Castle Rock SP

Morgan Brown

Canadian Rockies
Sequoia/Kings Canyon

Books that Morgan

Rock Climber's Guide to Skyline Boulevard - by Bruce Morris. Route descriptions are a bit brief, and approach descriptions sometimes confusing, but this book is the exhaustive CRSP guide. Not available at Amazon; check REI or other local retail shops. $20.

Weather at 637', 5 mi SSW
of CRSP, in Boulder Creek

Expect cooler, dryer air at CRSP.

Selected Photos...

Goat Rock
annotated photo

Morgan leading
Swiss Cheese

Wide Crack topo

Summary Image Gallery Trip Map

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Other Trip Reports...
Kim and I recently (May, 2002) started doing our own climbing, meaning that we bought a rope and have been using it without the direct help of others. After a great trip to Pinnacles National Monument, we decided to try out Castle Rock State Park, although our expectations were decidedly low. We were pleasantly surprised, both with the short distance (30 minutes) from our house, and with the variety of short sport and trad routes, all on decent sandstone. With any luck, by the end of the summer we'll have descriptions of and experiences from some of Castle Rock's easier routes.

Goat Rock (Image gallery)

To get to Goat Rock, refer to the excellent area map (top of page) provided by Clint Cummins. Start Early! Goat Rock has toprope-able routes in the 5.4-5.7 range. Therefore, Goat Rock will be very crowded if you get there late! Kim and I hit the parking lot at 06:45, the first ones to park on Skyline Boulevard, since the gate is locked until 07:00. When we returned at noon, there was nary a spot on Skyline or in the official CRSP lot.

After a pleasant ramble along the Saratoga Gap and Ridge trails, you come to Goat Rock. Its location may not be obvious from the trail. The backside access to the rock is directly across the signed trail to the "Interpretive Shelter". Here's a view of the backside of Goat Rock. A fabulous, gigantic chickenhead provides a bombproof anchor point for a multitude of climbs on the southeast side of Goat Rock. To sling it, you'll need at least 25 feet of webbing. A 50-footer, girth-hitched, should allow the rope to run below the cliff edge. On the right side of the back of the rock, you'll find an assortment of good bolts to toprope the more difficult routes on Goat Rock's northwest side.

Goat Rock: Swiss Cheese (5.4-5.6)

Descend and follow a good (but eroded) climber's trail to the base of Goat Rock. From there, take in your first views of this fantastic sandstone sculpture. The blanket term for the route on climber's right is Swiss Cheese, and it is not hard to see why. All variations begin by climbing through huge pockets on a slightly overhanging face, for about 30 feet. At that point, you reach a ledge ("third class access ledge" in the guidebook) where you can take stock of the rest of the route. The easiest route goes left, up a "fourth class gully". A more challenging, but very enjoyable, variation ascends the obvious arete on climber's right, and merits a 5.5-5.7 rating.

These routes are normally toproped, but the easiest route in particular can be led. Doubly enjoyable because you can use exclusively natural pro, tying off to amazing buckethandle holds all the way up. The right-hand arete was not obviously protectable, and could use a bolt.

Verdict: All-in-all, Swiss Cheese is a highly recommendable beginner's climbing destination.

Summit Rock (Image gallery)

Great slideshow from

On our first trip to the Castle Rock area, Kim and I explored Summit Rock, an interesting, if graffiti-covered, perch with a fantastic 180° view of the Bay. Technically, Summit Rock is a part of Skyline-Sanborn County Park, not Castle Rock State Park. Summit Rock has perhaps the highest concentration of climbs of any of the rocks on Skyline Blvd., although it is generally less crowded than the main Castle Rock.

Summit Rock: Wide Crack (5.7)

My first Summit Rock objective was Wide Crack, a 5.7 route, which is poorly described in the guidebook or online, but which seemed to offer the potential for some cool mixed trad/sport climbing.

