IntroductionThe Castle Peaks are in the northeast corner of the Mojave National Preserve, and form a subrange of the New York Mountains. The subject peaks are composed principally of volcanic tuffs and breccias; deep erosion of these rocks has formed at least four distinct, sharp summits. However, only two summits have more than 300’ of prominence: the peak marked “Dove” on the USGS 24k map (1776.7m), and the DPS-named “North Castle Butte” (1797m). The latter is unnamed on the USGS map. The peak marked “Dove” is often called “Dove Benchmark”, but the actual monument (an aluminum disc placed in 1956) has gone missing. The benchmark was likely named after nearby Dove Spring.
This cluster of sharp pinnacles is clearly visible and striking from several vantage points. Perhaps the most common view is from the west, as one drives between Los Angeles and Las Vegas on I-15, right around Mountain Pass and the CA-NV state line. From the east, the peaks are occasionally visible as one travels down route 95 toward Cal-Nev-Ari. The spires are also obvious from local summits.
This page should give enough maps and description to get you to the peaks the old-fashioned way. However, you might find this GPS file useful; just save the target with the gpx extension. This file is readable in google earth, or many other mapping programs like ExpertGPS.
Getting ThereBoth the east and west access points use the Nipton-Searchlight Road. The mileages below were taken off GPS logs and map measurements, and will likely vary from car odometer measurements. The major turns below are indicated with GPS waypoints, prefixed by “WR” for the west road access, and “ER” for the east road access. The actual waypoints are given at the end of this section. This map:
shows the major turns near the hike, and also labels the waypoints. The red squares (on the map) are approximately 1 mile x 1 mile each.
From the west
Take the Searchlight-Nipton exit from I-15 in eastern CA, and head east on the Nipton-Searchlight road. If you are driving south on I-15 (e.g. from Las Vegas, NV), this exit is ~9.8 miles S of Primm. If you are driving NE (as from Baker, CA) this exit is ~4.8 miles east of Mountain Pass.
(NOTE: In Feb. 2009, the southbound ramp of the Nipton exit (coming from Las Vegas) will be closed for repairs. According to the Caltran site, the closure may last until May; call Caltran (1-800.427.7623) for details. You can get around this by taking the eastern route, or entering the Ivanpah Road from inside Mojave Preserve.)
When you get onto Nipton-Searchlight road, go east 3.4 miles to the Ivanpah Road. Turn right on Ivanpah Rd, initially ~S (waypoint WR1). Travel ~S, then SE, for 16.9 miles to the old townsite of Barnwell (9.6 miles along the way (waypoint WR2), you will do zig-zag over the rr tracks at the old townsite of Ivanpah).
("Townsite" is a euphemism for, "there used to be a town here, but don't expect one now".)
At Barnwell (waypoint WR3), turn L (east) on the Hart Mine Road; after ~2.5 miles, the road will gradally turn NE; at 4.9 miles (waypoint WR4), the official road branches R; keep going straight another 0.9 miles (5.8 miles since Barnwell) to an odd intersection (waypoint WR5), and take a L turn ~NW. From this last turn, travel ~NW then NNW ~3.0 miles to parking (waypoint WR6). On this last stretch, the road convolutes around a small earthen dam, and up a hillside. In 2007, I was able to drive a Subaru Outback this far. This parking is 8.72 miles from the Barnwell turn on the Hart Mine Rd., and 25.54 miles from the turn onto the Ivanpah Road (WR1).
(What if you went right by mistake at 4.9 miles? No matter, just keep going 0.5 miles, then turn left and travel ~0.7 miles; just before the intersection, the road turns leftish, so you effectively go straight through, and head NW another ~3.0 miles to parking.)
Here's a bit of warning about the identity and quality of roads: with the resurgence of activity at the Hart Mine, the road has been rebladed, occasionally obscuring side roads, but much improving travel for 2wd vehicles. Some of the roads have been rerouted, changing distances. The Hart Mine road was in good shape in 2007. However, before 2005, the Hart Mine road was severely washed out in places. If the price of gold drops, the road may return to that status. The roads have been significantly rerouted recently, so you are much better off knowing the GPS coordinates, and aiming for those points by whatever access is available.
