Castle Mountains HP P900 RS
Hart Peak P500 DS / RS
Dove BM P300 DS / RS / CS
Castle Peaks P750 RS / CS

Sun, Nov 22, 2009

With: Matthew Holliman

Castle Peaks
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2


Matthew had been reading obscure trip reports about obscure peaks and had gained an interest in climbing Castle Peaks and Hart Peak in one of the more remote parts of the state. Castle peaks is a craggy formation at the lower east end of the New York Mtns. Nearby Hart Peak lies in the separate Castle Mtns to the southeast. Sounding vaguely familiar, I checked Evan's list of range highpoints to find that Evan had climbed the highest point in the Castle Mtns, Linder Peak. So I had agreed to Matthew's curriculum on the condition we could add the easy Linder Peak as well. Unlike the previous day when we'd run out of time with an overly ambitious schedule, today's was well within the constraints of shortened daylight. Plus it was on our way to Nevada where we were heading for the bulk of this long vacation.

We had slept the night a mile or so off Interstate 15 on the Nipton Rd near the Nevada border. We left my van on the side of the road and drove the 20+ miles through Ivanpah to the north end of the Landfair Valley. We had beta-aplenty with TRs, info from books by Zdon and Purcell, and a short write-up by Evan. These enabled us to reach the Hart mine site without trouble. Our first effort would be to Linder Peak since it was the easiest and had some road at the beginning that might be helpful if hiking in the dark. Our timing was such that it was plenty light out when we parked the car and started out around 6:20, about ten minutes before sunrise.

Sunrise was caught on Castle Peaks to the north as we passed by the remains of a wooden structure still standing at the site. The higher peaks of the New York Mtns were alit as well to the west as we traveled in the chilly shade thrown up by the Castle Mtns before us. We followed the old road east to near its end at the base of Linder Peak. We took the most direct approach we could, scrambling through a class 3 chute we could easily have avoided but wished not to. A fun little bit, it turned out to be.

We were atop Linder by 7a, cold and chilly. Our peak cast an impressively long shadow to the northwest and we had fine views of the day's latter adventures to both Castle Peaks and Hart Peak. As described by Evan, the summit has a benchmark simply reading "Linder Peak", likely placed by the inhabitants or surveyors of the mining camp. As there was no register, we pulled out the extra one we had excised from the summit of Sleeping Beauty the day before and rechristened it for use on Linder Peak. Our work done, we retreated back down the mountain.

Our next stop was Hart Peak. This out-of-the-way summit is the most impressive in this very small range, so it was with good reason that it was named after the founder of the nearby mine and town. Though somewhat imposing from a distance, the peak is not difficult from most sides. The cliffs on the West Face are indeed daunting, but there are easier class 2 routes on the northeast and south sides. We chose to follow the class 3 route described by Purcell that is probably the quickest route to the summit starting from our parking spot WNW of the summit. As advertised, we could find easier or harder ways to make the summit on that side, route-finding being of no serious concern. What would otherwise be easy class 3 on good rock gave pause for some concern as holds needed to be tested and checked before commiting on the steeper portions of the route.

In all we spent just under an hour to reach the summit by 9a. Along with a benchmark placed in 1956, there was a register with paper scraps dating as far back as 1951. I took the time to photograph all of these ancient scrawls along with the pages from a book that dated to 1971, placed by RS Fink of HPS reknown. There were many, many recognizable names. Andy Smatko had climbed it four times, the last in 1993. Deb and Dave Daly had been to the summit earlier in 2009, the day after climbing Castle Peaks (our next stop). One other party had visited the summit since then.

