Castle Peak—Another Mountain Climbing Expedition

Last weekend I went with Tim, Joe, and my god-daughter Maren (12) to spectacular Aspen, Colorado, to climb Castle Peak (14,265 ft).  The Elk Range near Aspen is best known for the picturesque Maroon Bells…beautiful but dangerous peaks composed of loose, crumbling rock.  Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak are often called “the deadly Bells” because of how many climbers have died ascending them.  I have climbed all the Fourteeners in the Elks—both Maroon peaks, Pyramid Peak, Capitol Peak, Snowmass, and Castle—but they are beautiful enough to go back.  Castle is by far the easiest of the peaks…and since 12-year-old Maren wanted to climb her first Fourteener, this was the one we chose.

We had a nice 4-hour drive from home, through the quaint old town of Twin Lakes (Colorado’s version of a Swiss Alpen village), over winding Independence Pass, to Aspen, where we had dinner; while the others wandered through the shops, I went to the Aspen Brewery to have a microbrew and jot down some notes for the KEY TO CREATION scenes I planned to dictate on the climb the next day.  As I walked to the brewery, a local cop saw my Paul of Dune t-shirt and gave a thumbs up.  “I love those books!  By Brian Herbert and … that other guy.”  (No, I didn’t tell him who I was; I was on vacation.)

We spent the night in a ski condo in Snowmass and got up at 5:30 AM to head out early for the trailhead.  Not up for the climb, Diane and Sarah stayed behind to enjoy the town of Snowmass, while we drove out into the mountains, then headed up a gruelling 4WD road for four miles—basically a storage area for sharp boulders.  Even the high wheelbase Expedition had trouble crawling over the rocks and fording a rushing creek, but eventually (an hour for four miles) we ground our way up to a rocky parking area at 12,500’ and decided to walk from there.

The skies were clear and pristine, and the stark terrain had a rugged beauty.  We headed off with packs, waterbottles, and hiking sticks, then made our way over rock glaciers, snowfields, ascending from one high basin to the next, past frozen lakes, scrambling up rocks, until we finally reached the summit after about four hours.  Maren made it like a champ, without any difficulties at all.

As always seems to happen, there was very little time to celebrate and relax; clouds gathered quickly.  We had hoped to cross a saddle and also summit adjoining Conundrum Peak (14,065’), but a brutal snowfield—and the impending rain—made that inadviseable.

We descended through the toughest rock scrambling and reached more stable ground just as the hail hit, which quickly turned to rain…making the boulders even more slick.  For a (cold and painful) shortcut, Joe and I glissaded down one of the big snowfields … very bumpy, and it froze the seat of our pants.

Even after we got back to the car, it was still another hour down four miles of the murderous road to get to the paved road, then to the Snowmass condo, where we showered and changed into clean, dry clothes.  We stopped at a microbrewery restaurant in Glenwood Springs for dinner (a green chile cheeseburger) and a brew.  All in all, a great Colorado weekend.