Ridge traverse from East to WestMy mother always taught me to stay as far away from the devil as possible and from a very early age the naughty things in life have always fascinated me, so from time to time I think it can be fun and somewhat invigorating to play where the devil plays and when I first heard about the Devil’s Castle, I was quite intrigued and knew that I had to visit. The castle is steep, sheer, exposed and if you dare to enter Lucifer’s lair, you better be prepared to dance with the devil, because this summit will not come easy.
Matt and I both enjoy playing in the steep craggy Wasatch hills and when I mentioned I wanted to visit the devil in his precipitous abode, he was all for it. I had some things that I had to get done at work, so we planned an early start, meeting at the Little Cottonwood Park N’ Ride just after 5:00 am. The sun was just rising as we made our way up the canyon and we talked about peaks, routes and future plans. We reached the trailhead and after getting out of the car I was immediately attacked by a swarm of hungry mosquitoes and I realized that I did not have any repellent in my backpack, so we quickly geared up and headed up the trail to avoid the blood thirsty little demons.
After a few minutes we encountered two bull moose that were just off of the trail, so we stopped for a moment to snap a few pictures and then Matt started heading up. One of the bulls was very close to the trail and as Matt passed him, he turned directly at him, dropped his head and took a few quick steps like he was going to charge. Instinctively, we both quickly backed away in to the brush and the bull backed off. It was a scary moment and I like to think that our rock hard biceps had scared him off, but sadly, he probably just didn’t want to get his “rack” dirty while driving our heads into the nearby trees. It was a close call and we backed off and made a small detour off the trail to avoid the cranky bull and after a quick detour, we hopped up on a large boulder to get a better look at him.
After a couple of minutes we were back on the trail and as we were heading up my cell phone rang and it was Craig , who was climbing to the summit of Sugarloaf Peak with Sevrdhed from Summitpost. They had already reached the summit and we stopped to take a gander and sure enough we could see them on top. We told them to head over the castle from the west side and they said that we might see them there if they had time. We eyed the saddle that would bring us to the Bullion Divide and it did not look bad at all and we quickly made our way up. When we reached the saddle the view was outstanding and the adrenaline began to flow, because I knew that the scramble that awaited us was going to be a fun ride and I couldn't wait to begin.
The scrambling starts right away and we stayed right on top of the ridge. We had to negotiate some trees and branches that were protruding out of the rocky ridge and we had to use our hands for balance, because there were a few places that a fall would have been quite serious. The scrambling was easy however and the views just kept getting better, until we crested a higher point on the ridge and there it was, the Devil’s Castle, beckoning those that dare to come any closer. My heart was now racing even faster and I knew that the Devil had to be laughing inside, knowing that his frightful estate could arouse so much emotion into the hearts of those that wanted to proceed. We stopped to take a few pictures and we were both excited to get on with our date with devil, so we decided to get moving and we quickly made our way ever closer to his terrifying lair, staying right on top of the ridge most of the time.
As we started to approach the castle, the exposure looks incredible and I knew that we would soon be literally “dancing with the Devil.” The approach to the first summit was not all that bad, requiring us to climb up a few exposed ledges, but the holds were great and the rock solid, so it was actually easier than it looked, although when we crested the first summit the view laid out before us was truly chilling. We were greeted with severe exposure that was a tad frightening, although we both knew that the climbing is never as bad as it looks. Once on the summit we snapped a few pictures and Craig called me to let me know that they decided to go down, because they had work commitments, so we would have this old palace all to ourselves.
After a quick break we decided to get moving again and this is where the fun really begins. The exposure coming off of the summit was great and we had to down climb over to a ledge that was completely exposed. A fall here would certainly be deadly, so we took great care to and make sure of each hold and after crossing the ledge we had to make another sheer down climb that was not too bad. Even though the views were terrifying, the climbing was relatively easy.
Between the two summits we encountered one of the more difficult sections on the route. There is a large boulder that has to be climbed with severe exposure on both sides. On the left the fall was bout 20 feet onto a gnarly pile of jagged rocks and on the right, a sheer craggy chute that would literally rip you apart, while dumping your body a thousand feet below. We both took great care negotiating the boulder and the holds were good, so we never felt like the situation was dire, although I’m sure the devil was cackling somewhere nearby.
Climbing up to the second summit was easier than it looked, as we just had to make our way up some steep exposed ledges, but it was not bad at all. The view from the top was outstanding, probably as good as anywhere in the Wasatch and we found a register in a mailbox and we both signed in. The devil must have been pleased, because he doesn’t receive a lot of visitors and it felt great to be gracing his formidable chateau.
The down climb off of the middle summit was also quite exposed and we took great care negotiating the steep rugged terrain. I was just starting to breath easy and then we came to what I think is the crux of the route if you stay on the ridge. The ridge turns into a literal knife edge that slopes down when coming from east to west. Matt had been on this section before and opted to down climb to avoid it, but I thought it might be fun to give it a try, so I straddled the fin and started to ease my way down. This is one of the most exposed scrambles in the entire Wasatch, with steep sheer drop offs on both sides for hundreds of feet. As I began to scoot down the wind began to gust and I made sure of each move, because falling here would be the last move you ever make. While I was scooting down I felt the sharp rock grab my shorts and I could hear a tear, although that was the least of my concerns. As I approached the end of the knife edge, I threw my backpack down to a shelf below, because it was catching on the rock and then I turned and grabbed the edge with my hands and down climbed to the small ledge and as soon as I reached the ground I was breathing much easier.
The scramble over to the third summit seemed much tamer and the exposure eased considerably. Matt was out ahead of me now, because the fin had slowed me up a bit and I could see him quickly scrambling to the top, so I quickly made my way across the ridge. We didn’t stay long and we decided to get moving, so we down climbed to a small dirt slope and dropped below the ridge, which seemed to speed us up. We made our way back up onto the ridge and from here it was an easy “walk” back down to the saddle. I knew at this point we would escape the ghostly terrain and I turned to take a look at the terrifying fortress and from this angle it really does look just like a giant amazing castle. I was satisfied that we had played where the devil plays and graced his estate unscathed and it was an incredible experience.
When we reached the saddle it was a quick and uneventful hike back to the car and I kept looking back up at the ridge with satisfaction and I knew the devil was smiling down on us and bidding us farewell, but also calling us back for a visit another time. I gave him a wink and in my heart I knew that the castle would once again call me back to play and I can’t wait to go back.