Thu, Jan 2, 2014
Five of us were heading to Donner Pass in the wee hours of a Thursday morning. I had promised to take my son and two of his friends skiing over the Christmas break, but unfortunately the weather hadn't cooperated with much snow. So we ended up heading to Boreal Ridge where they had enough of the manmade variety and the ticket prices weren't too expensive. My brother Jim and I planned to snowshoe somewhere in the area, though we really had no idea whether there was sufficient natural stuff to make it work. When we got to Boreal shortly before 9a, we spent some time getting the boys situated with tickets and rentals before we left them to their own devices for the rest of the day. Jim and I then got our gear together and took off from the Boreal parking lot around 9:40a. While I had the initial intent to snowshoe south of I-80, I figured Jim would appreciate the more interesting outing to Castle Peak. With the snowshoes strapped to our packs, we crossed under the freeway and made our way to the PCT trail north of the highway. There was some snow on the road leading to the gate and a good deal more coverage on the trail after that point. But it had been weeks since it last snowed and the trail was well-packed, making our snowshoes just dead weight on our backs.
We reached Castle Pass by 10:30a, then spent the next hour hiking the use trail up the ridgeline to Castle Peak. While the ridgeline was mostly snow-free, there were a few sections on the northwest side near the top that held snow, but again it was well packed and easy to negotiate in our boots. We met a couple on their way down below the lower west summit, though it was clear they had not been to the highpoint. The south-facing traverse, too, was mostly snow-free, with a few easy patches that had existing boot prints across them to facilitate the crossing. It was 11:40a before we had reached the base of the summit on its east side, where the easier class 3 route is found. The short 25-foot climb is near vertical, but the volcanic rock is surprisingly solid and so knobby that holds are literally everywhere. It took less than three minutes for both of us to make the climb, Jim to the right and myself abreast and to the left. The wind at the summit was modest but cold and it was not comfortable to hang out up there. The views in all directions were exceptionally clear and one could even see the snow-free face of Lassen Peak many miles to the northwest. The ammo box register from 10 years ago was missing, with a plastic jug now holding a geocache. We signed our names in the booklet which dated only to February and beat a retreat to get out of the cold.
We found shelter at the base of the summit on the sunny south side, in a small alcove out of the wind where we could enjoy our lunch. After lunch and reversing the traverse back to the west summit, we followed the ridgeline to Basin Peak about a mile and a half to the northwest. This ridgeline was also mostly snow-free and for much of it we followed the good use trail that has developed over the years. From Basin we dropped southwest down the rocky slopes to the forested area below. Here we found a mix of snow and dry ground and tried to stitch a serpentine route together using the dry ground as much as possible. We were surprised to spot a lone snowshoer through the trees, thinking we were the only ones around. He was traveling along the PCT, we came to find, which made it subsequently less surprising. We talked briefly, but didn't follow the trail as there were paths we could find with less snow than the trail. Eventually we landed among the denser trees where the snow coverage was more consistent and we stopped to put on the snowshoes. At least we wouldn't be saying we carried them around all day for nothing. We made our way along the edge of Round Valley through the trees and portions of the PCT, eventually landing ourselves at the Peter Grubb Hut. All trails and tracks in the area seem to lead to, or originate from the hut, though we saw no one out and about for the minute or so we were there.
On the way back up to Castle Pass we got separated. I was taking a roundabout way to the pass through bouldery slopes just to keep things interesting, arriving at the pass without knowing if Jim was ahead or behind me. It seems he lost his sunglasses somewhere near the hut and had to go back a quarter mile to retrieve them. At the pass I sent text messages to my son (telling him we'd be half an hour later than planned) and to Jim, telling him what time I'd reached the pass and to meet back at the car. Though he made good time, he was still about five minutes behind me in getting back to Boreal around 4p. The boys met us there as planned and we all headed for home after changing clothes and stashing gear in the back. Seeing me yawn as we started driving back, Jim commented that I appeared tired. "I thought you had eight hours of sleep?" he asked. I had. "Gee, I got by fine on just five and half hours," he added. Smart ass. Guess who was sleeping only a short while later...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Castle Peak - Basin Peak
This page last updated: Fri Jan 3 17:29:02 2014
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