Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Castle Dome - FA of the Southeast Arête (IV 5.10)

Castle Domes have been on my list of places to visit for quite a while. Per Secor and the AAJ the only recorded climb in the area was done in the late 1970s by Jack Roberts and Mark Menge – Silmarillion. Recently I resumed my research and the only semi-useful thing I found, was a thread I started in 2011. Good looking rock, high adventure factor and a giant approach – time to have some fun!
Caitlin enjoying the view of Castle Domes from our camp
Wild inverted white dike high on the arête.
"Climb me, climb me!" -North Face of Clarence King?
The approach was pretty
Caitlin about to pass one of the many fun roofs on the route
My friend Caitlin had a 3-day weekend and was game to haul 50 lb backpacks up a 13+ mile approach. Great thing about it was that it follows a section of Rae Lakes Loop, which is one of the finest hikes in the High Sierra. After a reasonable day of hiking, we set up a camp in a lush meadow with a jaw-dropping view of Castle Domes. The line that made the most sense was a striking arête that went from the base to the summit of the most prominent formation. In addition, the research did not turn out any record of someone doing it prior. Even if someone did, the first ascent experience is hard to beat!
The Sphinx. Daniel and I put up a LONG route up that thing about a month ago. Another Kings Canyon gem
Waterfall on the approach
Bambi lives in Kings Canyon!
Out of focus, but still pretty
We woke up early and approached the climb by threading the wall under the slabby buttresses and striking overhangs. There seemed to be a possibility to climb a few three pitch 5.12+ routes, but I don’t climb that hard and wanted to get on the line that made the most sense. SE Arête was without a doubt it.  
Southeast Arête is hard to miss
Woods Creek
1103 calories?! Too bad this thing doesn't have a "giant pack" option.
Castle Valley - an amazing spot
At first, I scrambled to the summit of a sub peak across from the arête and scoped out a line. The lack of visible crack systems and multiple roofs did not inspire confidence. However, we did not make the long haul to give up without a battle. After a few spicy moves a ways above my gear, I climbed up into the main dihedral and we enjoyed quality climbing for seven long pitches. Quality of rock was incredible. It was like someone mixed dark gray granite from El Capitan’s East Buttress with featured slab of Charlotte Dome and than added a bit of High Sierra crack climbing. A geologist with interest for petrology would have a blast on this one! Every pitch had an interesting crux, usually an overhang with ‘thank god’ jugs  around the corner and a cool feature or two.  At one point I came across a giant inverted dike that traversed across the rock as far as I could see. Castle Domes and other granite formations in the area had more than a few of these features.
Silmarillion goes up one of these dihedrals. One on the left looked MEH, one on the right had giant loose-looking roofs blocking the upper section. If I collect a lot of booty and get bored, one day I might be back to climb them.
Starting pitch two (photo by Caitlin T.)
SE Arête as seen from another peak
Caitlin following the 3rd pitch - a fun one!
Views were drop dead gorgeous all day. No wonder Rae Lakes Loop is one of the most popular treks in the country.
A few pitches from the top we begun getting some light rain. At this point climbing up would be much easier than bailing down, so we kept moving. A cool chimney, short hand-crack, another overhang and a pitch of low 5th, took us directly to the summit! With approximately 1,100 feet of technical climbing behind us, our reward was a bit of sunshine, snacks and the view of Gardnier Basin. Turns out Mt. Clarence King has a stunning North Face, but approaching it would take two days at least!
Starting the third pitch. About to climb up towards the roof.
Starting the first pitch. Climbing on the edge packed some spice!
Starting up a cool crack with a lot of face features all around
More cracks
Caitlin climbing over the last bulge
 The summit had no signs of previous passage, even though I have no doubt people have visited it before. We made a cairn, snapped some photos and headed down to our camp. My celebratory meal of ramen mixed with beef jerky was enhanced by green onions, which were growing next to our tent. We drank plenty of fluids and Caitlin passed out. I had too much excitement and emotions about the climb we just did and had a mostly restless night. Too bad, since the next day started out with a bang – wind, lightning, thunder and a downpour chased us out of the valley and back to our car.

Mr. Mature
Couple of gym climbers enjoying the summit
The camp was in an amazing spot. Really hard to beat.
Bailing from Castle Valley during the Sunday's thunderstorm. 
Some little dome on the approach. Plenty of cracks to choose from!
During our return we saw many more potential destinations for future exploration. Even though the golden age of picking the obvious gems in the High Sierra have faded, the opportunity to get creative and explore will exist for many years to come!


  1. Such a splendid weekend! :D

    I am pleased that my Picasa chose to auto-stitch your silly summit photo into a totally epic panorama. But where is our spotted skunk friend‽‽

    1. He is on supertopo! It was easier to upload the photo from my phone to that site :)

    2. Woo! Glad he made an appearance on ST.