Peak(s):  Castle Peak - 8,302 feet
Date Posted:  05/20/2012
Date Climbed:   05/11/2012
Author:  TomPierce

 5th Class Adventure: Castle Peak (5.x)  

No, sorry, this report isn't about the very popular 14'er, the other Castle Peak. This report is about a lowly little peak in the high desert of Colorado’s west slope. Ordinarily this would have been one of my routine postings on 14erworld; I try to get out climbing about every week and if I got up something relatively interesting I would have posted this on 14erworld’s “What Have You Done Lately?” section. But with the demise of that site, no longer an option. But on this site it's easier to add photos to my TR's, and this is a great site, so all is good. Here goes...

Some Background

When I began writing this TR I thought I’d go into a bunch of detail about why I was climbing this peak, how I got here in my climbing career, blah, blah. Nah...just not that interesting. So I’ll just compress all that into a sequential stream of consciousness: I love to climb, big part of who I am/I get out about every week, have for the last few decades/Jack of all trades climber, nothing noteworthy or high end/My true passion is technical climbing/Love the mental aspect of tech climbing/Did rockclimbing for many years, eventually tired of chasing higher ratings, it lacked true adventure for me/Missed summitting something too/Dabbled with my climbing in recent years, unfocused but always fun/Stumbled upon John Prater’s summitpost list “Colorado 5th Class Summits”/Intrigued! Finally, a climbing list based not on altitude, but difficulty/And so my project was hatched/Two years in, maybe two more to go?/Success uncertain, but having a ball!

So my current climbing passion is going after 5th class peaks, peaks whose easiest route requires 5th class climbing. A perfect blend of technical climbing, high adventure, with the satisfaction of summitting something. I climb these peaks following some self-imposed rules: I must reach the actual summit (no “close enough”); I must climb the crux pitch, no following; no aid climbing or cheating (ladders, etc.)...I've done pretty well with that, not perfect on one peak; finally, I’d honor posted no trespassing signs or other established closures, e.g. Indian reservation restrictions.

5th class peaks are a real smorgasbord of objectives. Some are well known alpine spires (e.g. Lizard Head), some are relatively easy lowland scrambles (Tuckaway Mountain), while others are just plain hard (e.g. Chair Rock, at 5.10a). Some are remote, others have relatively easy access, but all of the ones I’ve climbed have been pure fun. If I was successful, Castle Peak would be my 57th 5th class peak.

Castle Peak is a ranked 5th classer in Mesa County, rising a demure 8,302’ above sea level. But it provides a workout: Although only 1.8 crow-flies miles from a graded dirt road, the summit is 2300’ above and the route is pretty much straight up. Like many 5th class adventure peaks there isn't even the hint of a trail, it’s not in any guidebook I know of, and there’s no known climbing beta on a summit route. Nor was there any information about what gear to bring, and the only photos on (LoJ) were taken from miles away. Finally, Castle Peak’s mystery was enhanced by its designation as one of the coveted (for me, anyway…) “5.x” peaks. No, not the usual X appended to a rock climbing rating (indicating a fall would be severe, such as 5.7X), the “5.x” designation on LoJ meant that you didn’t even know for sure if it was 5th class, and if so, 5 what? 5.0? 5.10?? Only one way to find out.

It was with this backdrop that I left Denver about a week ago in the predawn darkness, intent on going after Castle’s elusive summit. Others almost certainly have climbed it in the past, but only Mike Garratt (of Garratt & Martin fame) had listed a successful summit on LoJ, and the only known TR was on LoJ from Tim Worth’s unsuccessful bid in 2008 (too snowy, but he almost succeeded the following year). I’d tried for Castle twice before but was turned back once by weather and horrific mud; on another more recent attempt I realized the task was going to be harder than I thought. I needed heavier artillery, i.e. more gear and ropes in order to ascend it via a roped solo attempt.

