Castle Dome Peak, Signal Peak


By: Dennis Richards


San Diego Chapter Restricted Trip

As I was making final preparations for this trip, the U.S. military was making final preparations for the invasion of Iraq. The week before departure, I had considered “problems” that I might encounter around the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground, north of Yuma. I quickly dismissed my concerns because my memory of the area was that this it was isolated and little used. The events of September 11 seem to have changed all of that, and it didn’t help that my trip coincided with the invasion of Iraq.

I had instructed everyone to camp near the information kiosk at the boundary of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge on the drive into Castle Dome Peak. My assistant for this trip, Byron Cook, Catherine Kauffman and I drove over from San Diego on Friday night after work. After a gas stop in Yuma ( $1.89 per gallon vice $2.00 plus in CA. ) we drove up and took the signed “Castle Dome-Yuma Proving Ground” road, as described in the DPS Road and Peaks Guide. About a mile down the road we encountered a security vehicle parked across the road. It was manned by an unarmed private security guard who announced that “the area is closed for operations.” When we asked for how long, he replied “until after midnight.”

We drove back to Hi-Way 95 where we encountered Ken Barr and Shelley Rogers parked by the road, but still on the Proving Ground. We stopped and was trying to decide where to camp when the security guard drove up and asked us to “move on.” Several semi-trucks were lumbering up and down the Proving Ground Road and we suspected that they (Yuma Proving Ground ) were transferring ammunition. We drove north up the 95 until we saw a use road leading east. We drove in and camped very close to the road. Trucks could be heard along 95 until the wee hours of the morning. We awoke early Saturday morning to discover that we were parked next to signs that warned “Danger Unexploded Ordinance.” We drove out and back down to the Castle Dome Road where we picked up Richard Whitcomb. He had also encountered the security guard and had camped west of the 95.

All participants accounted for, we drove to the trailhead and started hiking for the peak in sunny, warm and crystal-clear weather. I soon realized that we had parked about a mile short of the wash that goes up to the Peak. We decided to traverse over into the correct drainage which took about one half hour. We saw several varieties of wildflowers on this traverse and throughout the weekend. At this point, Richard was starting to feel ill and signed off.

The remaining five of us continued on to the base of the Southwest Face, the start of our climb. This route features one of the classic Class 3 ascents on our wonderful list of DPS Peaks. The route zigzags across the face, has moderate exposure, some route finding and excellent views in an Arizona desert setting. Is there anything better?

We soon topped out and met two “Zonians” on the summit. They seemed very impressed that we had accomplished the West Face Route. We signed into the register ( lots of military and AZ residents lately, not many DPSers ) and enjoyed lunch, conversation, shared memories and such. All too soon, it was time to leave. We opted to go down the north side route mentioned in the Guide. This route has become the “trade route” and is the primary way up Castle Dome Peak. It may have some Class 3 but you would have to look for it. It’s steep and somewhat loose, but no more so than any other DPS Peak. It’s mostly Class 2. We encountered a family with children on the way up to the summit as we were descending.

We had an enjoyable hike back to the cars and I noticed a sign on the Castle Dome Road as we entered the Yuma Proving Ground driving out that announced, “Notice. Road Subject to Closure for 60 Minutes Without Notice” or words to that effect. Don’t plan on meeting on a Friday night anywhere near this area for some time! The “Danger Unexploded Ordinance” signs appeared to be new also. Clearly, the Army does not want people encroaching onto their territory.

We drove north on Hi-Way 95 and turned into the signed “Kofa National Wildlife Refuge-Palm Canyon” road. We took the Route C drive-in until we found a wide spot three vehicles. We set up camp, had the usual DPS “pre-dinner” festivities with shared food, beverage-of-choice, stories, memories, etc. We had a memorable campfire, good food, star gazing, chatting, sound sleep and a “good ol’ time” as they say.

Sunday morning we were up early for “serious business,” a planned roped climb of Signal Peak, via Palm Canyon. We packed up, Shelley signed out ( she had an old knee injury that kicked in again ) and the remaining participants drove up to the Palm Canyon entrance, via the Route A drive-in instructions. The remaining four proceeded up canyon with two ropes, rock shoes ( except for Catherine who can climb 5.9 in her boots! ), harness, quick draws, slings, etc. We reached the base of the “Rusty Bailey Route” in about 2 ½ hours, following a non-maintained trail of sorts. We donned harness, shoes, pro, and got ready to start climbing the slick waterfall at the very top of the Canyon. Note: this is not the waterfall described in the Road and Peaks Guide for Route A.

The Rusty Bailey Route has a cemented piton at the very right end of the waterfall (on the left side at the very end of the canyon ) behind a scrub oak that provides the leader protection to get up to the “Bowl,” after perhaps 12 feet of Class 5.4 climbing. It’s easy! And, I think, less dangerous that the Class 4 Route as described in the Guide. I led this and belayed the others up to this spot quickly. The next pitch is more demanding. I led out left from the two bolt anchor belay in the Bowl. The first cemented piton is about 20’ up and the second is 15’ or so above that. The new two bolt anchor at the top of the pitch is about 15 feet above the last bolt? Funny how little all of this matters when on lead! You never think about distance, only getting there and making that clip! I thought it about 5.6 / 5.7, the crux being at and above the second cemented piton. This large waterfall gets a lot of water in wet years and the route is subject to change.

The others were belayed up to the top, we left the climbing gear and “hiked to the top,” signed in, Yada, Yada, Yada. It seemed to be one of the really great days of my life. After lounging on the summit, we returned to the ropes and made a long double rope rappel into the canyon, got our gear and hiked out and drove home. Thanks to all for a safe and memorable trip.

Last comment: a climbing party of two could do this route with a single 50 meter rope, but might require two rappels. I think a 60 meter rope could do the whole route with one rappel. You need to lead with two pitches regardless, because of rope drag.

Cheers, Dennis Richards

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