Castle Dome Peak

Castle Dome Peak 3788′

Castle Dome Mountains

Total Time: 3:25

Roundtrip Mileage: 5.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 2200′

Crux: Class 3

Trailhead: High Clearance Road beyond Castle Dome Mine Museum, (4WD not necessary, just high clearance)

Castle Dome Peak is one of nine summits in the Sierra Club’s Desert Peak Section List (DPS) in Arizona. I had only climbed 3 so far (Humphreys, Superstition Peak and Signal Mountain) and I wanted to be a bit more proactive in my DPS pursuits. So with a 3 day weekend in January, I set out from Phoenix for a DPS-filled weekend in Western Arizona/ Southern California. The first stop was Castle Dome Peak, which was not only featured on the DPS list, but was also one of Arizona’s 73 summits with over 2000′ of prominence. I first noticed the blocky summit on my climb of Signal Mountain the year prior, and climbing it has been on my mind ever since. Located in the far SW corner of the state the wash to the start of the climb took over 3 hours from Phoenix. I was surprised at the number of gates I had to pass through beyond the Castle Dome Mine Museum, with some aggressive signs from landowners threatening ‘armed patrols’ and prosecution. The road slowly deteriorated past the mine but it was never to the point where 4WD was required, and overall much better than the road I had taken to climb Signal Mountain the year prior. I parked in a broad wash blocked off with signs and set out towards the east.

Sandy wash at the start.

The wash was sandy and not too brushy, and I dutifully followed it as it wove to the southeast, the impressive summit starting to come into view. It looked less blocky from the north (some might even say, “dome-like”) but certainly no less impressive or difficult. I had planned on following the wash until reaching the rib just below the NE face, but found a well marked turn off with a large cairn leaving the wash a bit sooner to reach the broad slopes below the north face.

Cairned turn off.
Castle Dome from the wash.

A very well defined trail skirted the cliffs above the wash before following a narrow rib up to some small, lower cliffs bands. A broad gully split the lower cliffs, and the use trail became increasingly steep as I grew closer and closer to the detached pinnacle on the NE side, the landmark for the start of the class 3. There was a bit of loose rock to deal with in the gully with a few competing use trails, but overall not too terrible compared to the reported loose talus on the NW side.

Approaching the pinnacle.
Looking down the gullies.

Above the lower cliffs, the use trail began to skirt the north face to the east. There were some huge detached rock flakes near the pinnacle that formed a short 10′ fourth class pitch that would meet up with the route higher up, but I continued east a bit further up some rock slabs to the shallow saddle formed by the pinnacle and the main mountain. This was where the class 3 began, and was really the only class 3 of the entire day.

Class 3 crack, decent exposure.

A steep crack to the climbers right cut up the face, and there were plenty of holds as I started up. A chokestone blocked progress near the stop of the pitch, and I swung a bit wide to the left to get around it, mostly because I didn’t quite trust weighting it, the rock a little loose for my taste. Above the chockstone, a use trail reformed, joining the route from the dry falls between the rock flakes. Numerous cairns marked the route which traversed to the south before ascending the equivalent of a giant staircase, basically tiered rock levels that were class 2 at worst.

Cairned trail above the class 3.

I hadn’t realized how close I was to the top once past the class 3, and within 10 minutes I was on the summit, only taking 1.5 hours from the start. I was expecting the summit to be a bit more rounded, but found it surprisingly narrow, with a short rock rib running north-south. I found a place to hide from the wind, a enjoyed the dramatic views of the range to the south, Signal Peak to the north and Picacho Peak in the far distance, my target for the next day.

View south across the Castle Dome Mountains.
View north towards Signal Peak.
Summit panorama.

Strong winds and cold January temps forced me from the summit, and I dropped back down the class 2 steps towards the NE pinnacle. I downclimbed the crack a bit more directly as the chockstone appeared more stable from above and was able to weight it directly. Once back to the slabs it was a matter of following the use trail back to the wash. With the setting sun, the north face looked even more impressive, and I was surprised at my climb time, looking like it would take much longer (although summit entries suggest similar times from the car). Once back in the wash, I hustled back to the car, wanted to get through the gates before any “armed patrols” started at sunset by the mining companies.

Castle Dome from the drive out.

Being further west in the state, I wound up having plenty of time before sunset, and made it to Yuma for dinner at twilight. Heading to Prison Hill Brewery, I loaded up for Picacho Peak, the main event for the weekend….


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