Castle Peaks in Mojave

  • Updated: November 05, 2012
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

What:  Castle Peaks 
  South Dove (5,668')
  Dove Benchmark (5,830')
  North Castle Butte (5,896')  
When:  November 3rd, 2012
Where:  Mojave National Preserve, CA
Who:  Matthew Hengst, Anne Kircher, Jeff Atijera
PicturesMatt's Flickr
GPS TrackMatt's Track

Though the Sierra is still largely accessible I've been itching to get out to the desert for a while now and have been working on a number off list trip ideas.  

Castle Peaks is an interesting set of bumps out in eastern Mojave that anyone climbing in the area has probably noticed from a distance more than once.  While looking for interesting non DPS-list peaks to do I came across an extremely extensive writeup done by cp0915 over on SummitPost

3rd, 4th and 5th class bumps in the middle of nowhere best described as “impressive crud heap”?  Sold!

Jeff Atijera was the last man standing after the usual spree of last minute cancellations and we were joined by a somewhat less enthusiastic Anne Kircher after her previous plans fell through.

As usual we did a late night drive up and bounced down the dirt road to the trailhead sometime after midnight.

We had my Rav4 loaded down despite there being only three of us so I had to watch the ground clearance once or twice.  Passenger cars are definitely out but I'd say any sort of high clearance vehicle should be just fine if care is taken.

Things get a little rougher past the last earth dam visible on the topo so if you're having clearance issues to that point I'd stop there.  We pushed on and briefly regretted it as the ruts in the road became much more pronounced causing a few scrapes.

Trailhead campsite
A little further on the road ends at wilderness sign and there's a rather nice campspot off to the right complete with a fire ring.  We quickly piled out and went to bed for a few hours.
The next morning we stumbled out of our bags at sun up and started getting ready.

Anne finds some benefit in desert trips
We knew we would be dealing with a small bit of 5th class but I erred on the side of caution bringing my 8mm half rope, a #1 and #2 cam, a few nuts, a cordelette, and webbing along with a few carabiners.  In hindsight we used pretty much all of it but the nuts and the #2 cam could have stayed behind.

The wilderness boundary was right next to camp though the road continues on the other side.  It was apparent from the fresh tire tracks that not everyone was letting the posts stop them.

We soon left the road and set off cross country.  If you look at my track the southern route is how we went in the morning and the north was the return route.  The north was a bit better as you're on the road longer but it all depends on which bumps your headed for.

Scary Fin on the left and Doves Wings to the right

We found a few ducks here and there but mostly we were just crossing standard desert terrain with all the joy and occasional cactus that entails.

As we approached we decided to start with scramble up the bumps to the southeast of the main ridge.  This turned out to be a good idea as it gave us an aweseom view of the area.

Castle Peaks from Doves Wings
Full res image can found here.

The rock was crappy (as expected) and there was a bit of exposure but we all made the top of the southern wing without much difficulty.

The other wing was slightly higher but would have required down climbing all the way and approaching from the other side.  We decided to try and swing back this way after we'd done the rest of the range (which didn't end up happening.)

Next we headed on to Castle Peaks proper.  The first peak along the way was something we ended up calling the Scary Fin (big thing in the background) as there didn't seem to be any reasonable way up it. 

In front of Scary Fin
Scary Fin east side
We did look though and after circling the entire thing I believe this view from the eastern side is the best bet for anyone trying to climb it.  A few of the cracks looked like they might work to get you up to the saddle but you'd need more gear than we had along to try and protect it and good luck with the rotten rock.

Scary Fin from South Dove
Assuming you reach the saddle you now have what appears to be an even worse section.  Looking back from the summit of South Dove it sure looked like the three steps required to make it to the summit proper had a few unclimbable bits.

I'd be very interested to hear if anyone makes it up that thing.
With Scary Fin being a bust we turned to the next bump which we'd find out was called South Dove.  We passed through the saddle between it and Scary Fin but didn't see a good route up and so were forced to drop down the western side.

Climbing up to the saddle between South Dove and the boulder prominence cp0915 labeled Dove 2.5 proved to be much more promising.

Looking back towards the saddle between South
Dove and 2.5
From the saddle we climbed along the eastern side of the peak crossing a few gully's before dropping into one that's significantly brush choked.

Told you
Brush chute from the top
Inside the chute is easy going though you have to scramble under some branches.  Or you can try and stay high and risk the rotten rock wall.  Soon we climbed up and out into a clear.

Not as steep as it looks.  At least while going up.
More second class on loose rock and we were on the ridge but still a few bumps away from the summit.

For a minute I thought we were skunked when we came to a small notch looking across at rock that looked far beyond what we were willing to do.  On close examination I found that if you cut right and do a rather exposed move you make it into a steep chute that went fairly easy.

4th class chute after the spicy move
Anne took a look at what I was doing and declared she was quite happy waiting where she was.

