July 23, 2010
By Tim Briese
7.4 miles, 3100’ elevation gain, 7:40 roundtrip time
We climbed this peak from the south via a 4WD approach on the Pearl Pass Road and a bushwhack hike along Middle Brush Creek up through Cumberland Basin, per Roach’s excellent directions. I was a little concerned about this one because of the nasty reputation of the road, the even nastier reputation of the willows in the Brush Creek valley, and an iffy weather forecast, but all went well as it turned out.
It was raining hard when Brian and I left Gunnison and headed toward Crested Butte, an ominous start to our adventure. The Brush Creek Road toward Pearl Pass is reputed to be one of the worst in Colorado, especially when wet, and it had just rained! The section of the road that we drove on was not too bad however, just quite narrow with some very steep dirt sections that could be quite slippery when muddy. We fourwheeled about seven miles up the road in an hour and fifteen minutes, with the final mile being the roughest and worst. We parked at a flat spot near Middle Brush Creek a short distance before the road leaves the valley and climbs sharply up to Pearl Pass. We checked out a very faint trail that headed up the valley that we would attempt to follow in the morning.
A short time later Pete Krzanowsky came barreling up the road in his truck just before dusk to join us. It was fun visiting with him for a while. Just before dark we were stunned by a lone lightning bolt and blast of thunder that filled the valley! Some rain fell during the night and I wondered how this climb was going to go.
We rose at 5 a.m. and slowly got ready, finding motivation hard to come by in the cold and wet conditions. We all donned rain gear in anticipation of pushing through rainsoaked willows.
At 5:55 we headed up the valley in the dim early light, on a faint trail for the first half mile or so before it faded out. Beyond this was a nearly continuous tangle of willows for the next mile and a half! Roach suggests looking for a faint, intermittent trail that supposedly exists, but the willows turned out to be a little shorter and less dense than I expected, so we decided to simply bushwhack up the valley and use whatever trail we could find when we stumbled upon one rather than waste time looking for one. This worked out quite well. When we came to a headwall we spotted a convenient trail that traversed across a talus slope above the valley on the right, which offered a brief but welcome respite from the willows. We stayed on the east side of the creek all the way up the valley. After a brief wooded area we plunged into yet again more willows. It was a great relief to finally climb out of the willows onto pleasant grassy slopes when we reached beautiful Cumberland Basin.
We took a nice break at 8 a.m. on a flat grassy area at 12,000 feet just as sunlight began to stream into the valley. Wildflowers glowed everywhere, and rugged Castle Peak towered above to the northeast. The clear blue sky was a welcome sight.
We continued up the valley on grassy slopes before turning to the right and heading up a wide talus slope to the Castleabra/Castle saddle. We reached the 13,400 saddle a few minutes past 9:30. From the saddle it was an easy stroll up the ridge toward the summit, with a slightly rockier finish near the top.
We stepped on top at 10 a.m., quite pleased to be there. It was clear and calm, and the surrounding Elk Range views were marvelous. I gazed down at Cumberland Basin far below, and then glanced over at the rough ridge to Castle. Brian and I once considered coming over Castle to climb Castleabra, and the view of that ridge made me glad we hadn’t tried it.
We parted company with Pete when he donned his helmet and embarked on a rugged ridge run over to Pt. 13,550. At 10:35 Brian and I left the summit and began our descent. As we returned through Cumberland Basin we were surprised to meet two backpackers hiking up the grassy basin with their dog. They said they were headed for Castle Peak and then over the ridge to the Conundrum hot springs and we briefly warned them about what they were up against. The hike down the valley through the willows went even more smoothly than it had in the morning, as we found more alleys though the willows and some stretches of faint but useful trail.
We arrived back at the truck at 1:35 and rested for a time while sitting on the tailgate. While we were doing so a young deer came up and grazed in the grass nearby. It was a little easier and faster fourwheeling back down the road because it was now dry. I took Brian back to his car in Gunnison and then headed for home, feeling very good about the accomplishment of this climb.
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