On June 2, 2002, I felt some reticence at the prospect of leading 5.7, since the hardest climbs I had done, even in my "prime", were toproped 5.9's. Moreover, this was not totally a sport climb, so I'd have another reason to worry. We reached the crag by 7:30 or so, but our illusions of solitude were quashed by the arrival, in quick succession, of three other parties. So much for sampling the whole rock, but at least we had first dibs on Wide Crack. A quick survey of the route showed an incredible variation in rock type, and thus the climbing styles we expected. The bottom 25 feet consisted of a narrowing chimney of the usual scrubby marine sandstone, capped by a large chockstone. At the 10-foot level on the left, I noticed a tiny crack. Bomber it was not, but it seemed as if it would accept a micro-nut, and at the very least, slow me a bit before I took a grounder from the top of the chimney! Above the chockstone, a deep crack, seated in a nice dihedral, and on beautiful clean and dry rock, led the way to the sky. I had no idea how I'd get up that crack, but at least there were two bolts to protect it. For that matter, I also had no idea how I'd get up the chimney, but the fact that I could tie off the chockstone gave me confidence.

I started the lead. Though I had to reach, I was indeed able to slot a small nut in the crack about 10' up, but my calves got pretty pumped out as I stood there on two toes, fiddling. After some fumbling in the half chimney, I could tie off the chockstone with a runner. A couple delicate face moves on the slick sandstone are required to exit the chimney and reach the main crack. Now the "wide crack" can make face moves or even stem the lower half of it, but a (fun) lieback is pretty much mandatory for the second half. As liebacks go, this one's pretty easy. Although the rock isn't grippy, the non-vertical rock forces one to place a hip against the rock and adds friction.

Verdict: Wide Crack is a great climb, about as good as it gets on the moderates at Castle Rock. The namesake crack kicks ass (for Castle Rock)! The "chimney" ain't great, but it's good practice. And it provides a little mixed sport/trad action for the leader. Watch out for stuck ropes around the chockstone!

Soap-box: Each time we've done Wide Crack, we've had parties rush in after us. Funny how the guidebooks concentrate on all the 5.10+ climbs, while the majority of climbers out there are only comfortable on sub-5.10 rock. Guidebook authors: wanna make money? Swallow yer pride and don't forget about the easy stuff for hackers like me. You'll sell more books!

Update (9 Nov 2008): Yuval Kolman notes, "you can scramble down to the left and it's pretty much 3rd-4th class from there on, so no need to rappel off the trees or the chainless bolts leaving gear behind. It wasn't very obvious till we started poking around." Thanks, Yuval!

Summit Rock: U. of Santa Clara Practice Climb #1 (5.7)

From Morris's guidebook, I couldn't exactly make out which climb it was. All I could see were three bolts and two-bolt anchor. In reality, this route's bolts (two, not three) are placed on the front of a prominent 40-foot-high arete. There's a third bolt, clippable from the ground, on the right side of the arete, but I found it useless and ignored it.

Climb to the left side of the arete, up into a deep cave. You should climb the left face of the arete, which has the usual huge scooped holds. Reach around to the front of the arete and clip the bolts. Although it looks easy from below, the route is slightly overhanging and a bit tricky; well-rated at 5.7. Top out onto a small ledge and use the two-bolt anchor (with chains).

Verdict: Not a great route. I felt cramped the whole time. The face might look like a ladder, but you've got to constantly watch yourself to keep from barn-dooring.

Summit Rock: U. of Santa Clara Practice Climb #2 (5.8[+?])

After some success the previous week (22 June 2002) at Courtright Reservoir, I thought that I'd try my hand at leading another 5.8. The name of this route certainly isn't very intimidating, though the climbing was more than I bargained for! This 50-foot route has four bolts on a steep face, with a two-bolt anchor just under a prominent roof.