Purple spot Anne luxuriating on the rocks below
The chute itself wasn't bad (particularly if you weren't looking down) but the exposed move to get into it was rather awkward particularly in the downward direction. Sadly I don't have a picture from back where Anne was because based on the comments drifting across to us it was apparently terrifying to watch.

Jeff and I powered up the 4th class section and after an easy scramble made the summit to find a small cairn complete with register.  And bones.  (For some reason all the summits in the area had small bones scattered about.)

We were the only sign-ins since it was placed in 2007.  My guess would be people just skipped this one in favor of the more prominent Dove BM and North County Butte which is a shame as this was a nice little scramble.

We climbed back down to Anne though as mentioned before the 4th class move right above the notch was slightly terrifying considering you couldn't truly trust any of the holds.

Next was Dove 2.5.  The summit boulder was only maybe 15 feet above the saddle between it and South Dove but the rock was too steep and loose to chance it.  So once again we dropped back down the western side and circled around to the saddle between 2.5 and Dove BM.

Getting up to the Dove 2.5 summit bolder was trivial but the boulder itself was a bit of a challenge.

Dove summit boulder
I circled around and found doable routes up both the east and west sides with the eastern being easier.

Easiest way up?
There was a definite way up and I did the lower move just to feel out what would need to be done before backing off.  The climb isn't long and isn't overly hard but it slopes out and would require using some holds I really didn't want to trust.  All to stand on a rather insignificant boulder.

So we backed off and retraced our steps back to the saddle and up the opposite side towards one of the two main goals for the day Dove BM.

The peak has a rather distinct look and was the primary thing people coming to this area seemed to be after.  It also reportedly had a bit of class 5 required to make the summit.  (Loose rock + 5th class = fun!)
After circling the summit we settled on the one obvious route up the 20' book described on the SummitPost page.

Trying out the first few moves

Getting off the ground wasn't hard as you can chimney up the crack.  From there however you have to commit to holds that seemed fairly solid but a fall was really really going to hurt.

I slotted a #2 BD into the crack but once I was higher found everything to be crumbling badly and ended up just finishing the section.

Not that bad.  Except if you ask the camerawoman who was convinced I was about to die...
(We left the camera below with Anne which is why all the shots are from below)

There was a rock jutting out above that had a few slings and an old rap ring already set up.  While it seemed solid enough it was fairly small and I didn't like the thought of trusting it completely.  I found a nice spot nearby to place the #1 cam and built a quick anchor combining the two.  The location of the rock made it very awkward belay from the top but you work with what you got.

Jeff followed quickly and from there the scramble to the summit was short and easy.  We found a register, signed in, and had Anne get a picture of us from below.

Looking up at us on the summit
We took a little extra care going down as I really didn't care for the thought of rappelling off that one single anchor.  I had Jeff rap down on the two point anchor before pulling my gear and threading the rope through the existing rap ring and having Jeff keep a tight belay from below as I down climbed.

This was all likely overkill and I did come close to just free climbing the thing initially.  But again, crappy rock!

We were feeling pretty good about ourselves though it was getting late in the afternoon.  I was determined to get North Castle Butte as well since it was the highpoint of the range.  There was supposedly a 3rd / 4th class crux that could be hard to find so again we dropped down to the west and made a direct line across the desert.

Looking off to the west

The scramble to the cliff band was quick and easy.

This would be the difficult part
There was a duck down below and I could see a rap sling up above though it was off to the right of the obvious way up.  It was steep but all three of us went up with little difficulty (down was a different matter however)

Crux from below
Above that there's a short 3rd class section but it goes quickly.

Anne making it look easy
And then we were on the summit.

The register has seen better days

Surprisingly we found a DPS register at the top (this peak isn't on the list) though it appeared to have been placed on a SCMA trip.  Sadly the can was leaking and the register was soaking wet and liberally covered in mold and rust.
Looking back at Castle Peaks
The view was rather nice.
View from the top of the crux
Climbing down the crux bit was a bit harder than going up.  I went down first and helped point out footholds for the other two.  If we had a larger group I'd have just set up a rappel.

The sun set as we were hiking back to the road.  All in all we had a rather pleasant headlamp hike and made it back to the car a few hours after dark.

We decided to camp just there for the night and just wake up early since the planned Teutonia & Cima Dome hikes the following day since were both supposed to be fairly easy and we had a campfire ring here.

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  1. I did the FA of Scary Fin aka Blade Peak on 12/31/16

    1. Really? Awesome! Any more details? Did you use that feature on the east side or something else? How was it?

  2. Yep, E face via 2 pitches of up to 5.8, looose, and a wild, wild, wild traverse along the ridge crest with a bit of climbing to 5.5. We left one 1/2 belay bolt atop p1, a couple fixed pins on the final pitch, and decent rap anchor with summit register. Next party needs a full rack to maybe 4", some huge nuts, and a good length of sling for the rap (we used 2x 70 m, might have been ok with a single 80 m). Extremely loose rock all around.