When it is blanketed in winter snow, beautiful Castle Lake is an ideal northern California destination for your winter fix. Whether you are backcountry skiing, snowboarding, ice fishing, or snowshoeing, you will be hard pressed to find a more wonderful area. Castle Lake freezes over during winter, and the peaks that surround it simply beg to be climbed. With the ability to truly blaze your own trail to the top of them, adventures abound in the area.
Once you've donned the snowshoes and are ready to hit the snow you reach a massive flat area. Though it's hard to tell, this is actually Castle Lake, and it is where you begin your trek. Middle Peak is the goal for climbing in this area, and once you reach the peak you'll be rewarded with stunning views of Mount Shasta, Mount Eddy, the Trinity Divide, the back portion of Castle Crags, and the surrounding area.
You have a few different options for climbing the peak, all of which will require a fair amount of effort. The northern approach will take you right up the northeastern face of Middle Peak, and it is the most frequented route for people working to get downhill runs in through the day. The other more scenic route is to head south from the lake for about a half mile, climb to the saddle between Middle Peak and Left Peak, and then head west up the slope. This will take you to the ridge that runs up to the top of the peak. The views from along the ridge are what make this such a cool route to take; you get to look down the canyon and really see some gorgeous parts of Castle Crags that are not visible from I-5.
Once you have enjoyed the views it's time to put in the last half mile or so up the ridge to the peak itself. Be careful as you ascend; though it is a fairly easy walk in the warm season, winter conditions make it much more dangerous. Do your best not to get caught on any of the smaller cornices that line the ridge as they can be dangerously unstable. Once you have reached the peak, enjoy all the surrounding views and take in the brisk air. Wind chill is a factor up here, and the wind is so constant that it shapes the ice formations on the trees. Make sure to dress in layers and bring a headlamp because staying until sunset offers an extremely gorgeous view. To work your way back down to the lake, safely glissade down the northeastern face, work your way back down to frozen Castle Lake, and head across to the parking lot area.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.