North Castle Peak P300 RS
Keyhole Peak P300 RS

Apr 1, 2022
North Castle Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPX Profiles: 1 2


I was due at the Las Vegas airport to pick up my wife in the afternoon, leaving me the morning and the early afternoon for a couple of peaks. Both made for decent scrambles on volcanic rock that I found enjoyable. Both can be found in Purcell's Rambles & Scrambles.

North Castle Peak

North Castle Peak is locatea in the Highland Range, a few miles from where I had camped for the night. I moved the Jeep in the morning a short distance to begin the hike starting west up a broad wash. In hindsight, it wasn't the best starting point as there is a BLM road that can get one almost a mile closer, saving close to half the distance. I found the road after I'd started up the wash, but it comes in from an adjacent wash to the north that I missed in my cursory research ahead of time. It was of minor consequence, though. Starting around sunrise at 6:30a, I spent the first 30min hiking the wash and portions of the road I could have driven. I then began climbing out of the drainage to the southwest, aiming for a saddle on the south side of North Castle. I had Adam Walker's GPX track, so I knew the standard route described by Purcell that would work its way up from this saddle and around the southwest side of an intervening point. A class 3 route works up through a first cliff band, then an easier route through a second cliff band above this. One can then see North Castle to the northeast another 15min away, reached via class 2-3 scrambling. In all, I spent about an hour and 40min to reach the summit with fine views around one of the more rugged sections of the range. The higher Castle Peak can be seen to advantage to the south, with difficult cliffs making it impractical to approach from that side. Adam had left a register atop North Castle in 2020 that I dutifully signed.

I was interested in finding a shorter route back on the return. Stav Basis had found a way off the north side, but that was better suited to the bigger outing he was doing that day and would not be shorter for my return to the east side. A quicker route might be found directly off the southwest side of North Castle to bypass the intermediate point and the saddle on the main crest. I studied this gully from every vantage I could as I left North Castle's summit, but I could not see a way through the lower cliffs, and decided against it in the end. So I returned back the way I had come through the various cliffs and slots, eventually working my way back to the east side where I could see the preferred shortcut from below. It looks like it ought to be possible after getting a better look and I wish I had taken the time to explore it on the way up. If nothing else, it looks to have some find scrambling, but I'll have to leave it to some future explorer to work out the feasibility of it. After working my way down to the road and the wash system, I finally found my way back to the Jeep by 10a.

Keyhole Peak

I drove back out of the Highland Range to US95, then a few miles north on the highway before exiting for some BLM roads heading east and northeast to the base of the Eldorado Mtns and Keyhole Peak. On the narrow utility road I followed, I came across a Boulder City police officer driving the opposite direction. We paused as we passed each other. I was curious what he was doing out there, to which he claimed it was required by the utility company that it gets patrolled. I thought that would have been the job of the BLM rangers on whose land it crossed, not the city police for a town 20mi to the north. I didn't call him on it, of course, and rather was amused by the thought that he might just be out for a joyride instead of setting speed traps and other such things. He was a friendly guy and even suggested I should visit the slot canyon to which I was headed. We parted ways and I soon found my way to the TH for Keyhole Canyon.

This is an unusual mountain in that the fun scrambling all comes at the beginning, followed by mellower terrain to the summit, the opposite of the usual order of things. The trailhead is most often used by those investigating the slot canyon which can only be hiked a short distance before a 60-foot smooth dryfall is encountered. The topo map shows this as Keyhole Canyon Archeological Site, but I saw no petroglyphs when I checked out the slot canyon. It was only upon my return from Keyhole Peak that I discovered the petroglyphs just above the wash at the beginning of the Northwest Ridge route that I followed in both directions. The volcanic rock is wonderfully shaped with curves, slabs, cracks and all sorts of fun scrambling, starting right out of the parking area. As Purcell describes, it is class 3-4 if you stay right on the ridge with easier class 3 options usually found on the right side. There is an airy view looking off the left side of the ridge into the deep gorge that opens to easier terrain above. The summit was further back than I had imagined it to be and the route more involved. After the last of the scrambling portions, there is a short descent to an upper bowl, then across this and a class 2 climb to reach the summit ridge. The highpoint is found yet further south along this ridge. In all, I spent an hour and 20min to reach the highpoint. Kevin Humes had left a register here in 2015, with a handful of other entries since, most in the last two years. The higher Opal BM rises to the east about a mile and a quarter away and would make for a nice outing if I'd had more time. There are telecom towers atop Opal BM and the service road can be driven from the south nearly to the summit, so perhaps I'll use that easier route at some future time. I returned back via much the same route, discovered the petroglyphs I'd missed earlier, investigated the slot canyon, and returned to the Jeep shortly after 1:30p. With my wife's plane due around 3:30p, I would have plenty of time to clean myself and the Jeep up, then get to the airport in time for her arrival...


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