler of all that he sees, some fine mountains are under his protection.
Flat Top Mountain and wilderness
Capitol et al
Looking at the Sawatch
Here's a look back at our short route on the summit ridge and the slightly lower tower we were grateful we didn't have to ascend.
On the way down, Chris detoured to an airy perch.
We climbed down, retrieved our poles, and enjoyed a mellow, scenic hike out to the truck, where we found some hoppy goodness.
Horse Mountain, 9603'
1.2 miles, 350' gain
This one's pretty straightforward. We turned left at the first fork in the road as we left the Castle TH, taking it less than a mile to a pass and parking area. The route follows the ridge seen in the photo above.
Bushwhack, then find a trail
Looking back down the summit ridge
If you find no other reason to hike this peak, the following view should suffice:
Eagles Nest, Powell, Ripsaw Ridge.
We stopped in at the Gore Range Brewery for some excellent pizza, tasty wings (thanks, Mel!), and a crisp summer saison. Recommended.
Thanks for reading.
Chris' newly minted Summitpost page for Castle Peak
BLM Castle Peak WSA page
LoJ Castle Peak quad
For additional inspiration, Chicago Transplant's 14er doppelgangers page
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):