Here are some GPS points for the roads (all decimal degrees relative to WGS84):
West Side Road Waypoints:
WR1: the turn off Nipton onto Ivanpah Rd: 35.45823, -115.38955
WR2: the RR tracks and ziz-zag at Ivanpah: 35.33797, -115.31334
WR3: the turn off Ivanpah Rd onto Hart Mine Rd: 35.29279, -115.23663
WR4: keep going straight: 35.29951, -115.16729
WR5: turn NW onto lesser dirt road: 35.30759, -115.15532
WR6: park: 35.34262, -115.18043 .
East side access
Principal access is via Walkingbox road. Names are a bit confusing on these roads; it isn't alway clear when Walkingbox road become Hart Mine Road, since the traditional roads have been rerouted.
From the town of Searchlight on Route 95, take the Nipton Road (route 164) WNW for 7.0 miles to Walkingbox Road. Turn L (SSW) on Walkingbox Road (waypoint ER1). (OR, travel 24.3 miles east from the end of the ramp at the i-15/Nipton-Searchlight exit, to Walkingbox road, and turn R.)
Once on Walkingbox Road, travel SSW then roughly S (with several jogs) 16.8 miles, then turn sharply R (WNW) onto the Hart Mine Road (waypoint ER2). Take this road ~WNW for ~2.6 miles, then turn right (NNE, waypoint ER3) and follow a rougher dirt road ~0.7 miles to an intersection. This intersection is waypoint WR5 in the previous description. The road turns leftish just before the intersection, so you effectively go straight through, heading NW now, and go ~3.0 miles to parking at the end of the road (WR6).
East Side Road Waypoints:
ER1: 35.50043, -115.03588 Turn S on Walkingbox Road
ER2: 35.28264, -115.12074 Sharp turn to NW on Hart Mine Road
ER3: 35.30008, -115.16001 Turn to NNE, heading for WR5
The Hike/ClimbFirst, here are two excerpts from the USGS 24k map:
The discussion below refers to waypoints on these maps; all directions are relative to geometric north. The left map indicates several summits, viz:
Peak 1 - the southernmost sharp fin; I have no knowledge of any climb of this creepy, class 5, crappy-rock fin; the 1978 DPS report suggests a possible route;
Peak 2 - the 2nd peak north. Branch Whitney describes a climb of this peak, from the saddle between it and the Dove benchmark (one 4th-class pitch on crappy rock);
Peak 2.5 - a small prominence N of Peak 2; principally, you want to avoid mistakenly going up the valley between peaks 2 and 2.5, when you really want to go between 2.5 and Dove;
Dove Benchmark - the most sought-after peak in this range, with a short (20’) pitch of low class 5 on crappy rock; and
North Castle Butte (NCB)- the northernmost and highest peak in the range, with a 15’ section of easy class 4 or class 3+. If you don’t find the crux, good luck.
The photo below, taken early in the hike while looking roughly NNE, shows how these summits may appear to you as you trek north:
The hike is described below as if you were making a loop trip to Dove, then to NCB, and then back to your car.
Start at WR6, the parking lot, and begin hiking north, following the remnants of an old jeep road. Gradually the road turns ~NNE, and heads to H1, on the left side of a low hill. The track then turns E then ~ENE to H2, where another faint road joins, and head N to a saddle at H3. From this pass, identify you desired destination; you could either pass low on the left and head directly to NCB, or hug the base of the mountains at right, and go to Dove; we’ll assume you are doing the latter.
From H3, diverge from the old road, head ~NE, over a low hill, and contour along the west side of the range. You are trying to identify the gully that passes north of peak 2.5, and south of Dove, as in this photo:
Note that the far side of the gully, below Dove has somewhat sparser vegetation. To give this view some context, examine this shot from waypoint H13, to the west:
(Note that you will not see such a view till you finish the loop; it is given here to put the trip in context.) You will gradually curve right up this gully, till you are heading due east at H4, the pass between peak 2.5 and Dove (see 24k map above on right). Now you will head ~NE to waypoint H5, then cut nearly 90 degrees left (NW) to the ridgeline; head directly north on the ridgeline, then cut to the east side of the peak right before waypoint H7. The route from H4 to H7 is occasionally 3rd class, on somewhat uncertain rock. Between H4 and H7, if you turn around and look back south, the view will be something like this:
As you head toward H7 and the north side of the peak, you will see a view like:
You are heading for the shadowy “book” on the right side of the peak, enclosing a short steep chute, and ~20’ of low class 5 climbing. The starting point of the book is near H7, but depend on the photo and your common sense more than the latitude and longitude of the waypoint, as it is hard to get an exact GPS reading close to this wall. As you near the bottom of the book, the view west should look like the image at left below:
The photo at right, above, shows one way to handle the short climb. You eventually want to climb out of the chute to the left; in 2007 there was a rap station on the left, but the anchor looked more suitable for a low-stress belay or hand line.
