Monday, February 23, 2015

White Cloud mountains - Castle Peak

White Cloud sunrise from camp.
The South face of Castle Peak is listed in “50 Classic ski descents of North America”. Since there is no route information in the book, the striking image of the south face provided a perfect catalyst for a wild and pure adventure. The end product was weekend of skiing in the White Cloud mountains of Idaho unencumbered or assisted by any information about the area aside from the original 1964 7.5 minute USGS quad map.

Leah was game to head out early, so we extended an already three-day weekend and made the drive to the East Fork of the Salmon and the five hour approach on the first day. The last two hours of the approach were all in the dark, but we were able to dead reckon to Baker lake without incident.

After a surprise flurry, Saturday dawned cold and clear, and we headed over the Little Boulder/Germania divide, straight for the South face of Castle peak. We were able to efficiently skin and boot consolidated snow on the South face without difficulty. From the point of highest snow, a short scramble had me on the summit, gazing to the Sawtooth, Lost Rivers, Beaverheads, and beyond. 

Kick turn on the South face of Castle peak.
The South face skied well, and we both fully enjoyed the descent. After a long break at Chamberlain lakes, we took a short lap on an open south facing bowl before starting our return to camp via the Southeast shoulder of Castle. We topped out on the shoulder at sunset and skied a big open couloir back to camp, flicking on our headlamps just a few steps from camp. The evening was nice, cooking, drinking tea, and eating Valentine’s day chocolate.
Leah skiing the South face of Castle peak.
Leah heading back up for more.
The second morning was cold, but we hit the sun after an hour or so of movement, and we were soon were cramponing up a couloir above Castle lake in full sun. Much to my chagrin, the mid-couloir choke was not filled in, but after some hemming and hawing, we climbed past it anyway. The ski down was good – I had a blast, and Leah got it done, including a tricky downclimb over the choke. We extended the run all the way down to treeline for a proper break. After lunch, we climbed back up to Castle lake and skied the most aesthetic of a trio of couloirs above the lake. The snow was chalky and steep and fun, and was a nice bookend to a day of striking and sustained couloirs. We indulged in a fire back at camp, which did a good job keeping the cold at bay.
Leah climbing steep snow above the choke in an unnamed couloir above Castle lake.
Near the base of the couloir.
Leah coming up yet another clean, steep, chalky couloir.
The last day was supposed to be blustery, but we awoke to crisp clear skies. We were psyched. We immediately charged up to treeline with the thought of threading ski tracks through rock pinnacles on an intriguing southeast face back to camp. Near the top of the climb, an aesthetic couloir came into view on the opposite side of the peak. It looked chalky and fun, so we switch plans and got to work finding the sneak entrance. We were able to find a way in, and enjoyed great skiing all the way to Hatchet lake. A quick hop over the ridge had us back at camp just in time to pack up and embark on the ski out. The egress went about as quickly as could be expected. A mile of dry trail walking put us back at the car a little tired and a little sunburned but extremely satisfied and energized from a perfect Valentine’s wilderness adventure.

Skiing the couloir above Hatchet lake on the last day.
That was fun. 
The last mile was dry.
Note: The South face of Castle peak is a good ski objective. I would argue that the long approach, wind scoured middle portion of the run, slightly generic aesthetics and lack of summit snow keep it just out of the realm of classic. However, it is absolutely worth a trip if you have the time and are in the area. As far as I can tell, it is the premier descent off the premier peak in the range, and the line is on par with the best descents in the Sawtooth.

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