Trip Report
Castle Dome - FA of the Southeast Aręte (IV, 5.10) WARNING: Many photos
Wednesday July 23, 2014 8:32am
Castle Domes have been on my list of places to visit for quite a while. Per Secor and the AAJ the only recorded climb in the area was done in the late 1970s by Jack Roberts and Mark Menge – Silmarillion. Recently I resumed my research and the only semi-useful thing I found, was a thread I started in 2011 (;. Good looking rock, high adventure factor and a giant approach – time to have some fun!

Castle Dome as seen from our camp. Thank god I was able to sell this g...
Castle Dome as seen from our camp. Thank god I was able to sell this garbage tent.
Credit: Vitaliy M.

Inverted white dike high on the aręte - a wild feature!!

"Climb me, climb me!" -North Face of Clarence King?

The approach was pretty

Caitlin about to pass one of the many fun roofs on the route

My friend Caitlin had a 3-day weekend and was game to haul 50 lb backpacks up a 13+ mile approach. Great thing about it was that it follows a section of Rae Lakes Loop, which is one of the finest hikes in the High Sierra. After a reasonable day of hiking, we set up a camp in a lush meadow with a jaw-dropping view of Castle Domes. The line that made the most sense was a striking aręte that went from the base to the summit of the most prominent formation. In addition, the research did not turn out any record of someone doing it prior. Even if someone did, the first ascent experience is hard to beat!

The Sphinx. Daniel and I put up a LONG route up that thing about a month ago. Another Kings Canyon gem.

Waterfall on the approach

The notorious Kings Canyon spotted skunk
The notorious Kings Canyon spotted skunk
Credit: Vitaliy M.

Bambi lives in Kings Canyon!

Out of focus, but still pretty

We woke up early and approached the climb by threading the wall under the slabby buttresses and striking overhangs. There seemed to be a possibility to climb a few three pitch 5.12+ routes, but I don’t climb that hard and wanted to get on the line that made the most sense. SE Aręte was without a doubt it.

Southeast Aręte is hard to miss

Woods Creek

1103 calories?! Too bad this thing doesn't have a "giant pack" option.


Castle Valley - an amazing spot

At first, I scrambled to the summit of a sub peak across from the aręte and scoped out a line. The lack of visible crack systems and multiple roofs did not inspire confidence. However, we did not make the long haul to give up without a battle. After a few spicy moves a ways above my gear, I climbed up into the main dihedral and we enjoyed quality climbing for seven long pitches. Quality of rock was incredible. It was like someone mixed dark gray granite from El Capitan’s East Buttress with featured slab of Charlotte Dome and than added a bit of High Sierra crack climbing. A geologist with interest for petrology would have a blast on this one! Every pitch had an interesting crux, usually an overhang with ‘thank god’ jugs around the corner and a cool feature or two. At one point I came across a giant inverted dike that traversed across the rock as far as I could see. Castle Domes and other granite formations in the area had more than a few of these features.

Caitlin enjoying the view of Castle Domes from our camp

Silmarillion goes up one of these dihedrals. One on the left looked MEH, one on the right had giant loose-looking roofs blocking the upper section. If I collect a lot of booty and get bored, one day I might be back to climb them.

Starting pitch two (photo by Caitlin T.)

Upper section of SE Aręte, as seen from another peak

Caitlin following the 3rd pitch - a fun one!

Views were drop dead gorgeous all day. No wonder Rae Lakes Loop is one of the most popular treks in the country.

A few pitches from the top we received some light rain. At this point climbing up would be much easier than bailing down, so we kept moving. A cool chimney, short hand-crack, another overhang and a pitch of low 5th, took us directly to the summit! With approximately 1,100 feet of technical climbing behind us, our reward was a bit of sunshine, snacks and the view of Gardnier Basin. Turns out Mt. Clarence King has a stunning North Face, but approaching it would take two days at least!

Starting the third pitch. About to climb up towards the roof.

Starting the first pitch. Climbing on the arete packed some spice!

Starting up a cool crack with a lot of face features all around

More cracks

Caitlin climbing over the last bulge

The summit had no signs of previous passage, even though I have no doubt people have been there before. We made a cairn, snapped some photos and headed down to our camp. My celebratory meal of ramen mixed with beef jerky was enhanced by green onions, which were growing next to our tent. We drank plenty of fluids and Caitlin passed out. I had too much excitement and emotions about the climb we just did and had a mostly restless night. Too bad, since the next day started out with a bang – wind, lightning, thunder and a downpour chased us out of the valley and back to our car.

Mr. Mature

Couple of gym climbers enjoying the summit

The camp was in an amazing spot. Really hard to beat.

Bailing from Castle Valley during the Sunday's thunderstorm.

Some little dome with plenty of cracks to choose from!

During our return we saw many more potential destinations for future exploration. Even though the golden age of picking the obvious gems in the High Sierra have faded, the opportunity to get creative and explore will exist for many years to come!

  Trip Report Views: 6,803
Vitaliy M.
About the Author
Vitaliy M. is annoying gym climber from San Francisco.