From here, you want to cut left, and the route is a matter of style. I jammed my fist in the large crack, but was unprepared for the abrasiveness of the rock. The left wall is highly textured with lots of knobs from rock fragments in the breccia; but one of the footholds popped out as I was testing it, so be careful.
Once past this 20’ section of cliff, there is an easy class 3 jaunt to the summit.
If you are going to NCB, it would be good to peer north from the summit, and identify the various canyons that descend on the NW side of Dove, and the ascent.
The descent off the peak is best accomplished with a handline or belay protecting the short class 5 section. In 2007, I used an existing sling, and doubled 50’ of 9/16” webbing through the rap ring on the sling. Here is a view down, with Day Hiker using the sling for a modest belay point:
When you are once more at the base of the book, collect your thoughts, and begin looking for a way to get down. (If you were going only for Dove, you can simply retrace your steps; even if you want to go to NCB, you can simply retrace your steps to the valley, and head north.) Just north of the book (10s of meters) are a few notches that seem to lead down the west side. One leads to a class 3 downclimb on very crumbly rock; before you commit, lower yourself a bit in the chute to make sure it will go. The route down should look roughly like the photo at left; the view back up, from near waypoint H8, looks like the photo at right, below:
If you choose to descend this route, have no more than 2 people descend at a time, and stick together, as the loose rock danger is severe. I started stemming down the slot, only to find the rock was crumbling under my feet, and I couldn’t move my feet without dropping sheets of rock on my compadre.
Exit the chute near waypoint H8 (which phonetically designates how you felt about the chute), and start heading NE to NNE toward NCB. You are aiming for waypoint H9, where there is a substantial cave on the west side of the cliffs; the cave is partly floored with dung, so this is not a big attraction. The route up NCB, as seen from Dove, is roughly as follows:
Once you get a ways past the cave, follow your nose (or the included GPS file); you will need to cross one cliff band, and the only possible way appears to be a 15’ section of easy class 4 (the old DPS reports called it class 3). Oddly enough, that is the crux, even though the cliffs ahead look nearly impossible. At the last tower, you will wind right, then left up chutes just east of the true top. The cairn on the summit of NCB – visible in the photo above – is only about 3’ high, so the last squarish tower is about 50-100’ high. Note the “?” is the photo above; I’m not exactly certain how the route we traveled actually matches the photo for this last stretch, because the terrain seems a lot more complicated when you are actually on the ground.
The view from the summit, back to Dove, is like this:
You can descend much the way you climbed; just make sure to find that one section of class 4. That downclimb is a little blind; I used my “desert pro” – an 8’ piece of webbing tied in a loop, which I was able to hook over a very shallow horn, to act as a slight protection while I searched for a foothold.
Once you are down past the cave, cut SW and descend to waypoint H11, then cut WNW to waypoint H12, turn the corner, and head SSW down to H13. Look ESE and enjoy the veiw of the range. Soon you will have to leave the wash, and head more directly south back to H3, and then follow the old roads back to your car.
Hike/Climb Waypoints (relative to WGS84):
H1: 35.35571 -115.17556 Round hill, turn east
H2: 35.35743, -115.17032 Head N to saddle
H3: 35.36052, -115.17074 Saddle; start contouring NNE and NE
H4: 35.36823, -115.16196 Pass between Dove and Peak 2.5; head NE
H5: 35.3686, -115.1614 Head NW to ridge
H6: 35.36926, -115.16165 Near S end summit block, contour around E side from here
H7: 35.36949, -115.16151 Near base of Class 5 (approximate point, reflections limit accuracy)
H8: 35.36989, -115.16176 West base creepy gully/canyon
H9: 35.37492, -115.15809 Cave on lower NCB
H10: 35.37546, -115.15711 Summit NCB
H11: 35.37199, -115.16253 On descent, turn WNW down wash
H12: 35.37297, -115.16495 On descent, head SW and SSW down wash
H13: 35.36911, -115.16856 Leave washes and start contouring back to H3.
