The Castle - Jan 7, 2001
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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 7, 2001

Where is the snow!!!???!!!???

Sarah was back in town and anxious to pick up where she left off in the spring. I only had a day to play and conditions are, well, decidedly unDecember-like. We narrowed it down to Blewett Pass for a ski tour or the Tatoosh. Sarah wanted something more than a tour, so the Tatoosh it was.

We agreed to meet at Starbucks at 6:15. At 5:30 my phone rang. "Loren, can I borrow some gloves?"

"Huh? Grhbhjifg. Uhh yeah."


It was a good thing, it turned out, that she called. As I laid there half awake I began to vaguely feel like it was past 5:45, when my alarm was supposed to go off. When I finally became more than 50% conscious and was able to take my eyelids off autonomic control the clock said 6:06. Shit. Up. Vitamins. Dressed. Oops, clip toenails. Look for an extra set of gloves, grab my ski crampons. Kisses goodbye for my sleeping family, a note with details of my plans, and out the door.

It is 6:30 when I get to Starbucks. Sarah's car isn't there yet. I'm late, but at least I'm here first. Say what? Starbucks isn't open. Into Safeway for drip and a disposable camera. Sarah finds me in Safeway. "What are you doing with drip coffee?"

"Starbucks is closed, go figure."

"They just opened."

Oh, well. I thought about dumping my drip for a latte, but I didn't. I guess I am a coffee snob, but not a coffee elitist. Sarah tanks up at Starbucks. Then we throw her gear in my car and head out. "You brought skins for me, right?"


Back to my house to get skins. Finally on the freeway at 7:00. We are the picture of precision.

Rainier is spectacular as we drive south through Renton, Auburn, and Puyallup. A weather front is moving in and the sunrise paints the sky electric shades of red, pink, and orange. I love the Northwest. And Rainier is its heart.

The Heart of the Northwest at sunrise

And one more...

It has been warm and dry lately, but I'm still surprised by the lack of snow at Longmire. We drive past, up the weaving road to the Narada Falls parking lot. The rock walls are visible around the lot. And there is rock and alder showing on the talus slope above the falls. Is this December or October? As we load our skis on our packs the people next to us say that they are forgoing skis. We walk to the end of the lot and start up the rock-hard slope. No need to skis or snowshoes here. In fact, were it not for the kicked-in steps, crampons would have been required. The rock guard rail along the Stevens Canyon road is exposed, too. In fact, we have to climb over it. The road is so packed down that we just walk along. 200 yards from the talus slope there is exposed ground in the trees: No snow cover at all. Past the bend we decide to put our skis on and glide down to the lake. A pair of climbers on foot passes us as we put on skis. They are headed for Pinnacle Peak.

At Reflection Lake we leave the road and follow a snowshoe track. The snow is mostly rock hard with some patches of wind deposited powder. With all the human tracks the ski out promised to be interesting.

<I switched tense here for some reason. Your guess is as good as mine>

The wind began to pick up (as usual) as we entered the broad bowl below Castle. Sarah spotted the people headed to Pinnacle on the ridge above us, still in walking along in their boots.

Sarah, with Rainier behind

The wind got stronger as the slope steepened. I stopped to trade my cap for a fleece hat and to put on ski crampons. Sarah was having loads of fun on the hard, steep snow. At 11:15 we were stashing our skis just below the technical section of the south face. I've never seen so little snow on it. I usually follow a snow finger to within thirty feet of the summit ridge, but it wasn't there. Because of the bare rock, I decided to skip crampons. I kicked steps up to the rock and scrambled up the third/fourth class terrain. At the ledge next to the "crux", I left my axe and took the rope off my back and chucked an end down to Sarah, who was waiting below in the snow. I trailed it up and set a belay. She came up and ticked the summit. Then she belayed me over. I noticed the group on Pinnacle in an odd spot on the southeast ridge. It looked like they has decided to descend, though they were past the technical section.

Sarah on the technical pitch

Sarah on the summit

Sarah rapped off and I followed. There is a particular horn up there that is just tailor made for rappelling. No need to leave a sling.

Back at the packs we got ready to ski. The plan was to go south and west until we could gain the south slopes of Pinnacle, then traverse the south face and climb the walk-up route to the summit. We were stymied up high by cliffs. At some point Sarah asked the time. It was 2:00. We did the math and determined that we could make the summit if we wanted to ski out at dusk. The beer waiting in the car and Sarah's thermodynamics homework won us over. Skins went back on and upward to the Castle-Unicorn saddle we went. I was traversing a steep slope, trying not to lose elevation when I took the 'Winger of the Day'. I looked at my feet and realized that I had the heel lifts at maximum. Hmm, I thought, that prevents my boots from pressing the crampons into the snow. And with that, my feet cut out and I went sliding down the slope. I didn't go far, but I still felt foolish. Yet another example of 'Think-it, Do-it'.

Skins and crampons off at the saddle. 2:15. And we're off into the bowl, trying to pick out the little pockets of wind-deposited powder. The run back to the road wasn't bad, but it is usually pretty great. WE NEED SNOW!!!!

The road was so packed in by now that we skated most of the way back to the bend. We boot-packed for a few hundred yards and then glided from the bend to the talus slope. The turns down this steep slope are usually the icing on the cake, but today it was just ice. I had to sit down to drop my skis over the rock wall. Side slip, coast, look for a smooth place to turn. Deep breath, turn. Side slip, coast. The boot packers are beating me down. Deep breath, turn. Wedge, avoid alder, keep the tips out of the boot holes. One last turn and coast. An exercise in survival skiing.

Four Winterhook Ales await us in the car. They lubricate the discussion on the way home. We talk about fear, honesty, openness, consciousness, boys and girls. Finally, just as we pull back into the Safeway parking lot, we finish solving the problems of the world. Not bad for a day's play in the Cascades.


This page was last edited on Thursday, January 01, 2004
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