Thu, Nov 10, 2022
I had first seen Castle Rock in the Turtle Mountains while climbing Mopah and Umpah back in 2005. It stands alone in the broad Vidal Valley that nearly separates the range in two. Castle Rock looked vertical on all sides, and very remote. I didn't give it much more thought until around 2020 when I discovered the Leaping Lizard Tribe and their somewhat mysterious list of peaks that are scattered around the Lake Havasu area. Tribe members Tim O'Conner and Joel Dugdale had climbed Castle Rock in 2014, noting there were only two known ascents prior to them - Sierra Club parties back in the early 1970s. It was then climbed in 2015 by David Goldstein and partner in 2015, their report can be found on LoJ - and that was it. TomG and Iris did a good job of gathering what little beta was available and reading it carefully. I had only read it hastily and not with much retention, other than to know the chimney we would climb could be found on the north side. Mostly I focused on the driving route and making sure I knew how to drive us to the Wilderness boundary. We would carry TomG's arsenal of climbing gear and two ropes that we would to make our exit off the summit easier. It was not as early a start as I would have liked, but that probably was a good thing - it was chilly today with a stiff wind blowing from the north, and keeping warm would be a bit of a battle throughout the climb.
Driving in with two Jeeps, we followed the BLM Castle Rock Rd from our campsite near SR62 some five or six miles to the Wilderness boundary shortly before 8a. The road continues into the Wilderness, but it is no longer suitable (nor legal) for vehicles to drive. The peak can be seen up the valley to the north almost five miles away. It would take us more than two hours to follow the remaining miles of old road north, then cross-country to the base Castle Rock. As one gets closer, it looms more forbiddenly. We traversed clock-wise around the peak until we found the ugly-looking chimney that matched the photos from David's TR. When TomB caught side of it, he immediately lost interest in the project - "I'm out. I'm going to go climb Kettle BM." Kettle BM is a mesa-topped summit about two miles to the northeast. He would reach its summit and return to the Jeeps hours before the rest of us would get back. Frankly, I thought it looked well beyond my grade as well, but I came prepared to use ascenders, something TomB is unpracticed with. Just before he left us, TomB gave me a puffy down jacket that he carried. It would help supplement my woefully inadequate clothing - I had brought only the long-sleeve t-shirt I was wearing and a thin fleece pullover.
Meanwhile, TomG had gone around the corner to the east to rack up and get some last sunshine before we all plunged into the shadowed chimney for the next four hours. Half an hour after our arrival, TomG was ready to head up on the first pitch. He had already put in a few pieces at the start before Iris had him on belay. Once on belay, Tom moved up and out of sight within five minutes. Though we could no longer see him, we could hear Tom well enough as he slowly moved higher, a trickle of dislodged rocks raining down at regular intervals. The rock here is of poor quality, every hold suspect. The nature of a chimney lets one often push into the rock rather than pull on it, and it is this feature that keeps this climb from being overly dangerous. The rocks would continue to trickle down when any of us was climbing, all the way to the summit. Tom went past a large chockstone, then another, eventually settling into a narrow alcove at the back of the chimney where he set up a belay for the first pitch. 40 minutes after starting up, Iris took her turn, trailing our second rope that I would use to follow. The wind had chilled me through despite the extra jacket, my gloved fingers growing colder and my legs doing the sewing machine thing. It was an hour and a half before I would get to move again.
Once Iris had joined Tom, the second rope was fixed so that I could jug up it while Iris went about belaying Tom for the 2nd pitch. A few of the small rocks that Tom would dislodge made their way down to my helmeted noggin, but nothing of any real consequence - he was very good about minimizing rock fall. Awkward to get started, I soon got the hang of the ascenders again, one tied to my feet, the other at my harness, moving first one ascender, then the other in turn. Where I could switch to scrambling I made faster progress, though I still had to awkwardly manage the ascenders to keep them moving up the rope. It was noon when I joined Iris in the small, sloping alcove. The nicest thing about the spot was how it effectively blocked the wind, leaving us comfortable. Less than 10min after I'd finished the first pitch, Tom had reached the top of the second pitch at the Mouse Ledge, just below the crux of the climb. The second pitch made for easier climbing, so at Iris' suggestion after she had completed it, I climbed it rather than aiding as I'd done for the first pitch. It was a fun bit of climbing, passing through two tunnels before emerging into a second alcove, and by 12:40p I had joined the others at Mouse Ledge. The name was given it by David back in 2015, presumeably for the scattering of rodent bones that littered this second alcove. Seems this has been used as a nesting/feeding area by owls or other birds of preys over many years. The wind was back to taunt us, chilling us as we scrambled to put on additional clothes we had put away earlier.