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T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Jul 23, 2014 - 08:42am PT
Sweet TR V!

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
  Jul 23, 2014 - 09:10am PT
Nice one, thanks for posting.

So looks like you don't mind 12 mile hikes, you need to put the Gorge of Despair, on your LIST you would love it.


Trad climber
Auberry, CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 09:33am PT
I enjoyed the trip report! Thank you!

In 1991, my wife an I climbed a dome that I think was to the right(east?) of the dark gray dome that is seen in your overall view of the domes. It was as much as we wanted to try on that particular day. It was mostly a romp, but there was a couple of short sections that were a little harder. I remember a nice straight in hand crack in one section that was 5.9ish, and one section of runout face that was easy .10. It was nice solid rock and a fantastic vantage point in what seemed to be a sea of domes. I think there was a cairn on top, but it was an easy walk off the back side, and down the gully between it and the dark grey dome. There was an old bighorn sheep horn high in the gully. After getting back to camp, and looking back at the many domes in that area, we were at a loss to describe even what dome it was, much less the climb. I remember that the dome was more pitches than I thought it would be. There was a couple hundred feet of 3rd classing at the top as well.

We were not carrying a bolt kit on this outing. Were you climbing with a bolt kit on your arete? A bold endeavor if you were not. You would make Reinhold proud!

Gym climber
sawatch choss
  Jul 23, 2014 - 09:37am PT
Wow, what amazing looking rock! I'd climb all over that thing. Thanks.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jul 23, 2014 - 09:56am PT
Guyman, GOD has been on my list for quite a while. If you open the thread I linked in the beginning of the report, there is a mention of GOD there too. That was back in 2011 when I was leading 5.8. It was funny, Ksolem wanted to get out there, and after I told him 5.9 would be my limit, never heard back from him again : (
Is GOD cool because there is a lot of unclimbed stuff there, or because it is so remote and the granite is awesome? I really want to make it out there, but I think I’d go there for 5 days minimum, or maybe 4. It would probably take a day to hike in and out, so I would like to get at least 2 days of climbing if I am going there. I have a 4 day weekend coming up 2nd week of April and been playing around with ideas. Would be great to check out a new area. How is the water situation there late summer?

two-shoes, did you by any chance take a photo of the other domes from the summit? That area is incredible, and I would love to see a view from the other side. I looked at the formations across, and it seemed like a complicated ridge line. Was not sure how easy it would be to get up and down if you take it all the way. Lots of little towers etc. A LOT of adventure out there.
There was a runout section right at the start of the route. We had a kit, but I did not have a stance to drill, could not downclimb and had to commit to some interesting stemming. Raises your heart rate quite a bit when you are 15 miles from the trailhead, 15-20 ft above your last piece (at least it was a green alien! My favorite cam!) and need to do an insecure move (maybe 5.9 or 10-, or maybe a 5.7 if I was on top rope lol). In any case it was an amazing climb. I enjoyed it more than the Red Dihedral, and that one gets like 4 stars in the Supertopo book! Some incredible face climbing, jugs and scenery. People should go do this one. There is always just enough protection to keep it reasonably safe, so I placed no bolts and pounded no pitons.

  Jul 23, 2014 - 09:49am PT
Beautiful pics as usual. When that picture of your hand first flashed by I thought Gilchrist had returned. Imagine my relief. Thanks for the post
cat t.

  Jul 23, 2014 - 01:16pm PT
Thanks for planning this and for the awesome report, V.

@two-shoes: Cool to hear y'all've also explored out there! The "sea of domes" certainly invites adventure. :)

While the approach to Castle Domes is long, it's all on such a beautiful and well-maintained trail that the hike in does not feel at all arduous. If you pack light, it's just a fun bonus backpacking jaunt to add to your climbing trip. Other people should get out there: adventure is waiting!!

The approach to GOD doesn't sound that bad: 8 miles of trail and then a few more cross-country? Surely nothing could be as bad as getting suspended in midair by evil bushes while scrambling back from CRS...

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
  Jul 23, 2014 - 11:30am PT
Not to go all off topic but here we go.

The aproch to GOD is pretty straight forward, Use the packers to haul your stuff to grizzly lake.... thats day 1, day 2 pretty easy stroll over the pass, with a 3rd class ascent of Mt. Harrington to boot.
Day 2 can end with some climbing if you stay to the right side of the GOD. All the cool towers located down the right side are like 5.8 by easest way... lots of great potental to do more FA's

There is water, in the creek, all year.... its a big creek.

The place is one of the most stunning places I have ever been in the Sierra, almost compleatly untouched by people. Some untoutched Native American religious artifacts man be found if you poke around.

We found it best to go in the fall, the cooler temps and lack of daly T-storms made for a better time.

With light packs.... no food, you can hike all the way out in a day. We stashed a 6 pack back around the lake, 3 beers make a great lunch after a week out.

Kris and I have both been sort of injured the last few years.... I want to go back ASAP.

Cat T ...... I agree 100%


Trad climber
  Jul 23, 2014 - 11:32am PT
You are killing it man! Another great report....thx

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
  Jul 23, 2014 - 11:33am PT
Nice V.

