Here's a brief summary of a recent trip to Castle Peak (nr. Donner Summit off I-80).
I've been eyeing a line down into the North Fork of the American River from Sugar Bowl since sometime last season and it's still top of my backcoutry skiing hitlist. Slide and I arranged to ski it on Feb 28th, but upon arriving at the Sugar bowl parking lot early on Sunday morning we found swirling cloud and strong winds. Deterred, we retreated to Castle Peak, figuring that the North Fork would be too committing in bad weather.
Round at the trailhead for Castle Peak (Snopark on I-80) it was snowing. We trudged up the trail and into the meadow, Slide on snowshoes and I on my skis. We paused for some quick avalanche beacon practice then continued along the gently rising trail to Andesite Ridge. Continuing, we ascended into cloud and the wind picked up, limiting visibility to around 50ft.
After a look at the map, Slide set off uphill only to stop very abruptly and retreat. He'd found what looked like a corniced edge and we spent the next few minutes trying to get a view of it from the side and peering over the top, trying to figure out whether or not it was corniced and what lay through the gloom below. Eventually we decided it was safe and dropped over the edge, down to a slight col and onto the ridge leading up to the summit.
After a few hundred yards the ridge steepened and became progressively more windswept and icy. Eventually our altimeters indicated that we were at the summit altitude. The slope above disappeared out of sight. Certain that we wouldn't be trying to ski the rocky slope on which we were standing, we contemplated retreat, but decided to continue a little further on the grounds that our altimeters were unlikely to be far wrong. Sure enough we emerged onto the west summit.
The east summit was lost in the cloud and the route across looked precipitous and unskiable in the present conditions so we turned tail and retreated a couple of hundred feet before we felt that we could ski/board safely. The skiing wasn't bad, but I think Slide would have preferred a softer surface for his board. The descent was uneventful and whilst I wouldn't say that the peak was a great challenge or the best skiing around, I think we probably made the best of the day's weather.