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Sierra Snow 2019! Back country skiing in the Castle Peak area

Published by 360 Pro , 18 March 2019, 17h01.

Region: World » United States » California
Date of the hike:15 March 2019
Ski grading: PD+
Geo-Tags: USA   US-CA 
Height gain: 750 m 2460 ft.
Height loss: 750 m 2460 ft.
Access to start point:Interstate 80, Exit Castle Peak/Boreal Ridge

The start to the winter in California's Sierra Nevada was rather slow, but picked up in mid January and really kicked in in February. In the Donner Pass / Castle Peak area there were more than 7 meters of snowfall in February, with some daily totals of more than a meter. At this point the cumulative snow fall at Donner Pass is almost 15 meters, the current snow dept >4 m and the snow pack will certainly be above average this winter. It looks like skiing will be possible until summer again :-)

This report is a short summary about 3 different back country ski tours in the Castle Peak area, 2 to Andesite Peak (1/25/2019 and 3/1/2019) and one to Castle - and Andesite Peak. (3/15/2019)

Andesite Peak is a short and easy tour, ideal for beginners and can be done even during elevated avalanche risk. The elevation gain is only about 1000 ft from the Highway and there are almost always tracks to Castle Pass even during and shortly after big storms. The ridge from Castle Pass to Andesite Peak is easy and short. The approach via Andesite Ridge (second gps track) is somewhat more scenic and not as crowded as the normal ascent via Castle Pass, but during the times of huge amounts of fresh snow, the terrain is actually too flat for skiing. The best option down for those conditions is skiing back down the ascending tracks.

The normal approach to Castle Peak from the I80 is also via Castle Pass and then via southwest ridge to the top. At around 8600 ft the steepness is between 30-35˚ for about 200 ft. Typically only the western pinnacle is visited in the winter time even though it is not the highest point.
The steep south facing slopes down to the Castle Valley are skied quite often as well, both directly from the peak and from the southwest ridge. Due to the many short ups and downs, the southwest ridge itself is not very attractive for skiing down. Instead the west slope down to the Round Valley (see first gps track) and Grub Hut is a good alternative but requires a short re-ascent to Castle Pass.
Unfortunately the north side of castle peak is "snow mobile heaven" and even though those slopes would be attractive for skiing, the motorized traffic there is quite daunting...

So far I have always parked at the Boreal Ski Resort parking lot for a backcountry ski tour in this area, but lately there is a sign there "No Backcountry Parking". The sign could esily be ignores but the Boreal employees of the ski resort are trying to enforce this "no parking" when you walk out of the parking lot towards the start of the tour on the north side of the highway with backcountry skis or snowshoes. Alternatively there is a sno-park located on the south side of I-80 at the Castle Peak exit beyond Boreal Inn. Parking on the north side of I80 is only possible/legal if the access road to the Castle Valley is somewhat snow free.

Hike partners: 360

Click to draw, click on the last point to end drawing

 43947.gpx Castle Peak Andesite Peak
 43948.gpx Andesite Ridge and Peak


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