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Ascent of Castle Peak on 2018-10-27

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, October 27, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Castle Peak
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:8306 ft / 2531 m

Ascent Trip Report

October 27, 5:20am - 5:40pm
Eric Gilbertson (solo)
29 miles (14 trail, 10 bushwhacking, 5 scrambling), 4,700ft gain

Castle peak is one of the seven extra bonus Bulger peaks, so I had to bag it. My original plan was to do a relaxing backpacking trip to Castle over the weekend, but when it turned out there would only be one good weather day I decided to hike it as a day trip.

There are three main approaches to Castle Peak. You can either take the Ross Lake water taxi to Hozomeen Campground and hike the freezout creek route, you can drive to Hozomeen Campground via British Columbia and hike the freezout creek route, or you can start at Manning Park and ascend the south route.

The freezout creek route is mostly trail and scrambling with minimal bushwhacking, and about 34 miles round trip. Unfortunately the Ross Lake water taxi schedule was not very compatible with my schedule for a Saturday dayhike, and more importantly it is very expensive for a solo person ($390 round trip). The road access to Hozomeen is closed until spring since the Skagit Valley Park in British Columbia is closed from forest fires. That left the Manning Park approach as the best option.

This approach involves starting on Monument 78 trail in Manning Park, BC, and hiking to the US border. Then the route requires bushwhacking about 5 miles along Castle Creek to gain the 3rd class scramble route up the south face of Castle Peak. I’ve seen a handful of reports from this route, most taking three days, and all reports noted the difficult bushwhacking. I’d honed my bushwhacking skills over the summer climbing a bunch of Bulgers, though, so figured I could probably tough it out. I actually kind of enjoy bushwhacking in the Cascades, and it sounded like a fun adventure.

I drove up the Manning Park Friday evening, arriving at 8pm at the Monument 78 trailhead. I was just getting ready to go to sleep when a ranger drove up and said I couldn’t sleep there and had to go to a campground. I really detest paying to sleep, but I had no other option at that point. I wished I had just gotten a later start, since he would have missed me if I had just arrived 15 minutes later.

It took a while for me to find a campground in the provincial park that was open in winter (“winter” starts Oct 8 at Manning Park), and then I realized I had to pay for it at the lodge. By 9pm I finally was asleep in the back of the car and Lone Duck 1 campground.

I was up at 4:45am and hiking by 5:20am. My plan was to hit the bushwhacking at sunrise, and I figured the 7-mile stretch of trail to the border would take about 2 hours, putting me at the bushwhack at 7:20am. The Monument 78 trail appears to be an old logging road now maintained as an ATV access route to the border. I regretted not bringing my mountain bike, since the trail is in excellent shape most of the way for biking (all but a 1-mile overgrown section in the middle).

By about 7:20am I reached the PCT border camp and crossed the bridge over Castle Creek. On the west side of the bridge I plunged into the woods as the sun was rising. I paralleled Castle Creek, staying within earshot but a bit up the hill to find more open woods. I soon crossed the border clearing and continued into the US.

For the bushwhack I generally stayed close to and paralleling Castle Creek. Too close to the creek the terrain is swampy, but about 100 ft up the hillside I found the terrain generally quite open and the bushwhacking not too bad. There were the occasional fallen trees to scramble over, but I picked up fleeting game trails once in a while and rarely encountered any dense growth.

After about two hours I reached the point where Castle Creek turns west, and started ascending through very open woods with almost zero undergrowth. Around 5,200ft I went to the right of some steep terrain, passing to the left of some avy debris. I then crested a small hill and reached a small tarn.

I crossed Castle Creek above the tarn and got a good view of the south face of Castle Peak. Snowline started around 7,000ft. Some groups have gone straight up the face, but I was not enticed by the steep snow-covered scree and slabs. I decided instead to follow the less-steep southwest ridge up.

I walked up the grass and talus up Castle Creek and eventually hiked up to the Castle-Ozymandias col. At the col I was treated to great views to the west of Hozomeen, the Pickets, Baker, and the freezout creek route below. The north face aspects on the left side of the ridge were very snowy.

I followed the ridge up, at times scrambling and mostly just hiking, to about 7,600ft. Here the terrain got very steep and I attached my poles to my pack. I scrambled up 3rd class blocky terrain that was exciting when covered in snow. Eventually I was forced to traverse onto snowy and icy terrain on the left side of the ridge. For this I put my crampons on and carefully kicked steps in. I then continued scrambling up the snow and blocks, and crossed back over onto the south face at 8,000ft. From there I pulled the hiking poles back out and hike up the remaining 300ft on easy snow-covered scree slopes.

By 12:20pm I reached the snow-covered summit. The north face dropped steeply below, and I had excellent views all around. Unfortunately the snow was too deep to find and dig out the summit register. It was windy, but not cold enough to send me back down yet. It had started out clear in the morning, but already clouds were rolling in from the west and the sun was obscured. I knew a big storm was coming in that evening, so soon departed.

For the descent, I noticed the south face didn’t look any sketchier than what I had ascended, and it would be much faster to plunge step down the snowy scree than to downclimb the sketchy snow-covered rocks on my ridge route. I easily marched down the south face to below snowline, then took off the crampons and filled up my Nalgene at a stream.

I got down to the base in about 30 minutes, and took a shortcut through the woods to meet up with my ascent route around 5500ft. For the return journey I followed the same route through the woods, but this time avoided the swampy areas close to Castle Creek. For some reason I got a lot wetter bushwhacking on the return, and I think this is because the bushes were all frozen in the morning, but in the afternoon they had melted and gotten wet.

By 3:30pm I emerged back on the trail, soaking wet but relieved to be out of the bushwhacking while it was still light out. I made a short detour to go see the northern terminus of the PCT at the US border, then hiked back out the Monument 78 trail. I reached my car at 5:40pm, luckily without needing the headlamp at all. After cooking a few packs of Ramen Noodles I jumped in the car, turned on Born to be Wild, and drove back to Seattle that night. I had pretty good timing, because the skies let loose about one hour into the drive and it rained hard almost the whole rest of the drive home.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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