Castle Dome Peak • Range Highpoint: Castle Dome Mountains
• Central Yuma County


Castle Dome Peak as seen from near the mine museum the day before. Man what a cliffy top!
 

Another view of the summit, now from the canyon from the northwest. The pinnacle is to the left (north) of the summit
 

Neat sunset at camp
 

Closer to the top. Our route generally went right to the cliffs, then left at the margin to the saddle just right of the pinnacle.
 

Scott hikes along the cliffs below the summit block
 

The pinnacle, as seen from below the summit. It's about 60 feet high!
 

Scott ascends the class-3 gullies as we near the top
 

The pinnacle again, as seen from directly below the summit
 

I made it!
 

Summit view northwest
 

Scott descends. There's the pinnacle again
 

Shot of the upper slopes and the 20-foot class-3/4 crux, from within the saddle beneath the pinnacle.
 

Parting shot, with cholla

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Date: February 26, 2011 • Elevation: 3,877 feet • Prominence: 2,088 feet • Distance: 5.9 miles • Time: 5 hours and 15 minutes • Gain: 2,100 feet • Conditions: Gray and overcast • Teammates: Scott Peavy

Castle Dome Peak is a distinctive summit in southwest Arizona, topping the Castle Dome Mountains about 45 miles northeast of Yuma. The Castle Dome Mountains are a rugged range with steep, rocky and brushy slopes, pointed summits, convoluted canyons, and glorious isolation. It is similar in many ways to the nearby Kofa Mountains, which lie north across the King Valley. Both ranges are enclosed within the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. The summit is a fin of rock, which from most angles looks like a big square block with vertical walls up to 300 feet high. Fortunately, there exist scramble routes "around back" that allow safe passage to the summit.

I have known about Castle Dome Peak since viewing it from Signal Peak in the Kofas over ten years ago. An opportunity to climb this peak came when Ken Jones and a couple other climbers from Washington were in town, looking to climb Castle Dome. I was to join them, along with fellow Phoenix-area climbing pal Scott Peavy, but (a) I got sick the week before and was in no condition to do much of anything, and (b), the morning we were to climb with Ken and the gang, a big storm entered the state. They had to cancel the climb that day too. Peavy and I decided to stay in town and try again the following weekend, bringing us to this weekend.

We met at my place in Scottsdale and took my truck to the trailhead, taking Interstate-10 to Quartzsite, then US-95 south to the Castle Dome Mine Road, with the blocky summit in plain view ahead of us. We followed Castle Dome Mine Road 10 miles to the Castle Dome Mine Museum, then past that another five miles on slightly-worse road to the trailhead, arriving around 6:30 p.m. as the sun was setting.

The road past the museum was pretty good, but some arroyo crossings were kind of rough, including one where I scraped my truck’s undercarriage on rocks and another place where I thudded down one 10-inch drop that I never saw. The trailhead is located about 3 miles west-northwest of the peak, a pull-out along the road. When it got dark, we turned in, Peavy in his tent and me in the back of my truck.

The weather was of concern, since forecasters were predicting another "major winter storm" for Arizona this weekend. The storm would not arrive in the state until Saturday afternoon, so we figured we had the morning open before any precipitation came in. Given the rocky nature of the peak, any moisture would make the climbing treacherous. During the night the clouds moved in but the wind was calm and the clouds looked like non-menacing "high clouds". The morning was cool but still, and we started hiking at 6:45 a.m.. Since we were west of the range, we would not see any direct sun for a couple more hours. In the dim dawn light, we began the first leg of the hike, a 1.7-mile segment up the main wash emanating from Castle Dome Peak. The summit was not in view for the first few hundred yards.

The wash hiking went well, with no mishaps. The first wash we followed led us to a dead end, but we crossed some rises and found our way to the main wash. Fortunately, the wash was wide and sandy. There were no endless rocks to hop over, no thick brush to plow through. We made great time, covering this stretch in about 40 minutes. We came upon the “Arrow”, a big rock arrow pointing us to leave the wash and start up the slopes. By now, the hulk of Castle Dome Peak stood high above us. When we left the wash, the sun was higher but the sky was still overcast. Nevertheless, the winds were still calm.

From the wash, we entered into a rocky side-channel, with small pools of water from last week’s storm. We followed this channel a few dozen yards until it started to get thick with brush. We ascended out of this channel up a ridge where we had better views of our route, and more importantly, a scant trail to follow. Looking at Castle Dome’s block, we would presumably aim for its right, following a rocky slope to the base of the cliffs, then traverse left (clockwise) around the cliffs toward an obvious rock pinnacle left of the main summit mass.

