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Boulder, CO

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Castle Peak North Face Couloir

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Castle Peak North Face Couloir

Derek Bartz

Sunrise from the North Face Couloir

Sunrise from the North Face Couloir

Trip Date: June 13-14
Location: Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
Miles: 13.5
Vertical:  4600'
Permit: Yes, self register at trailhead
Why go?: Castle Peak is the southern most 14er in the outrageously gorgeous Elk Mountains just outside of Aspen, CO; it is also the highest in the range.  Castle holds a bunch of snow well into June and it's moderate slopes serve as great introductory territory into climbing the white stuff.  The North Face Couloir is an alternative route to the popular Northeast Ridge and allows you to climb snow all the way to the summit.  The couloir starts in the upper basin at 13,600' and steepens to about 40 degrees near the top.
Directions:  Take Castle Creek Rd from the roundabout just west of the center of Aspen.  Drive 12.5 miles to the Castle Creek trailhead; from this point Forest Road 102 (4WD high clearance) continues on all the way to 12,800' although the road is rough and often snow covered until July. Low clearance 2WD vehicles can make it a mile up FR 102 and park near the first dispersed camping site.

We arrived at Castle just after a cold spell that had settled over the Elks earlier in the week.  After parking at the 2WD trailhead we hiked up the road, passed the Pearl Pass junction, and set up camp at tree line just off the road after crossing Castle Creek for the last time.  An alpine start had us out of the tent and walking by 3:30am.  The full moon lit up the amphitheater of snowy slopes surrounding us making for a surreal climb to the upper basin in the "dark".  The snow was quite firm (almost icy even going up the North Face Couloir) and attempting to follow the snow covered road was a little trickier than expected.  After traversing some pretty steep slopes we realized it'd be easier just to drop down to the bottom of the basin.  From there it was straight forward; just keep climbing up until the couloir, exit and continue right along the Northeast Ridge to the airy summit.  

Half way up the couloir on super hard packed snow.

Half way up the couloir on super hard packed snow.

Castle Peak - 14,265'

Castle Peak - 14,265'

Taken on the descent.  The NF Couloir is the wide patch of snow leading to the ridge on the left side of the photo

Taken on the descent.  The NF Couloir is the wide patch of snow leading to the ridge on the left side of the photo