Snow climb, NE ridge of Castle Peak
(Baking in the sun on Montezuma Glacier)

2 Jun 2007 - by Patrick Lilly

We (daughter Trisha and I) went early in June to guarantee some snow, to make the climb up out of Montezuma Basin and onto the ridge easier than it would be on bare scree. We took helmets, ice axes, and crampons (a first). There was still plenty of snow, although some of the road/trail in the Basin was bare. But snow still blocked the access road well below the summer 4WD TH (about 11,200 ft.).

The weather was clear, calm and mild, and, therefore, we baked climbing the steep slopes above the end of the road at 12,800 ft. With the reflection off the snow, the UV was intense, to say the least, and we wished we had worn summer clothes as a base layer.

What we did not expect, however, was the amount of snow still on the upper ridges (both NW and NE). Our original plan had been to climb the NW ridge (the "standard" route), but that would have meant a second stint of steep snow climbing after reaching the upper basin. We looked at the switchbacks leading up onto the NE ridge and decided that this might actually be an easier choice. Getting to the ridge crest was, indeed, easier, but the mixture of bare rock outcrops and steep, lingering snow from there on was not. Thus, it was a slow slog to the summit, which we didn't reach until about 1:30 pm, despite a decently early start. The compensating advantage was that we had the summit all to ourselves. We had watched three skiers descend the north face while we were on the ridge, and, apparently, we were the last summitters of the day.

We went down the NW ridge, which had less snow, and, despite being steeper, proved easier to navigate than the NE ridge. At the Castle/Conundrum saddle we gave up on the idea of bagging Conundrum as well :( . There, we also finally donned our helmets to glissade down off the ridge and, after a short walk, down from the lip of the upper basin.

A beautiful day, and an exciting, if tiring, new summit.

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