We decided to descend the South Slopes to make a looping route out of our visit, following along the rocky ridgeline abutting the cliffs on the West Face until we reached an easy class 2 slope that could be descended off to the southwest side. Along the way we found a single Joshua Tree that had been severely scorched (but not altogether dead), most likely by a lightning strike. There was not enough vegetation to support a more general conflagration, so the fire was limited to the single Joshua Tree and perhaps a few grassy clumps at its base. Our descent to the southwest brought us to an old road that leads up to the saddle on the south side of Hart Peak. We followed this down to a fork heading towards our car, following it as far as we could until it dissolved in the shifting sands of the wash it lay in. We were back at the car by 10a with plenty of time for our last excursion of the day to Castle Peaks.

It took us nearly an hour to navigate the various roads to the TH for Castle Peaks. The last three miles were fairly rough and would have been inadvisable for low clearance and possibly 2WD (there is a steep climb up and over an earthen dam near the end). Castle Peaks was the only rock climb we had scheduled for this road trip. There are four or five (depending on who's counting) pinnacles making up the formation, the most popular being the middle one dubbed "Dove" for the benchmark placed on the summit by the USGS. It involves a short pitch of low class 5 climbing for which we brought a rope and a small assortment of climbing gear. I had done no research at all on this peak and was happy to follow Matthew's guidelines and lead in getting us there. Sometimes it's nice to go blindly into a climb and just watch as it unfolds.

Starting off where the Wilderness boundary crosses the road, we followed the well-defined tread of the old road for half an hour until it reached a saddle southwest of the pinnacles with a fine view of them. The closest one, called simply #1, looked formidable from the side we viewed it, and as we would find out, nearly as formidable from the other sides as well. Misunderstanding Matthew's directives, I started off from the saddle making a beeline of sorts for #1. We wandered up to the impressive SW corner of the pinnacle, straining our necks to take it all in. "Wow," was about all I could muster, "Glad we're not climbing that."

We skirted around the west side to the notch between it and pinnacle #2. Here's where we found the extend of #1's difficulty. A DPS crew is reported to have climbed this pinnacle, but I was unable to find a TR of it in their archives later. Looking then at #2, Matthew reported that Branch Whitney had climbed this feature and found it class 4. It was clearly lower than the other pinnacles so we decided to bypass it. At this point I thought it was a simple matter to scramble around #2 to reach Dove, but Matthew informed me this is not the case. We had to scramble back down several hundred feet on the NW side to then climb to the notch between #2 and Dove. "Oh. Why didn't you say something earlier?" I inquired. "I thought you wanted to check out #1," was the reply. Fair enough. That does sound like something I might have wanted to do. And so down we went, traversing around the cliffs as high as possible and climbing back up to the designated notch, and by noon we had reached the base of Dove.

We scrambled up easy volcanic class 2-3 terrain from the notch to the base of the summit mass, where the increasing difficulties were made obvious. We walked around to the east side where the class 5 pitch was located, but I continued around to the northeast side to satisfy myself there wasn't an easier way. I did spy another class 5 slot we could probably have climbed if needed, but I was satisfied that the east side route described in the TRs was the easier choice.

We paused here to put on helmet and harness and get out our other gear. The crux appeared to be at the very start where one has to climb a short vertical section to insert oneself into the crack and then climb the easier angle. Being magnanimous, I offered to let Matthew lead if he so wished. He looked again at the route and a bit forlorn at me, saying, "I was hoping I didn't have to lead this one." So much for being magnanimous. "Ok, I'll lead," I replied, wondering what the worse fate that might befall me could be. I took another look at the route before surmising death or horrible disfigurement to be the answer.

It wasn't that hard, of course. In fact I found the volcanic rock to supply ample amounts of bulges to use for stemming my way into the crack and ample holds to reach a rap sling I then spied not 15 feet above me. It took only a few minutes from the time I started the climb until I had clipped into the rap sling and found a comfortable position to call "Off Belay!" There was a second rap station set up another five feet higher and to the side and I used both of these to anchor myself for belaying Matthew. Not one to entertain stemming when there is a dirty crack he can wedge his body into, Matthew made a short struggle of the start, finding it harder than I had. He commented that he was glad he didn't have to lead it, which of course is always sure to make the lead climber feel studly and all, but I still maintain that it wasn't that hard with a bit of stemming at the start.