The trip began uneventfully; once parked off the road in a dry arroyo I moved steadily cross-country through untracked gullies and pinon forests. Soon enough the workout began as I worked my way up the steep flanks of Castle’s summit ridge. But the scenery was great:


And here is Castle peeking out over the ridge:


Upward I went, eventually breaching two 4th/5.0 sandstone cliff bands (typical of the desert country 5th classers) and eventually gaining a broad ridge that led toward Castle. Here’s the view up:


Another view, higher on the now narrower ridge looking back down to the access road in the valley far below:


Castle’s façade comes into view:


And finally, Castle’s formidable summit tower:


The Climb

One thing that sets Castle apart from other 5th class peaks I’d done was the interesting (!) rock. Just a real mish-mash of what looked like crushed eggshells and dried mud. It made the climb more challenging than would otherwise be the case. Here’s a look:


I turned the summit tower to climber’s left and went to the back of the peak where I found what i later learned was probably Tim Worth’s log ladder from 2009 (sorry for the horizontal photo, I have a brand new camera and I botched trying to make a vertical panorama). When I moved the ladder aside it self-destructed in my hands:


The route up was a chute, just a narrow flared slot with steep opening moves that relented to lower angle terrain near the top. The problem with the route wasn’t the difficulty of the climbing moves, it was making those easily seen moves on pretty marginal, crumbling rock while at the same time being perched over a relatively sheer cliff. If I popped off while making the near vertical opening moves there was a really good chance I’d be pitched off a 50’ cliff. Again, easy climbing, but with possibly harsh consequences if the holds crumbled beneath a hand or foot. Here is a view of that cliff, looking up the route (but note that I started on the opposite side of this cliff on the upper ledge where you can see the sky). The exposure of this section certainly held my attention:


Let me pause at this point and address what some may be thinking: What the hell is this guy doing? Miles from the nearest dirt road over untracked, isolated terrain, climbing what probably was a very rarely visited tower, alone, on rock so bad the Maroon Bells are like granite in comparison, with possibly catastrophic consequences in the event of a fall. Was he nuts, overconfident, or…suicidal?

Rest assured there’s a method to this madness. I’d backed off my previous attempt because I was spooked by the consequences of a fall, knowing that my single rope wouldn’t be enough. And while I love adventure, I don’t consider being reckless any fun or a sign of skill. So here’s how I addressed the risk: My wife knew precisely where I was, with the peak sheet from LoJ on the fridge, coordinates and county circled. She also had a list of all county sheriffs in Colorado, so combined with a few SPOT log-ins (always with a log-in before I began the actual climb) she knew exactly where I was if I failed to report in and knew exactly where to call.

And on this attempt I’d brought two ropes, having figured out on my previous visit a relatively safe way to ascend: One rope was tethered to a distant pine, providing a solid, multi-directional anchor. To this rope I tied in my lead line, a 34m Beal Joker (9.2mm?). I then tied that rope to my harness, but affixed a triple-wrapped prussik knot to the lead line shortly beyond the point where the two ropes were tied together. That prussik was then clipped to a harness ‘biner. So as I ascended the rock, I’d occasionally slide the prussik along the now-taut lead line, keeping the tension fairly constant; it was equivalent to a snug belay by a partner. Sure, not ideal, but I favor this simple approach on easy climbs over my Rock Exotica Soloist (the prussik is always on tension, regardless of spatial orientation). Would I trust it for longer falls? Absolutely not, but if I fell in the ascent chute I’d resemble a pinball, bouncing off the sides and thereby dissipating energy, i.e. a fairly low impact fall. Was I certain I’d emerge unscathed? Well, no…but IMO if you want certainty you shouldn’t be adventure climbing. But good enough for me.

So, to begin. Cautiously smearing eggshells, repositioning feet and hands when holds crumbled, I quickly learned that some off the larger pebbles embedded in the chute’s walls were relatively stable. By tensioning against the flared walls of the chute, I was able to stem and smear my way up. Quickly past the steep opening moves, mantling into a small alcove, I caught my breath…and inhaled the chalk dust that was the essence of Castle. I could see sunlight just above, sensed the top was near. Sweet! Not so hard after all. But I also realized that without any intermediate points of protection, each foot higher was a foot farther to fall, and by now a full-blown fall would end very, very poorly. Best be careful here. Another mantle, a swung leg over teetering heaps of shattered dinner plate-like rock, and…my heart sank.