The third pitch was a shorter one, but would take some time to figure out. Tom first investigated a possible route to the right, involving a step across and some face climbing with knobby, but uncertain holds. Climbing higher, he hoped to be able to move across a ledge to the left, returning to the chimney above. This didn't pan out and he ended up retreating to Mouse Ledge about 40min later. In hindsight, it seems it may have been possible to continue up to the right all the way to the summit, but at the time we thought the summit was well to the left. Back at Mouse Ledge, Tom then went up the direct route behind the ledge, an open book going up 20ft, overhanging at the top. A crack runs up this face offering some protection, but a flake looks ominously ready to break off at the top. Where the crack goes overhanging, Tom moved left to climb onto the knobby face, then finished up the crux and disappeared above us. It was clear to me that I would need to aid this pitch as well, at least the crux portion.
Tom set up a third belay above when just under half of the 70m rope had been played out. I suggested that Iris could tie in to the middle of the rope and trail the second rope, to aid me in climbing third. With two ropes, one on belay and the other fixed, I'd be more secure in aiding it. What I hadn't considered was the extra effort required by Iris to trail two ropes. I didn't appreciate how much drag they created, making her job more difficult. She did a fine job in following second, cleaning gear on this pitch as she'd done for the first two. It was 2:40p by the time I had joined Tom at the top of the 3rd pitch, just below the summit. Iris had already scrambled to the top and was doing her dance moves when I arrived. Tom coiled the main rope and joined us a few minutes later - success!
The Leaping Lizard Tribe register was found behind a white painted rock at the base of the summit cairn. Seems David's party had not found it, as the only signatures were from Tim and Joel in 2014. It was nearly 3p by now, and not lost on us that the sun would be setting in just over an hour. We took enough time for summit cookie photos and signing the register before working our way off the mountain. David's party had done a series of rappels back down the chimney on a single 55m rope, leaving a bevy of gear and slings and never sure the rope would pull properly through the obstacles. Tim and Joel had chosen to rap off the west side of Castle Rock, which seemed far more expedient, and workable with our two ropes. After carefully scrambling down about a hundred feet and slowly approaching the edge of the cliff, we eventually found the old rap station from 2014. The brown webbing had bleached white in the desert sun, portions of it in tatters after 8yrs. We pulled out the old webbing, cutting through it to rescue the rap rings which we would reuse on a 20-foot section of new webbing that we put in its place. We tied the two ropes together (the second rope was only 50m, so this would limit how far we could rappel) and threaded them through the rap rings. It was still quite windy, and worried that the ropes might get tangled in the wind if tossed over the edge, Tom decided to strap the loops of rope to his harness and release them in turn as he went down first. Twenty minutes later Iris started down, and then another lonely ten minutes and it was my turn. We were all safely down by 4p, with about 10ft of rope in reserve on the 50m side.
We knew it'd be well after dark before we got back, but now that we were done with the climbing part, we were feeling less anxious about the time. We still had to return to the north side to retrieve our gear, the sun setting soon after we'd packed everything up. We continued clockwise around the feature, descending the east side before turning south in the direction of the old road and our vehicle. We got back to the road before needing a headlamp, around which time Iris decided to turn hers on. Tom had forgotten to bring one and I enjoyed the challenge of three of us hiking by one headlamp even though I had another in my pocket. It was well after 6p before we had returned to the Jeep waiting patiently for us where we'd left it. It would be most of another hour before we had driven the road back out to our campsite near SR62 where we found TomB and Karl, hours ahead of us. It would be a lukewarm shower tonight, and no campfire as we were pretty tired...
This page last updated: Fri Nov 18 10:02:27 2022
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