The lowest bolt protects some solid 5.8 moves to attain a ledge, whereupon climbing begins on the main face. A right-facing corner with trademark scooped-out holds will attract your attention, and this is probably the intended route, since the face itself is pretty bare. After clipping the second bolt, ascend the right-facing corner. Clipping the third bolt proved quite an adventure. I got turned around and had to reach behind me, awkwardly, all the time hanging on for dear life. I got so pumped out that I had to lower from the third bolt.

After the third bolt is the crux. Climb over a bulge for a couple delicate face moves. The omnipresent right-facing corner, with its attendant holds, may or may not be useful. From there, the face gets a bit more texture, so I believe the climbing is solid 5.6/7, though I didn't make it so I don't know for sure.

Verdict: Another so-so route. Very tricky climbing. The crux seemed to me a very stiff 5.8, though the nice fellow who cleaned my QD said that there are some "thank god" pockets above the third bolt. I plan to conquer this bastard before long!

Summit Rock: Bolt Filcher (5.10d)

Antoine, Jesse, and I tried this route on toprope. It ascends the prominent arete right of Wide Crack and follows a 4-bolt ladder to a 2-bolt anchor. The start is a bit tricky and committing. You use a pocket inside the cave (Wide Crack lower section) for about three moves. Cool to use one pocket for upward progress, and then for an undercling! Start is solid 5.8. Crux comes around third bolt. Friction and challenging mantels to the fourth bolt. 5.6/7 to the anchor.

Verdict: Great route! Start is committing, but the rest of the route is well-protected. Wear a helmet on toprope -- watch pendulums into an ill-placed tree and other rocks. Satisfying, challenging route.

Mount Doom (Image gallery)

The first time we tried to get to Mount Doom, we ended up on a fruitless bushwhacking nightmare. Later, I did a trail run and found this spectacular rock. Here is how to get there: take the spur trail toward the signed scenic overlook west of Goat Rock. Forty paces (thirty for a tall guy like me) before you reach the overlook proper, look for a faint trail to the right and descend as noted in Morris's guidebook. The track improves as you descend steeply into the Manzanita forest, and you reach Mount Doom's shaded, overhung east face, which contains a bolted 5.10a, Summit Route. Continuing clockwise around the rock on the "big ledge" marked in the guidebook, you come to the west face, which boasts Slab Route, a long run-out 5.7 climb. The northwest face contains a couple 5.10+ toprope routes.

Etymology: Mount Doom was named by Chris Hawn. Chris told me in an e-mail that, "I was big on the Lord of the Rings trilogy 20 years ago, and when I/we came across the obelisk from the regular trail, it just seemed plain it was Mount Doom. Plus, as we bushwhacked up to it, we thought we were "doomed" many times! The name seemed appropriate."

Mount Doom: Slab Route (5.7)

Depending on where you start from, this route can be almost 80 feet long. Descend a gnarly climbers' trail along Mount Doom's sunny west face. The ideal belay spot is an obvious series of boulders. From there, the climb is about 70 feet high. The first 20 feet are easy, but unprotected scalloped sandstone slabs, 5.4 or so. Gain a series of classic CRSP pockets and tie off a runner in a cave if you wish. After another 20 feet or so, you reach the "big ledge" of Morris's guidebook. Aim for a small bush on the ledge. A vertical crack left of the bush will accept a medium nut. A couple moves of 5.6 get you to a large step. The underside of this step will take medium gear; I placed a medium hex and a medium nut. The crux of the climb is the next couple moves. Take the path of least resistance to overcome the ledge. The anchor is 10 feet of class 4 climbing away. There are six bolts in plain sight: two rusty 1/4" spinners, two decent 3/8" bolts, and two brand new 3/8" bolts, each with a rap ring.

Main Castle Rock:

These days, the main Castle Rock attracts more bouldering attention than from roped climbers. There are a few difficult and high-quality routes here, but due to the usual crowds (and our status as climbing neophytes), we normally opt for greener pastures, like
Shady Rock.

