|Peak:||Castle Peak (14er)|
|Route:||Castle and Conundrum|
|Date of Info:||01/15/2021|
Castle's winter reputation as a death trap is well deserved. The route spends many hours and miles in avalanche terrain. Don't underestimate it!
From Ashcroft to the Castle Creek 2WD trailhead is groomed, then from the 2WD trailhead to the Montezuma Basin turnoff there's a great snowmobile and ski track to keep things easy. I booted to that point, then wore snowshoes until partway up Castle's northeast ridge. In general the route is straightforward and you'll mostly stay on the road, BUT don't get too close to the north facing slopes on the approach and once you're on the road below Malemute's south face you're in avalanche terrain 90% of the way to the ridge. There's lots of annoying sidehilling on the road, and snow conditions are very variable - hard slab, wind drifted powder, deep sugar, windblown rock, wet slush, it's all there. There was some minor cracking as I went but no other signs of instability. On the way down, however, newer, larger cracks had formed.
Once past the road there's a short flat area before the headwall. To reach the headwall requires climbing directly up a steep north facing slope. This appeared stable. It's then possible to stay on rock, but the snow was quicker and you can attempt to link together trail segments through the talus.
At the top of the headwall the route up the ridge is obvious. The trail eventually becomes snow-free and there's some Class 2+ scrambling on rotten rock, some traversing on scree and talus, and some minor snow climbing. About 50 feet below the summit there's a short, snowy, extremely exposed Class 3 scramble onto a snowy talus slope. The scrambling isn't hard but the exposure is pretty in your face. I found spikes and an axe useful here, otherwise they weren't really useful elsewhere.
The traverse to Conundrum is easy. Some snow and loose rock and Class 2+ scrambling but overall easier than Castle. I reversed my entire route. Descending the Castle/Conundrum saddle would be a very bad idea right now.
Gear: flotation mandatory, traction and an axe only useful in a couple of spots. Good avalanche sense and the ability to make smart decisions, including when to turn around, is absolutely critical.
Photos (click for slideshow):