So we followed this trail, which disappeared on us a few times, up the ridges and down into more rocky drainages, before emerging onto a section of greenish-yellow rock. Here, we marched upward, the rock slope covered in thousands of little rubbly rocks, which made the going slippery, like hiking on ball bearings. This part was tiring and not too much fun, but we gained elevation quickly, which was good.

The nature of the path changed here, now more brushy, with bigger talus blocks and more scree slopes. We made good time, walking three steps, looking around, walking three more steps, looking around again, over and over again. We made all sorts of little deviations and corrections, but always seemed to find a path or meager way through each steep or brushy section. While this was tiring and tedious, we didn’t waste time: we were gaining lot of elevation here. We finally came upon the base of the cliffs. To here, we’d gained about 1,300 feet, and everything was still holding steady for us, including some heartening patches of clear blue sky to the west.

We turned left and traversed along the base of the cliffs, following a well-defined path. After 20 minutes, we had gained another 300 vertical feet, rounding a bend and now below that pinnacle. We then scrambled up easy rock slopes and in moments were now on the tiny saddle hemmed in by the pinnacle (to the north) and Castle Dome's summit massif to the south. This saddle was tiny, perhaps fifteen feet wide. We took a lengthier break here. We heard some "boom" sounds, concerned it may be thunder, but the sounds were actually ordnance being blasted on the Yuma Proving Grounds west of us.

There are two ways up from the saddle, one a thirty-foot tall crack in the rock, rating low Class-5, another a shorter (20-foot) gully that rates between Class 3 and 4, mainly due to a small segment of near-vertical. We climbed this gully, and it went well. The rock nubbings, while small, are ample enough to provide positive foot and hand-placements, and in moments, we were now above the saddle and on Castle Dome's northeast-facing slopes. We angled left past a small grotto, rounded a bend, then spied the route to the top

The slopes angle in slightly, forming a gully, and the rock here leans back so that the gradient is not as severe as what we just came up. There were steps and handholds everywhere so that the upward climbing went easy, much easier than what I was expecting. This gully tops out near a cliff. We angled right through a tiny cleft, down about ten feet, then up and onto the summit ridge, and in moments, we were on top. We sat down on the nearby rocks to sign in the log book, and enjoy the amazing views. Peavy’s watch had our one-way time as 2 hours, 40 minutes. Not too shabby for two old guys.

The views are remarkable. The Castle Dome Mountains spread out in all directions, while the Kofa Mountains were visible to the north. Looking west we could see peaks in California (Picacho, Cargo Muchacho) and even the big profile of Cerro Centinela in Mexico. Unfortunately, the clouds and moisture in the air made for less than ideal viewing conditions, but even so, the views were some of the best I’ve ever seen from a summit.

Now higher and more exposed, we had a little more wind and a chill. We didn’t stick around for long. I wanted to get down that gully while my mind was still in good spirits. The downclimb started out a little awkwardly as we somehow got off-route and cliffed ourselves out, but we could see some cairns where we needed to be, and shortly had corrected our error. The descent back to the saddle went well. I had psyched myself out beforehand that these gullies would "scare" me, but in truth, they were easy and a lot of fun. Back to the saddle below the pinnacle, we took another break before starting the hike down the slopes and back to my truck. Alas, somewhere in here I lost my sunglasses. No big deal, they were a $20-pair from Target. I’ll get another pair.


View of the rugged mountains from atop Castle Dome Peak.

For the exit, we had gravity working with us now, and we retraced our steps, being careful not to slip on scree or get caught up in the brush or cactus. We were down to the lower slopes in less than an hour and back out onto the main wash not long after. The walk out back to my truck took about a half-hour, and we were back to the trailhead at noon exactly, a two-hour, fifteen-minute egress.

The hike had been a success, and had gone much better than either of us thought. I had been unsure if I would be up for the gullies and/or exposure, but it was not a problem at all. The whole hike took less than six hours, including breaks, a great time for me given the type of terrain. We were both very pleased to have been successful on Castle Dome Peak, and happy the weather had not acted up.

I drove us into Yuma for lunch and gas, then the long and exciting drive back to Phoenix via Interstate-8, Gila Bend and Maricopa. My sincerest thanks to Scott Peavy for his good comradeship on this mountain, and we both can now lay claim to one of Arizona’s finest desert summits.

Two shots of me from Scott Peavy's camera:

Me near the cliffs.

Descending.

(c) 2011, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.