Main Castle Rock: Summit Route (5.4)

Summit Route is on the south side of main Castle Rock, on climber's left. The route ascends a 20-foot offwidth crack to a ledge. From the ledge, the summit of the main rock, and the "belay pole" is off to the right, over low-angle terrain. Initially after the ledge, I tried to ascend a small ledge on the front of the rock, but it felt unprotected and quite exposed, so I went around the back, dragging the rope with me. I traversed unprotected on low angle stuff, until I came to a nice buckethandle hold, which was directly above the south side's famous "caves". At that point, I was at a loss. Should I keep climbing to the belay pole, 9 over some fairly steep, probably dirty, totally unprotectable terrain? It was getting late, and I didn't think we'd have time for Kim to follow. So I just rappelled from the buckethandle, and traversed over to retrieve my gear.

This was kind of a weird, freaky lead, and not because the climbing was hard. This route has been called an ideal beginner's toprope, but I don't see exactly where one would set the anchor. Perhaps with some long pieces of webbing at the top of the second ledge. Normally, the most convenient approach would be to have the leader climb all the way to the top, then let the follower retrieve the gear, and finally rappel from the belay pole to some other part of the rock.

Protection is surprisingly good for Castle Rock. Small nuts fit nicely into the bottom crack. A larger piece protects the area above the first ledge. I found the small second ledge to be poorly protected, so you can go around the back. If you traverse to the summit, tie off the obvious buckethandle and run it out for the last section.

Shady Rock (Image gallery)

Getting There

This is a cool, semi-hidden place. To get there from the main CRSP parking lot, go down the Saratoga Gap Trail for around 1/4 mile. On the left, you'll see a trail marker pointing you toward Castle Rock, with an erroneous distance of 0.3 miles. Take this trail. Continue for another 1/4 mile or so. On the right, you'll see a climbers' trail with a "<- trail ->" sign discouraging you from usage. Ignore the sign and take the climbers' trail. After 0.1 miles, you'll come to a small, open meadow. On the map in Morris's book, this is the turn-around on the "old dirt road". There are lots of use trails emanating from the meadow. Continue in the same direction, and take the trail that climbs. Soon, on the left, you'll see a big boulder, "Chew Tooth". After more climbing, you'll see "Platypus" on the right. Now you'll be on a flat ridge, with views to the south and east opening up. Shady Rock is immediately on your right, a knifelike 40-foot boulder.

Climbing Recaps

We visited Shady Rock for the first time on Sunday, July 7, 2002 for a try at Slot Nose. After a few tries, I was able to get my hands on the pocket and right-facing corner. Rather than pull myself up to the ledge, however, I insistently tried to place pro in the finger pocket. It was pretty dicey, with my body fully extended, switching hands to retrieve pro. My small hexes wouldn't go in there, and the first cam I tried also was too big. I pumped out and gave up before trying another cam. Kim didn't want to try the lead, so we just bouldered. There's a great traverse along the west side. You can apparently go around the whole rock, but the east side is really sandy, crumbly, and overhung.

We returned on Sunday, July 28, 2002, determined to get up Slot Nose! Amazingly, we were able to stick-clip the first bolt with a perfect branch that Kim found. Incredible how much easier being on "top rope" makes a tricky move. It took me a while to figure out the arm bar near the top, but once I did, we climbed the route a few more times, then had a nice bouldering session before heading back home.

John Wang and I returned on August 10, 2002 for an afternoon of fun climbing. I led Slot Nose without incident and John followed. We toproped Special Effects which felt more like 5.9 than 5.10a. Still, it was a great route. To end the day, I toproped the left variation of Slot Nose before cleaning the anchor. One bolt has a single link of chain and a rap ring. I added a BD Oval to the other bolt to better equalize the anchor. Please don't take my biner if you go to Shady Rock! I'll visit the hardware store and add some links of chain.