The First Recorded Ascent
Perhaps the most succinct (if vague) route description for the Dove Benchmark, comes from the original survey in 1956. In the PID (Permanent Identifier) file for the survey, the surveyors report:
“TO REACH FROM IVANPAH, DRIVE 7.3 MI S. ON GOFFS RD. TO RD. E. AT
OLD TOWN OF BARNWELL (ABANDONED). TURN E. 4.3 MI. LEAVE MAIN RD.
FOLLOWING DIM RD. 0.9 MI WNW. TURN RIGHT 5.3 MI N. ON DIM RD. TO
END OF RD. IN SADDLE. PACK NE. TO SADDLE BETWEEN SECOND AND THIRD
NEEDLE. CLIMB N. TO BASE OF THIRD PEAK THEN AROUND TO NORTH SIDE.
CLIMB SHEER ROCK WALL ABOUT 20 FT. THEN SW. TO TOP AND STATION.
(ROPE IS NECESSARY TO RAISE EQUIPMENT UP SHEER FACE AND IT IS
DIFFICULT TO CLIMB.)” (PID file FS1382)
It is somewhat amazing that the surveyors actually made this climb, but this survey was completed before the USGS and NGS started their heavy dependence on helicopters. Some of the road names in the report have descended into obscurity.
Previous DPS reports and Rock Rating
The older DPS (Desert Peaks Section) reports, currently available on-line (at inconstant URLs), are a good source of information about Mojave peaks, and also provide a sense of the evolution of the difficulty ratings. The 13-Jan-78 article by Jon Petitjean rates the crux on Dove as loose class 4; other old DPS articles rate the crux on NCB as easy class 3. Later DPS trip reports call these class 5 and 4, respectively.
I may debate the older ratings systems, but I won’t debate Petitjean’s overall assessment; he called Dove an “impressive crud heap”.
While the Castle Peaks are composed mainly of young Miocene volanic rocks (andesites to basalts), the rocks immediately W and N are very old Proterozoic gneisses.
This article describes the general geology of the area, and has a rough map that includes the Castle Peaks area. If that link diappears, look for "GEOLOGIC MAP OF THE HART PEAK QUADRANGLE, CALIFORNIA AND NEVADA" by Jane E. Nielson and Ryan D. Turner. The detailed geologic map, which goes with the above report, is here. Unfortunately, the western boundary of the detailed map cuts off just east of the Castle Peaks.
The article below should also be relevant:
Nielson, J.E., Turner, R.D., and Glazner, A.F., 1993, Tertiary stratigraphy and structure of the Castle Mountains and Castle Peaks, California and Nevada, in Sherrod, D.R., and Nielson, J.E., Tertiary Stratigraphy of Highly Extended Terranes, California, Arizona, and Nevada: U. S. Geologica Survey Bulletin 2053, p. 45-49.
Red TapeCastle Peaks lie within a wilderness area. Please respect and protect it.
Castle Peaks also lie within Mojave National Preserve, an entity under the management of the National Park Service.
No permits or fees apply.
When to ClimbAny time but summer. Heavy rains can badly wash out the approach roads. Re-consider making the long drive out there if the area has had recent heavy rains.
Camping / Alternate RoutesThere are no developed campgrounds in the area; however, there’s a fine little primitive camping spot at the trailhead, about 100 yards outside of the wilderness area. If you are approaching on the east side, primitive camping is available on the BLM lands outside the preserve boundaries.
Also, there’s no water, so bring plenty of your own.
A DPS report from 1978 describes camping by Indian Spring (dry), which is on the east side of North Castle Butte. (See 100k map. Indian Spring is E of the N-most red trackpoint, in the NE part of the map.) I'm not sure if the wilderness status for this area has changed since 1978, or if the road is even still passable. When I last looked for the side road, it was obscured by the berm created by recent blading of Walkingbox Road.
Weather and ConditionsCall Mojave National Preserve (Barstow office) for an update:
Currently, the NWS link for this area is here.
EquipmentIn addition to the usual desert hike equipment (plenty of water, etc.), consider taking webbing for at least one sling, and ~50' of 9/16" tubular webbing or ~9 mm rope for a handline.
I wore approach shoes, and cp0915 just wore tennis shoes.
One person asked me to recommend chocks and cams. I wouldn't know cams if they jumped up and bit me in the nose; I just used my fist in the one crack on Dove.