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The Castle (6440 ft/1963 meters)

March 21, 2010

Bryon Free and I had planned to spend the weekend skiing the Sulphide Glacier on Mt Shuksan, but ended up "settling" for a shorter day trip to the Tatoosh Range when studying for finals got in the way. It's too late now for Bryon, but for other future college students, consider my plan: I went to college in Iowa where I wasn't burdened by the distraction of mountains and powder skiing days! ;)

We left Bryon's house around 6am and arrived at the Nisqually entrance gate a little after 8am. Even with our stop in South Hill, Puyallup for coffee and gas, we still made good time! Although we could see signs of precipitation from the night before, the gate at Longmire was open. We were glad we didn't have to wait for the Park Service to open the gate when they were finshed plowing the road.

There were three cars in the overnight area at the Narada Falls parking lot, so we figured we were the first new car that day! Being a weekend we were surprised to not see more people. When we were gearing up, I noticed how old the rubber was on the tip of my climbing skins and thought, "I'll need to replace these soon". No sooner had the thought entered my mind and "snap"! With a little athletic tape I was able to secure the skin to my ski. I readjusted my other skin so the tension would be less. Dissaster averted, we skinned up the steep face and were soon on the road, making our way around the corner to the Tatoosh Range.

It had started to snow at the parking lot so we put on our shells but this just makes you wet from the inside due to perspiration. We tried to maintain a steady pace but with the wet snow on the outside and physical work from the inside, we were wet early! We met a party of two skiers coming out who had camped below the Castle and reported that they hadn't slept much because of the high winds. Near Reflection Lake, we met a party of five skiers coming down who had spent a few days skiing and snowcamping. They had said the skiing had been really good Friday.

We followed the skin track up until we hit a ridge between two drainages. We opted to traverse up and left since the exposure was less. This put us on the ridge that led directly up to the base of the Castle. The wind had picked up, but with the winds came our first good view of our peak! It had been about 10 years since I had climbed this peak the first time with The Mountaineers. I have good memories of those climbs where I was both nervous and incredibly excited. As we made our way up the steep slope to the base of the rock, I realized that I was still nervous and excited! "Was this the right way? Is this weather going to get worse? How stable is this slope?" The one thing I have learned from my years of climbing is that you have to "go to know". There are a hundred different reasons why you shouldn't go on a climb: is the weather too bad, is the snow unstable, is the route too difficult, am I in good enough shape, do I have the right equipment... The thing I love about climbing is the meeting of the challenge. Not knowing the outcome is what makes it fun.

When we had cached our skis below, Bryon and I had discussed if we should put on our harnesses. In hindsight, it's always better to put on your harness in a safe, convenient place and not need it than waiting until you are a on a steep, unstable face wishing you had it on! At the base of the rock, we kicked some ledges and carefully put on our harnesses and tied into the rope. I planted a picket and equalized two marginal nuts, then moved up. At the base of a narrow chimney, I was able to get a good stopper in which made be feel better as I squeezed up through the awkward slot. I slung a horn at the summit ridge and brought Bryon up. He did a great job climbing in his tele boots!

On the ridge we were exposed to the full force of the gusts of wind and the driving snow. Ahh, times like these make one appreciate sportclimbing. Bryon took the next lead and made his way across the knife edge ridge to the base of another large horn. He belayed me over then I made one more short lead around some horns to the summit. We snapped a few summit shots then quickly made our way back down the ridge to a large horn where we had spied the rappel slings earlier.

One short rappel and we were back on the steep snow slope. We coiled the rope and glissaded back down to our skis. The snow was really nice up top but as we descended it got a little chunky. No complaints from us, though! On our skis, we made good time and were soon back at the parking lot. We hadn't eaten our lunch on the climb because we didn't want to slope and get cold, so we at our lunch in the Comfort Station there at the parking lot. There were a lot more cars and visitors now, around 3pm.

Thanks Bryon, for a great ski and climb!