After a three-week hiatus, Kim and I finally returned to CRSP for more climbing on August 31, 2002, with Jesse Lomask from SEP. Jesse had climbed once in a gym, so I worried that he might have trouble with the easiest route, 5.8 Slot Nose. I sure did! Jesse borrowed a pair of shoes and a 50-meter rope, but lacked a harness. He climbed all afternoon in a swami belt, which impressed me greatly! I led Slot Nose but ran into some trouble up high when I tried to do the left variation. I forgot about the "thank god" handhold near the anchor and ended up doing a "French free" traverse over to the standard eponymous "slot". Bad omen, but we hadn't climbed for three weeks prior. We toproped both Slot Nose and the "5.10a" next door, Special Effects. I practiced ascending the rope with etriers and a prusik knot. It was surprisingly awkward, though I'm not sure I was doing it correctly. Three weeks earlier, I had left a carabiner at the two-bolt anchor, since the rap ring was attached to only one bolt. Some assneck stole it in the intervening time. Why the hell else would I leave it there? Anyway, I'll hit the hardware store and make a more permanent improvement to that anchor.

Our entourage grows by the week! Jesse's younger sister (Jody) and her boyfriend (Zach) came along to Shady Rock. Although they hadn't climbed much, they showed up with something like five harnesses and a static rope, but no shoes or other gear. Odd, until I found out that they are aerial acrobats. With their balance, I figured that the newcomers would have little trouble climbing the easier routes that Shady Rock has to offer. I set up topropes on the two rightmost anchors on Shady Rock's west side, and we proceeded to climb and climb and climb some more. Kim and I climbed Special Effects cleaner than before. We also made our first ascent of Dog Breath. Like Special Effects, another very enjoyable route, though with a very different lower half. Like all the routes on this side, the bulge just below the anchors is the crux, and requires some subtle, yet powerful, moves.

Shady Rock: Slot Nose (5.8)

In the diagram in Morris's book, this is the rightmost route on the "west side" of Shady Rock. Getting off the ground is a tricky bouldering problem. Basically, you should mantle onto a sloping ledge, which is just above a bulge about 6 feet off the deck. Otherwise, you can, standing on a low ledge, dyno for a finger pocket and/or a right-facing corner about 10 feet up. Or, if you're really tall like me, you can reach for it fairly naturally.

Two bolts protect the upper 25 feet of this route. There's a 2-bolt anchor on top. After the initial tricky mantle, you can clip the first bolt easily. 5.4 climbing to the right brings you to the second tricky move, which is just above the second bolt. You have to transition from the right side of the route into a narrow "chimney". There are no handholds; a single off-width move (arm bar in the chimney) allows a secure move.

For a more fun (IMO), more sustained variation (5.8+), head up and left after the first bolt on the main face. Stand on delicate feet, aided by finger pockets high and to the left. Hug the obvious "arete" to the anchor.

Shady Rock: Special Effects (5.10a)

This fun route is just to the left of Slot Nose. Start by ascending a right-facing hand crack. Think body position as you transition from a hanging to standing position. The first clip is a bit weird; you're tempted to go left, but you have to stay right. Some reachy moves take you up, to the base of an obvious arete just below the anchor. You can hand jam and or arm bar the little chimney on the left, while using a good right-facing corner on the other side of the arete. Wiggle your way as gracefully as possible up the remaining 5 feet to the anchor. This route is better-rated 5.9, though a short person might find it difficult.

Shady Rock: Dog Breath (5.10a)

Another shorty-but-goodie on Shady Rock's west side, this is the route left of Special Effects. Enjoy 20 feet of 5.6 hand work in trademark Castle Rock caves and flakes. The first bolt is quite high. The second is just below a cave which is under the prominent bulge which crosses the entire rock. There are numerous opportunities to place medium cams or slot medium-to-large nuts on the way up. The crux is just below the anchor. Try to lieback a right-facing corner, and have faith as you reach up for high hands. They're not quite "thank god" pockets, but they're a helluva lot better than nothing. This route would definitely be rated 5.9 at many other areas.

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Department of Geophysics
Stanford University

Modified: 11/09/08, 20:12:52 PST , by morgan
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