Castle Peak
Descent Route: East Face Direct
Castle Peak
East Face Direct
April 17, 2006

For those of you who have experienced a 10th Mountain Division Hut trip, you?ll appreciate what I?m talking about when I say that it is one of the finest backcountry experiences you can have. The combination of cozy accommodations, a blazing fire, great friends and food, and easy access to backcountry skiing is hard to beat. Add in a ski descent of a Colorado fourteener and the experience is unforgettable. A great group of friends approached the Green-Wilson Hut from Ashcroft on Easter Sunday, in the morning, with the goal of spending two days skiing and filming some of the wonderful terrain in the Mace Peak/ Castle Peak area. We skied out to the cars today with some great lines under our belts, including several down the immense East Face of Castle Peak.

As most of you know I?m doing a documentary film and TV show of my ?Ski the 14ers? project. My friend Ben Galland is the producer and principal cinematographer. For this trip we teamed up with another film crew, Rattlecan Films, from Boulder. They have been engaged in the production of a film about the people and life in the Roaring Fork Valley this winter, and my ski partner for this trip, Nick Devore, and I, are both featured in the film. So it made sense to combine efforts on this Castle Peak ski mission. The crew was made up of Frank Pickell and Brendan Kiernan from Rattlecan, Ben Galland, Nick Devore, myself, and my good friend Pine, who acted as hut master and all around problem solver. We spent Sunday afternoon filming some lines above the hut, as well as touring up to the East Face of Castle to inspect our lines and make plans for the following morning. In the evening, as the sun was setting, we filmed some interviews outside the hut, and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of the wilderness setting. Monday was to be a big day, so after a hearty dinner of chicken fajitas, we were in bed by 9 p.m.

The alarms went off at 3:45 a.m. The coffee pot was fired up and eggs and potatoes filled the hut with an aroma that would roust a bear from hibernation. Sunday had been quite warm in the mountains, so we wanted to be sure to be on the East Face and skiing before things started getting spicy. Sunday night was a hard freeze, so as we skinned up to Castle Peak in the moonlight, we were comforted by the fact that we had plenty of time. Regardless, Frank, Nick and I made good time, and were on the summit of Castle (14,265?) at 7:20 a.m. The Rattlecan crew had arranged for a helicopter to film our descents, so as we waited for the face to catch more sun and soften up, the heli was preparing at the Aspen airport. As is normal on a fourteener, we spent time taking in the massive views, including wonderful angles of the Elk Range fourteeners. At 9 a.m. we heard the sound of the heli approaching and got ready to drop in. Ben and Brandon were positioned at two locations across the valley. Frank had climbed to the summit with us and was filming from a great spot on the face. The heli radioed that they were ready, and I got to ski first. I had chosen a steep and continuous line skier?s left on the face, and the snow was favorable for fast skiing. Normally, I have been skiing these peaks at a modest speed, stopping often to shoot photos or admire the location. Today, because there was so much emphasis on the film shoot, I skied the East Face top-to-bottom, non-stop. It was a serious leg pump, but an amazing run none-the-less. You can only make a fast descent like this in perfect, safe conditions, and we were lucky to have these on our side today. Nick Devore was next. Nick is a twenty-year-old Aspen local and phenomenal climber and telemark skier. He had just returned from a photo trip to Valdez and is skiing at the top of his game. He headed skier?s right and found winter-like snow that allowed for big, powerful turns. Nick also added two decent airs into his run, and came flying out the bottom into the valley, only to have his legs quit on him at the finish.

The radio chatter after these runs was fantastic. Everyone was really excited at the luck and timing we had on the face. As Frank made his way down the face, the heli headed back to the airport, and we spent the next hour setting up some other big lines in the valley. After filming, we met back at the Green-Wilson Hut, ate some lunch, packed up our gear, and headed down the valley. Fourteener # 23 secure and safe!

The winds are howling right now, and the forecast is for snow tonight and tomorrow. I?m going to Denver tomorrow to pick up my RV, which I?ll utilize as a traveling base camp for the next month as we pick off the rest of the San Juan, Sawatch, and hopefully Front Range and Sangre fourteeners (if it snows a lot). I know many of you have been discussing the film we are making about skiing all of the fourteeners. It is going to be awesome! We already have over thirty hours of 16 mm film and video footage, and this will really be something special when we release it. We have a great tentative name for the film, but I?d love to hear what you all think for a name of a ?Ski The 14ers? film.

Thanks for reading!

Chris






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