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Hiking Stats as of 7/24/2014
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 131
 1,748.52 miles
 484,724 feet

Nov 23, 2013 - Castle Peak / Basin Peak

 

Partners: Kyle Breen

Distance: 9.51 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,668 feet

Trip Time: 7:26

Maps and Stats:
The weekend before Thanksgiving finally offered some real winter climbing conditions, with the first significant snowfall of the year having fallen in the days prior. Last winter season was a learning experience for me, as I started the season with a failed attempt on Pyramid Peak where I naively attempted the summit without so much as snowshoes. By the end of the season, I had managed a few winter summits and had all the necessary gear to start this winter season off right. Kyle did not purchase any winter gear last season, and paid the price as we failed in our attempt on Snow Mountain in early spring. By then, however, we knew the snows would be gone within a couple of months and so the thought of purchasing winter gear was put off. Last month I called Kyle to remind him that the snows were coming, and he supplied himself for the winter months, with microspikes, snowshoes and a vast array of winter clothing. We were ready for the snow climbing to begin!

We had intentionally avoided some of the easier (shorter) hikes off Highway 80/50 during the summer in order to give us some good targets for winter. Two of those targets were Castle Peak, an SPS/WSC/OGUL Peak and Basin Peak (OGUL) that were near enough together to combine into one outing. For this trip we met up at the Fry's in Roseville at about 9:15 and planned on parking at the Boreal Ski Resort which had just opened up for the season. At least we didn't have to pay for parking, as I had thought we might have to go to the Sno-Park. From here, we had a nice view of Basin Peak off in the distance, looking quite snowy. Despite this, we weren't sure how deep the snow was, being that there had only been one real storm so far this year. We decided to walk around the shaded areas by the parking lot and felt that the snow depth was quite manageable - not deep enough as to require snowshoes. Why carry that extra weight around if it isn't necessary, right? We trekked across the freeway overpass and came to the trailhead and the start of the hike.

The trail was well packed and well marked, and there were no issues with postholing or with wind. From down here we had fine views of Castle Peak looking worthy of such a name as it towered above us. A bit before we got up to the ridgeline which leads up to Castle Peak, we ran into someone in snowshoes on descent who told us that the winds were fierce and that the snow was pretty deep up above. We had brought microspikes (not for deep snow but for slick conditions) and he thought that would suffice. We were a bit concerned by our lack of snowshoes after hearing this, but we also have fairly high opinions of our abilities and figured that one person's difficulty might merely be an inconvenience for us. Once we hit the ridgeline, we discovered that he most certainly was right about the wind. We had to immediately stop and put on our gloves, jackets and balaclavas. What we were unconvinced about, however, was his statement that he had even been up high enough to know if the conditions up high were difficult. As we started up the ridge we found that we were breaking trail in calf deep (and occasionally knee deep) snow. So where was the trail that this other guy had made for us??? As we kept going up, we regretted not bringing snowshoes, as the deep snow would stop forward momentum and cause us to fall in the snow. As we got higher, we opted to aim for the steeper route because it appeared to go over rocks which would provide us with some traction. This part was quite tiring, and by the time we reached the top of the rocks we were presented with a final snow slope. From the top of the slope we rested to enjoy the view of our route we took to get to this point.

From this point it was a quick traverse and final stroll up to the summit. Well, actually, Castle Peak has 3 distinct turrets, and this was the lowest of the 3 summits. To get over to the actual summit (which is the third and furthest turret) we would have to traverse a s slick and steep snow and ice field - perfect for our microspikes. We put on the spikes on the first summit, and after avoiding a dangerous looking snow cornice, arrived at the middle turret. This was some serious class 3 climbing, made more difficult by the ice formations attached to the steep rock wall. I climbed up, and as I waited for Kyle enjoyed the views over towards the third and highest turret. Kyle didn't quite get up to the top (probably because I was getting really cold and started down before he could get up) and since the primary objective was the next summit he didn't really care. We made the traverse over to that summit, and found the 3rd class climbing here to be a bit easier, although still quite steep. The lack of ice made it easier, but the slope must have been 60 degrees, albeit with tons of good holds. In any event, we were both on top within a matter of a few minutes.

I am always amazed by the fantastic views at the top of Sierra summits, and the winter views from Castle Peak were no exception. Every direction was seemingly better than the last. After taking the obligatory summit photos (Kyle) (Kerry) and getting shots of the previous 2 turrets of Castle Peak and the ridgeline over to our next target, Basin Peak, we began the descent down the steep summit blocks. The traverse over to Basin Peak was not expected to be all that difficult as the angle of the slope was not that bad. We were mostly concerned with the high winds and deep snow, and the lateness of the hour. As we approached the rocky sections to avoid postholing we were amazed by the incredible ice formations on the rocks and the crazy wind swept designs in the snow. It really is cold and windy up here! We were racing against the clock at this point, as it was past 3:30. I had packed my headlamp so I wasn't worried about darkness setting in, but it was odd how the summit of Basin Peak seemed to always be about 15 minutes later. Until 20 minutes would pass and it would still be 15 minutes away. We finally hit the final rocky summit push followed by the summit of Basin Peak.

I don't think we have ever spent a shorter time on a summit as we did on Basin Peak. I took time for a shot back towards Castle Peak and one of our planned descent route before we took off after maybe 3 minutes on top of the blustery summit. We wound our way down the face of Basin, eventually bottoming out in a forested area which naturally had a ton of deep snow. We then followed a frozen drainage thinking that might offer some easier travel but to no avail. The return was going at a snails pace, and fortunately Kyle spotted some tracks on a hillside as the sun was setting. This turned out to be the PCT, and we followed up back up to the ridgeline where we had connected back with the point where we left to go up Castle earlier in the day. From this point it was an easy descent by headlamp down to the trail head and back to the car a bit after 6 PM. Yet another memorable outing in the Sierra!

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