I was straddling absolute junk, perched high above the pines that flanked Castle's summit tower. Instead of seeing the expected summit I saw more mounds of shattered rock just ahead. Because the rope was tied to a tree far below, my forward motion would be limited to the length of the rope. Hmm, not too much left. So I spied a notch just forward of my rock seat, untied, and tossed the rope end to the ground below. That meant my now-slotted ascent line, tied to the tree, would act as my single line rappel escape route. But I was also now unroped with unknown terrain ahead. I cautiously worked my way between the mounds of shattered rock, to a point I later would learn had stopped Tim Worth on his 2009 summit attempt. I was facing a 7’ mound of dried mud and eggshells that was just across a steeply sloping saddle of shattered rock, heady exposure to each side. I saw a route up it, made the easy but committing few moves up the undercut base and swung around to the right. Hmm…5.4-ish? Once done, the summit was just a few yards away. I quickly found the Garratt summit register in a glass spice jar, I was the second to sign in:


Retracing my steps, I came back to the problematic summit mound. Suffice to say it was dispatched with minimal drama, but it certainly presented an interesting downclimbing opportunity. Once back to the top of the ascent chute, I geared up for a single-line rappel to terra very firma. Finally, safety! I sent my wife a second “double tap” SPOT message to let her know I was down, packed up and hurriedly descended the ridge to beat an approaching storm. A few sprinkles and high winds made the descent more interesting than a simple slog, and after just a couple hours I was back to the car; then on to the comfort of home, wife and children. Just another day trip, but this one was a bit more satisfying than others, a real puzzle to solve.

I fully realize reports like these may be of limited interest to those of a more alpine persuasion, but I just love adventures off the beaten path, and rest assured I too wander above the trees, frequently. For me the allure of adventure climbing is a nice addition to the more frequently visited peaks. It keeps me on my toes, often humbles me, and constantly tests my limits. And hey, it keeps me guessing what’s around the next corner…

Climb on, climb safe!


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Thanks Tom
05/21/2012 02:05
Good stuff. This peak will never see my name on the top, but it was a fun read and I enjoy reading about others spirit for enjoying the outdoors no matter what elevation.


05/21/2012 02:14
I agree with sevenvii; not one I'll ever attempt, but enjoyed your climb from here at home nonetheless. Very unusual but striking summit. Thanks for the trip!!


Good read
05/21/2012 03:07
This definitely deserves to be here. Keep 'em coming.

So who decides to put up a summit register on a peak like that, anyway?


Where is this?
05/21/2012 03:37
Looks like its by Colbran? Or Mesa?


05/21/2012 03:46
...for the comments, all.

Doggler: I'm not aware of any accepted ”rule” about summit registers. I suppose a first ascentionist peakbager might place one, and I know of several people who have replaced missing or unusable registers. Garratt's are pretty well known in the peakbagging community: glass spice or mustard jars with a rolled small pad of paper and pencil.

Rcizzle: Wow, great guess. Yep, take the Debeque exit off of I-70, then a few spur roads, but yes, within 20 miles or so of Colbran.



05/21/2012 03:54
That looks like a great adventure Tom! What is the next one?


That doesn't look like fun...
05/21/2012 05:19
Okay, maybe a little. Nice detail on the rope-soloing setup and congrats on a tricky ascent.

Also, I thought the bolded letters spelled out a message and I kept scrolling through the report to figure it out. You tricked me.

Brian C

Granite in comparison!
05/21/2012 12:41
That means I have to do it!!! Really nice report Tom. Glad to see some photos of this climb. Looks very cool. Finger on Thurs afternoon if interested.



Cool trip report Tom
05/21/2012 14:17
Picture 7: if your hand wasn't in the picture it would look like you zoomed in from a distance. Looks pretty loose. Great perseverance to get this one.
Met you in January at Sherman's trailhead. Well done.


crushed eggshells and dried mud
05/21/2012 16:11
That's because it is likely dried mud (shale) or layered mudstone. Without knowing the specific geology of the area, I'd go with that.


I hadn't heard of this one
05/21/2012 16:35
until Chicago Transplant posted his 14er Doppelgangers CO peak list on LOJ. Now a TR, great stuff, thanks for the write up!

