Ascent of Castle Mountain on 2016-08-12

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Jim Earl
Date:Friday, August 12, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Castle Mountain
    Elevation:12612 ft / 3844 m

Ascent Trip Report

Useful Information:

The West Fork Rock Creek route to Castle Mountain via Omega Pass is certainly faster and more efficient than the long south route from the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming, which is often a 3-day affair. We day-hiked this peak, but it was a very long day (a mile or two short of a literal marathon). I recommend hiking the easy, well-maintained, and scenic trail 7.7 miles to the bridge over the creek, and then camp in the plentiful and remote meadowlands in the upper reaches of the valley. You will have a more relaxed summit climb, without threat of thunderstorms, and likely enjoy your time more.

The scrambling on this route in August is over lots and lots of talus, much of it loose and annoying. Early season climbers with ice axe and crampons will have more opportunity to use snowfields to avoid some of the tedious rock-hopping.

Our Story:

We started hiking at 6:30 AM and made pretty good time up the trail, which starts out in a ghostly burn zone from a 2008 fire. We made a couple stops to eat and take care of other business, and passed a couple of parties while enjoying the views of the cliffs of Sliver Run Peak and other spectacular scenery--meadows, forests, waterfalls, and lakes. Any hiker would enjoy a leisurely day hike up this valley.

We reached the bridge in the upper valley at 9:40 AM, where the trail starts climbing south to Sundance Pass. We crossed the bridge but immediately left the trail and made our way on informal paths upstream, on the SE bank of the creek, past Shadow Lake. The going was easy, and we crossed the creek after a bit and stayed on the north bank, past some morainal talus piles and scattered trees. Above the Silt Lakes we took a nice break, where Jim cached his boots, since he decided his sore feet were doing better in his running shoes.

Above the Silt Lakes we started tackling the talus, crossing the main creek several times. Our route to Omega Pass was a series of talus slopes and benches, passing pretty dark blue Omega Lake. Prior to the lake I was able to use a snowfield to save some rock-hopping, but overall there was not much snow. The talus slope above the lake was somewhat treacherous--at one point a whole bunch of large boulders shifted at once, momentarily alarming me before I got out of the way.

At Omega Pass we entered the large south basin of Castle Mountain and mostly sidehilled on talus, generally uphill, towards the summit. It might have been better to stay on the ridge, but my route beta said the easiest way was in the basin, which is also the final part of the supposedly easy south route. So we just rock-hopped our way up, detouring a little bit to hit some smooth slabs near the floor of the basin, but eventually it was just never-ending talus. A steeper section soon leveled off and gentler slopes led to the summit cairn. We arrived at 1:45 PM, for an ascent time of 7:15.

The weather had been threatening since mid-morning, but it was just windy and cold when we summited. We rested, took photos, tried to name the nearby peaks (Granite was the obvious one to the west), and ate. It started raining and at 2 PM we realized we had better leave--we had not heard thunder but tarrying was not prudent.

The rain ended, though, and I decided to take a quick jaunt over to the other 12,600 foot contour to the west, in case it was higher. Jim headed down and I quickly wandered over there, tagged the high prow-like crags overlooking the sheer north face, but did not see anything higher than these points. I believe the 12,612 peak is the high point. It is remarkably flat up there for a major Beartooth summit.

I soon caught up to Jim and we made much better time with gravity assist in the south talus basin. We debated about going down to the basin floor or sidehilling and crossing minor cliff ridges, but in the end we just muddled through on approximately our upward route to Omega Pass. Here we made a short traverse and then plunged down the treacherous rocks to the lake, and then it started raining again, mixed with graupel/snow. We didn't stop to put on raingear, since we felt it would be best to hurry off these rocks before they became too wet.

The rain soon stopped, and we made our way down to the Silt Lakes on our upward route. I enjoyed plunge-stepping down my ascent snowfield, while Jim stuck to the rocks. There was more light intermittent rain, but no thunder, so we were not concerned about lightning at this point. We stayed on the NW side of the creek as we neared the bridge, but talus made us cross the creek immediately before re-crossing on the trail bridge. It was now 5:30 PM, and it started raining again, so at our rest stop we finally donned our rain gear.

For the next 2.5 hours we just hiked down the trail at a consistent 3 MPH, but it rained for most of this hike out, making us wet, miserable, tired, thirsty, and hungry. I ran out of water, and wished I had tanked up back up in the pristine headwaters of Silt Lakes. And we didn't feel like stopping to eat in the rain. The last couple miles of trail went on forever, and I was hallucinating that large roadside rocks ahead along the trail were trailhead cars.

We were back at the cars at 8 PM, a 13.5 hour day of 24 miles and almost 4800 vertical feet.

Jim and his late brother Edward has climbed Granite Peak (#1 in Montana) together in 2002. Then Edward and I had climbed Mount Wood (second highest) in 2012 on a memorable trip. Now Jim and I had the privilege of honoring Edward's memory by climbing Castle Mountain (#3) together. We hope he was pleased with our effort, looking down on us.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Castle Mountain looks like its namesake as it rises above a flowery meadow in the upper basin of the West Fork of Rock Creek (2016-08-12).
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4822 ft / 1469 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4822 ft / 1469 m
    Round-Trip Distance:24.4 mi / 39.2 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2/3
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Snow on Ground, Scramble
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe
    Weather:Raining, Cool, Windy, Overcast
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4772 ft / 1454 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4722 ft / 1440 m; Extra: 50 ft / 15m
    Loss on way in:50 ft / 15 m
    Distance:12 mi / 19.2 km
    Route:Omega Pass
    Start Trailhead:W Fk Rock Cr TH  7890 ft / 2404 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:4772 ft / 1454 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 4722 ft / 1440 m; Extra: 50 ft / 15m
    Gain on way out:50 ft / 15 m
    Distance:12.4 mi / 20 km
    Route:Omega Pass
    End Trailhead:W Fk Rock Cr TH  7890 ft / 2404 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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