Area: Tahoe Region
Distance: 3½ miles
Elevation gain: 1,800ft (from 7,200 - 9,000ft)
Providing the weather is kind, this is a great choice for a hike during winter months and possibly the best way to continue your alpine workout after the ski resorts close for the season.
Only a stones' throw from the interstate 80 near Donner Summit, Castle Peak offers a snowshoe hike as challenging as many backcountry trails. Park up at the Castle Peak/Boreal ski resort exit, and strap on the snowshoes at the trailhead located on the north side of the freeway. Sno-park permit required Nov 1 - May 30.
The noise of the freeway quickly disappears as you head up the gently sloping uphill trail, which gradually warms up muscles that you'll need for the steeper grades later on. The well defined trail leads you up on to the Andesite ridgeline, and then it's on to the final ascent which is the reason we label this trail 'hard'.
Perhaps the final hike to the summit is not actually at a 45-degree angle, but it sure feels like it. Climbing snow and ice in snowshoes at this angle of elevation can be pretty difficult. During one of our frequent breaks, we watched enviously as another hiker demonstrated how much easier the ascent is with an ice-ax in hand. At no time however did the final hike feel anything other than safe.
Views at the top are awesome, but be careful to keep an eye out for your safety or you might not make it there. In winter conditions the weather can change quickly so be sure to dress appropriately, use snowshoes, be familiar with the risks associated with cornices and the other risks of hiking in snow.
- Trailspotting Images: Castle Peak on Flickr
- Gorp: Castle Peak Snowshoe Trail