Steve Knapp

05/21/2012 18:45
Hey Tom, I always enjoy reading your notes and write-ups for all the 5th class peaks. This is the first one I can remember with pics, which adds a lot to it. Good to know what to expect if I ever try and climb this one. Looks like some nasty scary stuff. Creative protection too. Would it be any easier on a traditional climb with two climbers? Not sure if there are any opportunities to place gear on that junk or what the rap options are.

Thanks for taking the time to write the report and for the pictures!


Thanks for the read!
05/21/2012 20:06
Mike: As for what's next, I was planning on doing Big Rock Candy Mountain on Friday, but those plans fell through so I'll try for 2 5th class domes in the LCW Sunday. Hope all is well!

Brian: I am thrilled to be going to a musical in which one of my kindergartners will be singing on Thursday. Have fun on The Finger, let me know if it's the sandbag I predicted.

Boston: Sure, I remember you! Actually I remember being stunned you were back at the car when we were just gearing up!

Otina: Yep, sounds like a good geological diagnosis. I'd actually seen similar stuff not too far away, also in the Grand Valley, but not on that scale.

Steve: Except for having a buddy along to share the load, or tend to you if you fell, I don't think a partner would add too much to safety. I'm always a bit doubtful when I hear climbers say there's no protection on a route, but in this case the ascent chute was devoid of anything at all to plug into, and the rock as mentioned wouldn't hold much, if anything. I suppose you could tote up some wood (4'+) to wedge in the chute, but I doubt it would hold. Only at the top where I slotted the rope was there anything to sling. The very first part of the climb was the only part I thought warranted a rope, and I was glad to have it. And yeah, I finally broke down and bought an adventure camera. Stay tuned!

Thanks all!


Nice Tom
05/21/2012 21:00
Looks fun!


Nice trip report
01/24/2013 17:58
I've driven that road several times (scenic ”shortcut” to Collbran), but never with an eye for climbing, just hunting or jeeping. So, thanks for the eye opener!


You have HUGE BALLS!
05/23/2012 17:16
Rope solo on that choss, wow! That is a very entertaining report. I love the picture of you pointing at the shale pieces. Might I suggest a petzl rescuescender/micoscender for the prussic. It will do the same thing as the prussic but without the obvious limiting factors of rope on rope and are designed to slip.


05/23/2012 20:54
Hey Rick:
Nice to hear from you, glad you liked the report. I'm intrigued by your idea, but wonder do those Petzl devices have teeth? I recall reading something years ago that it was risky using a Petzl ascender (which I have, fwiw) to arrest a fall because the teeth were so aggressive there was a concern that it could tear the sheath on a rope. But I've not looked closely at what you're suggesting. What do you think? Hope all is well,


great photos
05/24/2012 00:19
Thanks for putting up the photos, a reminder to myself why I haven't been back in the last 3 years.

Looks like we came down differently.....I ended up rapping from the small side tower near the top...swung the rope around the whole thing and hoped for the best.....Mike G told me he almost got his rope stuck doing this in 04....lots of falling rock going down....doable, but not recommended!


A Fellow Castle Survivor!!
05/24/2012 00:46
Hey Tim,
I didn't know you posted over here, thanks for the comments. Yeah, in hindsight I think my rap method only worked because the other end was tied to a tree and slotted through a break in the rock. Worked fine but I too was pelted by a few rocks on the descent. Geez, rapping off that small pillar? Yeow! Glad I missed that chance!


Still wrong Castle
05/25/2012 05:08
When I saw you said it wasnt 'the Castle', I thought perhaps 'The Castle' of LCW and got my excitement up thinking someone else wanted to climb that odd thing haha... Great TR though!


The Castle
05/25/2012 14:13
Sent you a PM. Nope, this isn't The Castle in the South Platte, but I've climbed that too, sent you some beta.


No teeth on rescue/micoscender
06/05/2012 17:33
They are actually designed to slip on rope so there are no teeth, just ridges and a lot of surface area. I don't know what I would do without mine. Also my backup of choice for jugging lines. Yes that is a great TR. Nice to live vicariously through your good times. :-)


10/22/2012 04:16
Hey Tom, enjoyed the report.

And thanks so much for John P's compilation of 5th class peaks.

Never thought I'd be doing another list, but this one looks like fun; already got a leg up on it, so to speak.

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