Castle Peak (Jul 2-4, 2004)

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castle_pk_coverConditions: Backpack
Gear: overnight gear, climbing gear
Map: USGS Castle Peak
Area: Western Pasayten Wilderness
Stats: about 22mi, 6000' gain (round trip)

The invitation went out for this trip from Jim. I didn't know too much about it but the name Castle Peak...sounded appealing. I looked at the route, details, and decided I thought I could do it so I signed on. The party was Jim, Suzanne and me.

Castle Peak is remote. Really remote. So much so that the most direct route there is from Canada. The plan was to climb the north facing snow couloir so we packed, settled stuff into one car and began the drive north into Canada. We started at the Monument 78 TH in BC's Manning Provincial Park (off Hwy 3). The trail starts out as an old road, washed away here and there, but easy to follow. The trail follows Castle Creek for about 7 miles (about 600' gain) to the international boundary swath. Following Beckey's route description, we headed up the boundary swath directly from Monument 78 but unable to find a reasonable crossing of Castle Creek we backtracked to the bounder campground and crossed on the PCT bridge, stringer broker and listing pretty badly.

Once on the other side of the bridge, we entered chocked, clogged, nasty downfall forest. Holy cow! That has to be, to this day, the worst bushwhacking I've ever done.

We crossed Princess Creek at about 5100', then ascended to 5600 and traversed into the Crow Creek drainage before dropping to about 5300'. Progress was terribly slow getting there. The basin was infested with mozzies so we headed higher up to the upper basin, setting up camp on a snowfield (about 5600'). From camp we could see the near sheer face of Castle Peak rising up above us.

We were up early (5am) and after breakfast, headed up the steep moraine until reaching the bottom of the east ridge couloir we were aiming for. We donned the gear (helmets, crampons, ice axes) and then started up the snow which was gentle at first and then slowly transitioned to moderately steep near the top. Jim and Suzanne, moving faster than me (I was suffering from a viral infection) kicked a pretty awesome set of steps all the way to the top of the couloir. Near the top the couloir narrowed between two sheer rock walls about 20-25 feet apart (with a nice moat on either side). Then there was one big step to transition from the snow, over the moat, to the solid rock of the southeast ridge.

Most of the route stayed to the left, away from the sheer face of the peak but occasionally we were forced near the face. One stop really ramped up my pucker factor. A couple of airy steps right near the face, so close I could see the colorful dots of our tens a couple of thousand feet below. I stalled at this one spot, then took a deep breath to calm my nerves and made the needed steps (good holds). I reached the top to find Suzanne and Jim patiently waiting for me.

Lots of summit time, I spent a lot of time looking further to the west and the rugged peaks of the North Cascades. Eventually it was time to head down. Jim and Suzanne lead the way and started out face in on the steeper section and then quickly transitioned into face out plunge steeping down into the basin below. I was more tedious, staying face in until I was well clear of the moats below he rock faces, then I was comfortable able to face out and plunge step into the basin.

Back at camp (about 2.5hr from the summit) we decided to head out toward Monument 78. I don't think any of us were looking forward to the awful brush basing ahead. We packed up, and headed out (3pm). We didn't take the exactly same route out, instead we headed up a few hundred feet (hoping to avoid the worst of the brush). It started out well and the we hit the inevitable brush. Suzanne and Jim leading the way with the occasional sound of branches striking bodies followed by an occasional curse. Terrible brush from the east facing slope above Castle Creek all the way to Princess Creek. Yuck. About 8pm we finally reached the border campground (beside Castle Creek). Even in the dimming light when I dropped my pack, I could see vermin fleeing in all directions, scattering like fireworks at our feet. Oh joy... I set up my tent at least feeling I had a couple of hours before the mice gnawed the way through my tent. Suzanne and Jim had a floorless tent and I was instructed to seal them inside the shelter by placing the last few rocks on top of the fly where they crawled in.

Early the next morning we were back on the trail (7am). At least the gosh awful schwacking was behind us! We hiked the last few miles and were back the car by 9:30am.
Castle Peak Slideshow

(click on map to view a larger version)

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Copyright Janet M. Putz
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