Signal Peak, Castle Dome Peak
By: Ernie Spiehler
A bustling crowd of 43 DPSers gathered in the cool windy Sat AM air at the mouth of the usually-lonely Palm Canyon at the western edge of the Kofa Range in SW Arizona. This fascinating area of pinnacles and vertical walled cliffs in a floral setting of saguaro, ocotillo, palo verde, iron wood and of course that notorious cholla has always lured many desert travelers. This day, two bands of lug-soled mountaineers would infiltrate the quiet wilds to the crest of an impressive rhyolitic plug.
Due to an accident in the family, co-leader Arky Erb was unable to join us. This posed a serious problem, but fortunately Graham Stephenson & three-time veteran of Kofa, volunteered to lead a group of twenty climbers up the north, second class route. The remaining bunch began at 8:30 AM via the direct Palm Canyon route which is about two miles shorter than the five mile north approach. We proceeded due east up the main, canyon for about a mile 'til the canyon forks. The right fork is not obvious at this point since it enters the main canyon as a series of vertical falls. About a hundred yards past the falls we ascended the right side of the left canyon and dropped over the ridge into the right canyon and continued up for about 3/4 mile until we approached a sheer 100 foot dry waterfall which blocked further passage. From a point 100 yards below this fall we went up the left wall via a steep gully to the right of a 40 foot fall. Above this we went diagonally up to the right about 150 feet in a brushy gully 'til we met a steep third class wall, which we climbed upwards to the right past an old ring piton used for rappelling. From here we went directly up an open chute to our left when we reached a broad sloping ledge. Traversing to the right we crossed the canyon about 200 feet below the saddle. We then followed a crumbly ravine upwards to our left for a mile where the summit marker came into view.
Much to our dismay, Graham's group was waiting there to greet us on the summit. The Palm Canyon route is usually faster with small groups. It took us 3-1/2 hours.
The summit views are very spectacular, resembling moonscape scenery. The chilly gusty winds were not conducive to long top-of-peak conversation and all were on their way down shortly after noon. Incidentally, and not, too nice to mention, all 43 signers-in were males, unusual indeed, even by DPS standards. Both groups were back at the cars by 4:15 in plenty of time for pictures of the brilliant Arizona sunset. In a short while, the group snaked in caravan style, thru a maze of dirt mining roads, and had at least one "sight-seeing tour"-courtesy of the leader. We reached our campsite at a bend in the road near a mining shack three miles west of Castle Dome Pk. After supper, we enjoyed a roaring wood campfire, provided for by Ralph Merten.
Overcast skies were on tap for Sun AM and all were routed from their bags before 6AM by a persistent leader. A main group of 23 persons started out at 7:15 AM on the 6 mile, indirect southern route. Nine others, under the tutelage of Vern Stiles departed on an exploratory northwest approach.
After traversing SE over 2-1/2 miles of fairly flat desert, our group went up a ravine to a low saddle on the main no-so. ridge extending from Castle Dome. This saddle sacrifices 300' of elevation. Better to go 1/2 mile south and cross a deep wash.
After entering this prominent wash that runs NE, we met a saddle at the north end of this wash and crossed over into a broad valley from which the peak could be seen to the north. This valley abounds in rich desert flora and the picturesque yet painful cholla claimed several luckless victims of our party. Proceeding north we worked our way up a steep crumbly gully to a point just east of a very prominent pinnacle on the east shoulder of Castle. We then skirted closely around the right side of this pinnacle to the broken-up east face. At this time we heard calls from the summit by the exploratory group which had ascended a fourth class chute on the west face. On moderate third class we arrived at the summit at 11:15 AM. Visibility was very good and we could clearly make out Little Picacho the west and Kofa to the north. A short ceremony in which Bill Heusel was awarded his Emblem pin was conducted on a peak very suitable for the occasion. After watching the exploratory group disappear over the shoulder of the west face, we started our descent at noon and were back at the cars an hour later.
With 75 man-peaks to our credit, and above all, the special experience imparted by these fascinating wild Arizona desert ranges, we could now return to the sprawling megalopolis relaxed and contented.
The writer wishes to express his appreciation to Vern Stiles, Glen Lougee, and Ed Hill, whose assistance insured a well-organized and successful weekend.
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