After reaching the rap station and untying the rope, I looped it through the several slings and tossed it down to facilitate our rap later. We then scrambled up the easier ground to the summit a few minutes away. The original DOVE benchmark was no longer at the summit, but there was a nearby reference mark labeled "No. 2" pointing to where the BM once stood. We found a register dating only to 2007 with half a dozen entries, a goodly number considering the remoteness of the range. Looking about us, we were surprised to find we were not on the highpoint of Castle Peaks. Both #1 to the SW and #4 to the NE looked higher than our perch, though it could have been an illusion. #4 also goes by another name, "North Castle Butte". That was also on Matthew's agenda and now that it looked higher than Dove, it was on mine as well.

We descended and rapped the same route, then returned to the notch between Dove and #2. We made another descending traverse around the NW side of Dove along with some easy cross-country to reach the base of #4. We found a duck at the base of the summit mass on the southwest side with some non-obvious tricky stuff above that. I went up "to give it a look" and found the short class 4 section not too difficult. Matthew made an effort to follow, but didn't like what he found and backed down. While I went up further to make sure it was the right route (it was), Matthew walked around to the south side to see if there wasn't something easier (there wasn't). I came back down from the summit to the top of the class 4 pitch to help talk Matthew up. I think it was his disinclination to rely on stemming outside a crack that was holding him back again. He complained of a bush in the way that I didn't even remember being there (because I hadn't wedged myself into the crack as is his wont). The section seemed too short to bother with a rope, but Matthew thought a cheater sling lowered to him might do the trick. It did.

The short class 4 section is followed by a class 3 ramp that leads to the summit plateau. The register we found at the top had been placed by Greg Vernon (as are most desert registers, it seems) in 2002. It averaged only about one entry per year, far less than the Dove pinnacle. It was clear that we were on the highpoint of Castle Peaks, looking southwest and seeing the other pinnacles all below the horizon. It was also clear that Dove was only the third highest of the four main pinnacles, so it was odd that it attracted the bulk of the attention. Possibly because it was the only one with a name associated with it on the 7.5' topo map?

It was 2:15p before we started our descent via the same route. Matthew choose to rap the class 4 section after which I disassembled the rap sling and downclimbed the ascent route. We spent the next half hour on a cross-country heading for the saddle where we'd left the road earlier in the afternoon. We both mistook the wrong saddle for our goal, but it mattered little. We were a bit surprised to come across the road sooner than expected, but simply followed it up to the correct saddle where we reoriented ourselves. It was another half hour and 3:40p before we returned to the car with almost an hour of remaining daylight. We might have climbed something else if there was something in the vicinity to shoot for, but we were out of ideas and the next peaks mentioned in Zdon were back out by Interstate 15.

On our drive back through Ivanpah and on to I15, we were flagged down by a passenger car driving slowly up the washboarded road in the opposite direction. An (asian) Indian couple asked us if the road continued "like this" for very long. Matthew and I looked at each other - as far as we knew, it was a dirt road to Interstate 40 for another 40 miles. We conveyed this information and asked where they were headed. "Palm Springs" was the answer. They should have been on US95 to the east or even paved Kelbaker Rd to the west, but certainly not this road. We gave them our recommendation to head back to I15 to which they thanked us and gave us a hearty wave - then continued driving on in the same direction. Oh well, we tried.

We drove on to Vegas where we got a shower in town at the KOA for $10. A bit pricey, but we would use the same code to get further use of the shower building in the coming days. We had buffet dinner at Circus Circus, but I found it less appetizing than I'd hoped. Matthew seemed to do better justice to the $13 price of the meal and we left fairly sated. We drove out west on Blue Diamond Rd (Hwy 160) heading towards Red Rocks, the next day's destination. We pulled off on a side road past the many unfinished developments (ground zero for the Housing Bust) and found a place to spend the night in our vehicles unmolested by officers of the law or other such parties.


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