Devils Thumb P300
Peak 3,515ft P300
Castle Peak P300 RS

Fri, Feb 14, 2020

With: Iris Ma
Tom Grundy

Etymology
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2

Continued...

Devils Thumb / Peak 3,515ft

Devils Thumb is the unofficial name bestowed on this interesting summit in the Newberry Mtns by Harlan Stockman. I had come across it incidently when I was perusing Harlan's website in search of some GPX tracks for the Red Rocks area near Las Vegas. I noticed that he had recently climbed something he labeled as "REAL Devils Thumb". You can read his report as to the naming, but I'll use the simplified version here. It seemed the only means to climb it was by prussiking a fixed line that he'd set up by lassoeing a horn some 15ft off the deck. This seemed worth checking out. Iris and I had met up with Tom off US95 south of Searchlight the night before following our successful outing to Monument Peak. I explained as much as I knew about Devils Thumb to Tom and Iris, suggesting we should bring rope and gear to see if we couldn't find a more "proper" way to climb the thing. Tom wanted to know more about the type and and quantity of gear we might need, but of course I had little helpful information to offer. In the morning Tom picked out a selection of gear to which we added my 50m rope, piled into the jeep and headed off towards the peak. Harlan's party had approached from the west but I continued further down the road to approach from the south which would make for a shorter roundtrip effort when combined with nearby Peak 3,515ft. It took us about an hour to make our way north over easy terrain at first, then more steeply as we climbed up the south side of Devils Thumb. A ring of tall cliffs guards the upper half of the mountain, so once we reached the base of these, we walked around the west side to reach the north side that Harlan had ascended. We found his black rope dangling down, along with a cache of other ropes he had neatly tucked in a corner at the base of the cliff. It certainly seemed like the only way to climb the thing. I went left around the corner to ascertain that that side was unclimbable then came back to check out a severely sloping ledge to the right of the fixed rope. I got easily up the first part, but the slope seemed too difficult without the safety of a rope. I came back down to find Tom trying to attack the cliff face more directly. He managed about 4-5ft off the floor but decided the rock quality wasn't good enough to trust the tiny holds he would have to rely on going higher. There was more pondering as Tom came back down from his perch. I wondered if maybe the slope would work if I climbed without my pack. Leaving it with the others, I returned to the right-hand side of the ledge and slowly worked my way across, knowing a fall was going to do more than hurt. The rock faces were covered in bright green lichen that didn't seem to hamper the stickiness of the rock much. The holds were large enough though somewhat precarious, and in a few minutes I had worked my way over and up to the top of the bulge from which the rope had been dangling. My pack was tied to the end of the rope and I hauled it up easily enough. Next, Tom came across the same ledge, managing with his pack on where I had been afraid to. Ackknowledging that it wasn't the safest thing to do, we agreed it would be prudent to provide Iris a toprope before she followed. Tom scrambled to a ledge some 20ft up, tossed the rope down for Iris to tie into, after which she joined us. The rest of the climb, perhaps 60ft in total, was a stiff class 3 scramble on decent rock that seemed safe enough, certainly less dicey than that initial traverse. We passed by a few cables and handlines left by Harlan on his second ascent a few weeks after the first, not using them and leaving them where we found them. We reached the summit just after 9:30a, about 45min after we'd first reached the start of the difficulties. We found and signed it, ate some summit cookies and enjoyed the fine weather and views. For the descent, we reversed the route back to the top of the fixed rope, then used our rope to rappel off the horn rather than return along the sloping ledge. This worked out nicely to get three of us down, retrieve the rope and start back soon after 10a. A very fun little project, this one.

We returned to the south side of Devils Thumb to descend that way, aiming for our bonus Peak 3,515ft about 3/4mi to the southeast. We had to cross an intervening drainage, first descending a gully, then easy hiking as we started up to Peak 3,515ft. Most of this is straightforward class 2, leading to a ring of cliffs below the summit. This ring is not as difficult as found on Devils Thumb, however, and by using a ramp at the far left side, we found a short class 3 access to the upper reaches from the northeast side. From there it was a few minutes of additional scrambling to reach the highpoint, about 45min from Devils Thumb. Tracy Foutz had left a register here a year earlier, Harlan paying it a visit after his second trip to Devils Thumb. We had more summit cookies and candy, signing our name with hearts instead of dots since it was Valentine's Day. After a short stay, we found a way off the south side no more than steep class 2, dropping southwest into a drainage that would lead back to our vehicle. There was a rusting metal dust pan, a most odd find, and an empty tortoise shell found along the way. The last 3/4mi was a very easy hike across the open desert flats, Finishing up shortly before noon.

Castle Peak

We drove back to the other vehicles near the highway, then drove north in separate vehicles to a rendevous on the west side of the highway at the junction with a powerline road. The trick here was getting across to the southbound side from the northbound. Tom and I drove illegally across the wide medium strip while Iris continued north to find a proper place for a U-turn. She found one several miles north, then went past us heading southbound, and had to repeat the manuever yet again after heading back north. Tom and I would have a longish wait for her to get her act together and join us.

