Beaten By The Beast - Reflecting on a Castle Peak Misadventure

By Amanda Bartell, Girls Who Hike NorCal Ambassador

No matter how experienced we may be in the outdoors, we’re all still capable making mistakes and testing our limits in dangerous ways. It’s not common we find ourselves in situations that we aren’t prepared for, but this particular Sunday hike to Castle Peak just did NOT go as my boyfriend and I had planned.

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We’d only snowshoed together once before (to Flora and Azalea Lakes), but with recent news that we had just won permits in the Mt. Whitney day hike lottery, we thought that we should get some mountain air in our lungs by going on a 6 mile jaunt up Castle Peak. Under normal circumstances and summer conditions, we were more than capable of completing this hike in a few short hours, but neither of these variables were true at the time.

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We stayed out too late drinking the night before. We got a later than ideal start. We didn’t eat a decent breakfast. When we got to the trailhead, I put my pack on to realize the strap buckle was broken, and it was unusable, so we had to cram everything we could into one pack. In doing so, we left behind our gaiters. We had more than enough snacks, but no solid food, since we’d originally planned on being back much earlier. We didn’t have sunglasses. The snow conditions were just plain crappy. Our snowshoes don’t have televators, and as we approached the summit of Castle Peak, we realized we were sliding DOWN more than we were climbing UP. I hadn’t given myself enough time to recover from a cold, and I was finding it more and more difficult to breathe as we went higher. We were exhausted. Within 1/2 mile or so of the summit, we both decided to call it and head down. We weren’t confident in our ability to continue under the circumstances.

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We didn’t know our feet would already be sopping wet and freezing on the way down. We didn’t know that Brandon would suffer from snow blindness that night. We’d already made so many mistakes, and things were BAD, but they could have been so much WORSE, and I’m so damn proud of us for not letting our pride get in the way. Reflecting on it all, I’ve already learned so much. Beyond that, it proved to me once again what a perfect team we can be. We were on the same page the entire time, encouraging each other when things were difficult, but never pressuring each other to go beyond what we thought was safe.

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This post was inspired by a recent discussion in Girls Who Hike™ LA initiated by Kayla Moxley where she shared a recent close call she had with her pup. Mistakes are meant to be learned from, not be ashamed of. I highly encourage you all to share yours and allow others to learn from them as well. 

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made out on the trails? We’d love to hear about your mountain mishaps in the comments!


Amanda is the Ambassador for our Northern California chapter. This blog was originally written on her personal blog, Wherever They Wander. You can join Amanda + our Northern California members at her local meetups and contribute to our discussions through the NorCal chapter by clicking here.