Climbing is dangerous! Every year many climbers are broken, maimed, and killed. Don't be so foolish as to trust your life to what you see here. I'm not a guide and neither is this web site. If you don't know what you are doing or where you are going, please take a course or hire a guide!
Castle Peak, South Face
January 4, 2003
Bill emailed me to let me know he was headed into Seattle for a professional conference, and would be arriving a few days early to enjoy a day or two of Cascades winter play. With recent high avalanche activity and a forecast calling for a winter storm with eight to twenty inches of new snow, I thought The Castle would be just the ticket.
At 6:30 AM I call the park to find out about the gate opening time. I'm surprised to hear that, despite dire predictions of feet of new snow overnight, it is raining at Paradise and the gate will open early. Brett arrives and we load up in his car in a near downpour.
All the way to the park I quietly hope for the cold front to beat us to the Narada Falls parking lot. But it isn't to be. It's still raining hard in the lot as we gear up and head out. Unsure of the snowpack I lead up through the trees rather than the open slope above the falls. As we reach the Stevens Canyon road the rain lets up and I briefly hope that we've seen the worst of it.
Before we are out of sight of Brett's car, the rain kicks in again, with a vengeance. I pull my hood back on and gird myself for a damp day.
We reach Reflection Lakes and cut right into the trees on a good snowshoe track. I'm hoping that the snowshoers made it all the way to the Castle-Unicorn saddle. Soon though, I discover that they turned around after only 200 yards, and we're left breaking trail in the deep, wet, unconsolidated snow. We proceed without talking, silently preserving energetic fortitude as the downpour continues.
When we come to the one significant creek gully crossing I turn and offer, "I'm completely willing to continue, and if we want to return to the car, that's fine too."
I'm pretty wet, the temperature is dropping, the wind is picking up, and I can see the rain beginning to solidify.
"I'm good for at least a while longer", says Bill.
With a nod from Brett, we continue.
Just past the creek gully we stop to add a clothing layer. I can see the snow swirling out from the upper basin just around the corner, and know from past experience that it will be windy and generally unpleasant until we tuck in under the south face of The Castle.
The basin is windy. And snowy. Mostly the snow is traveling along a horizontal plane, and I burrow into my hood to protect my eyes from the stinging snow blowing into my face. I stick close to the trees on the eastern edge of the basin, still not trusting the avalanche conditions. Soon enough we reach the saddle and, after a quick break, skin up to the base of the short technical pitch on the south face. It is more snow-covered that I've ever seen it.
Brett takes the lead and wallows up to the rock while I belay from a ski anchor. He quickly dispatches the pitch, despite challenging conditions and a distinct lack of protection at the crux. Bill ties in and starts up while I wallow alongside him in the steep, deep snow. At the start of the mixed section I wait my turn.
I start up immediately after Bill. At first unroped, I accept Brett's offer of a bight after one crampon skitters off slopey rock at the crux.
I take my turn as the snowplow and clear a 35 foot path to the small, true summit. After I return Bill tags it, and then Brett, while Bill and I set up the rappel.
In cold, windy, snow conditions we get our skis on for the descent. It's 3:00, and I figure we'll be benighted before we reach the car, but should make it back to the road under daylight. It wasn't to be.
Swirling snow, flat light, and deep, heavy snowpack make for challenging skiing conditions, especially for Brett (skiing on randonee gear in leather climbing boots) and Bill (first time on the tele gear this year). Halfway to the road we are forced to dig out headlamps. Brett is leading and I am in the rear trying to help out Bill with my brighter headlamp. After an indeterminate amount of time spent focused on working with Bill to ski safely down, I realize that I haven't been paying attention to our route and the terrain seems unfamiliar.
Twenty minutes of me cursing my inattention and looking at map and compass gets us headed generally north, and suddenly, unexpectedly, we arrive at the road. Though I'm not sure how we arrived, I'm also not complaining. We skin up past the lake and back to the slope above the parking lot. As the person with the most effective ski equipment, I offer to ski the slope down to the car while Brett and Bill continue along the Stevens Canyon road to the Paradise road. The turns down to the lot are the best of the day, even under headlamp, and I'm soon picking up my partners.
Thoroughly soaked, we change clothes in the Narada Falls restroom, then head for home.
Running much later than expected, we all check in with our slightly worried spouses on the way back. Says Bill to his wife: "I thought I signed up for an introduction to winter in the Cascades, but what I got was a hazing!"
A good time was had by all. Thanks to Brett and Bill for a great day in the mountains!
This page was last edited on
Thursday, January 01, 2004