Castle Peak is located in the Highland Range west of US95 and northwest of Searchlight. It isn't the highpoint of the range but it has a class 4 summit block, making it one of the more challenging ones. It was brought to my attention in Purcell's guidebook, Rambles & Scrambles, and seemed a good complement to the morning's climb. There were other bonus peaks in the area that I thought we might get to as well, but Castle Peak turned out to be enough to fill our plate for the day. We left two vehicles along US95 and once again piled into the jeep for the drive. I followed directions provided by Purcell's book, getting us within a mile and a half of the summit on the southwest side. The route starts up a wash, easy going for the first 20min or so, before the wash becomes more of a gully where we climbed out to use the East Ridge route, class 2-3. Though steep and somewhat loose, it offered shade and was mostly a class 2 affair. Where cliffs are encountered, we moved left around a corner where a bypass to get around and above the cliffs is found. From there it's pretty easy class 2 to the base of the summit pinnacle, an effort that took us a little over an hour. I knew the class 3-4 route to be on the east side, but we first checked out the north side to see what things looked like there. Tom only briefly considered trying that side. Backtracking to the shady east side, we found a ledge that traverses left onto the East Face about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom. A second, wider ledge is encountered higher up, then some class 3 scrambling to the right side where a short class 4 step can be done with the aid of a handline for safety. I used the loop in the steep cable for just this purpose since it was there, but Tom and Iris both ascended using neither the cable nor the nylon webbing that was attached. It took all of six minutes to get three of us up the summit block - not as challenging as Devils Thumb, but still a fun little scramble. We found a plastic container but no register, a little to our dismay. Upon descending the block, we walked north a short distance to the benchmark where we found a John Vitz register dating to 1985. There were 18 pages to the fairly busy register, most recently by Harlan and Anji only a week earlier. Seems like we were following their recent footsteps today. We had considered climbing Possible Mesa on our way back, but it looked like it would take us an extra couple of hours that we didn't feel like expending. Instead we descended to the south as a way to get another route option in, which also allowed us a better view of Monkey Fist on the crest south of Castle Peak. It would be 4:30p by the time we got back to the jeep for some cold beverages and snacks, signalling the end of the day. We still had some driving to get north to Las Vegas. While they stuck to the outskirts, I headed to the Strip and the Mandalay Bay Hotel where my wife was staying while she reffed a girl's volleyball tournament. Tom and Iris would spend the next few days rock climbing since the weather was good, leaving me to play around in some of the surrounding hills on my own. Good fun...

Continued...


Halan Stockman comments on 02/27/20:
First, Tracy Foutz has been checking this out "Real Devil's Thumb" for years, deserves credit as the main impetus.

I tried the same route as Tom to climb that more western ledge of Devil's Thumb, but picked a bad place to start... and when I saw success inches away... a hold broke and dropped me about 10 feet. Sometimes you get the bear...

I'd like to find a route that doesn't require a rope, maybe that ledge, but with a more secure cheater grip?
I've got mixed feelings about fixed ropes/handlines. I'm more comfortable with them on popular routes like in Red Rocks, but a place like this is likely to see low traffic and I'd worry more about the condition of any fixed line. I did like the steel line on Castle Peak with a loop covered in clear plastic. Top notch. I've seen thin bare steel cables in Red Rocks that wouldn't catch my fall even if I was wearing gloves. I didn't find those at all helpful. Didn't mean to dis Tracy, just didn't know the history. Thanks Tracy!
Harlan Stockman comments on 02/27/20:
I too have mixed feelings about fixed lines, especially in Wilderness areas (like Red Rock). I went up Thumb last week, and took down the blue line at top -- that was set for some folks who were making the drone footage.

I intended to take down the black line and leave a stick-clippable anchor... and spent an hour looking for such a place. Using scientific tests with my cats, I've found that 8000 lb test dyneema, coated with extra urethane, is less chewable than nylon or polyester, and urethane-coated 4000 lb nylon is almost as good. A working project.
Tracy Foutz comments on 03/10/20:
It's always interesting to compare perspectives on what is/isn't climbable without a rope. Depending on who you're with, how you're feeling on a given day, the angle of the sun, the wetness/dryness of the rock, wind speed, the type of footwear you have, etc. all can make a big difference (at least for me) in whether or not a section of any potential route is or isn't climbable without a rope. After reading your account Bob on the thumb, I thought back to about a year ago when Steven Stembridge and I were exploring potential routes and he id'd your route as a possibility for me to try, but given some or all of the factors I just mentioned, I thought, "I don't think so!"

Agree with both of you on the practice of long term placement of fixed lines. I reaped the benefits of Harlan's short term placement of fixed lines when I went back to Devils Thumb with Steven so that he could climb it and 8 years ago my son and I used the cable inside the clear poly tubing to get past the crux on Castle Peak. It must be holding up quite well.

Bob, I didn't feel dis'd when I read your account of Devil's thumb. If I ever were to put some effort into maintaining a website that shares info like you and Harlan share on each of your respective sites (for which I thank you both) some more of these obscure, but fun and challenging peaks would be better known to others who appreciate such peaks.
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