Plums going down with style.

Edge of the Electric Ocean Beneath Red Rock
  Jul 23, 2014 - 11:38am PT
Dude, this is awesome! Thanks for posting, brother. Great work!
Ed H

Trad climber
Santa Rosa, CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 11:48am PT
Here's to keeping Vitality M's trip reports on page one!

Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 11:52am PT
I always remember reading about that route in an old AAJ. Way to mine some gold from an old obscurity.

If you need a tip for nice looking objective for your next adventure, check out the N Face of Mt. Cotter. Has an old Galen Rowell route up it but nothing else. Always meant to get back to that, but where does the time go? Oh wait, my family and job steal it all. Anyways, you heard it here first.

Ice climber
  Jul 23, 2014 - 12:08pm PT
Great report and really nice photos !!

What camera are you using ?
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 12:12pm PT
Very cool climb and report. Thanks for sharing!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jul 23, 2014 - 12:26pm PT
Fat Dad, I wish I knew which dihedral their route took. There are two dihedrals there, left of the big face proper. One looked like a dirty chimney, and the other looked like a fairly ok crack with giant roofs blocking the upper section. If I get bored sometime and feel like loosing gear, I might give the second dihedral a try. In any case, those top out several hundred feet of terrible talus field below the summit. Our line went straight to the top. That was really cool, love it when climbs end on the summit proper.
PS: Someone who climbs 5.13 should attempt the proper face too. Seems like really hard, crack-less climbing with giant roofs above. But could possibly go for someone incredibly skilled.

rwedgee, some 16.0 megapixel Nikon. Will let you know the model tonight when I get home. Got it for 100$ online. I damage cameras fast, so usually get cheap ones.

Trad climber
Erik O. Auburn, CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 12:30pm PT
Nice! Thank you for posting and reporting.

Trad climber
Fresno, Ca
  Jul 23, 2014 - 12:40pm PT
TFPU. The mountains are hurting from the crushing your putting on them. Nice work! Beautiful photos.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 12:44pm PT
Thank you for that superb trip report, Vitaly. The Northwest face of Clarence King has a route rated IV, 5.7, put up in the early 1970's, but it does a lot of diagonal climbing (up and right), and I've always felt harder, more direct routes were possible. Its relative difficulty of approach and location away from the beaten path probably leaves much to do there.


Mountain climber
Redmond, Oregon
  Jul 23, 2014 - 01:00pm PT
Love it!

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jul 23, 2014 - 01:13pm PT
Gorgeous pics as usual Vitaliy...bring your camera on the Diamond!

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 01:16pm PT
I totally climbed that with Beckey when you were still sperm. Put the spray back in the can n00b!

Sonoma County
  Jul 23, 2014 - 03:26pm PT
sweet looking dome and aręte and another awesome TR!

so now I have to pack climbing gear if I ever do the Rae Lakes loop.

Trad climber
  Jul 23, 2014 - 02:16pm PT
Badass TR Vitaliy.

Trad climber
Auberry, CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 05:16pm PT
Vitaliy M.

I was able to dig up a shot from the summit looking west at that variegated dome that is just to the east of the gray dome. So, I guess we were 2 domes to the east of the gray dome. There were some other photos, but I'm way too disorganized to find them, I'm sorry. I don't think we have scanning abilities here either. That South-East Arete of yours looks proud! I would have wanted a small bolt kit in reserve, too.
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
  Jul 23, 2014 - 05:24pm PT
Salute, Vitaliy!


Trad climber
  Jul 23, 2014 - 05:34pm PT
Good work Vitaliy and Caitlin!
That is one scary skunk photo. =)
cat t.

  Jul 23, 2014 - 06:15pm PT
Alina, according to the all-knowing-internet: "A spotted skunk has larger carnassial teeth than other skunks. These are used to slice through an animal's flesh." Amazing really, that Vitaliy bravely managed to snap a photo without being viciously taken down by the adorable little predator!

Trad climber
The fake McCoy from nevernever land.
  Jul 24, 2014 - 09:08am PT
dude, vitaly, you really need to stop doing this. your TRs put most others to shame here. Regardless, thanks much for your shares.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 09:24pm PT
Nice job! That setting is really f*#king awesome too!!!!

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Jul 23, 2014 - 09:39pm PT
On a more serious note: awesomeness
Jeremy Ross

Gym climber
  Jul 23, 2014 - 10:03pm PT
Fu ck. in. A.

Nice style, nice tr as always.


Oakland, CA
  Jul 24, 2014 - 01:53am PT
No bolts, no pins, no beta, ground up, in a day, to the summit, deep in the backcountry. That's just proud.

You two are more inspiring to me than reading about the latest top-down, mini-trax'd, rap-bolted 5.12 and 5.13 lines being put up. Not taking anything from those efforts, but to me there is something so right about a ground-up effort with no holes. Can't always go down that way, but when it does... It's righteous.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jul 24, 2014 - 03:41am PT
Livin the dream V!!!
Timid TopRope

Social climber
the land of Pale Ale
  Jul 24, 2014 - 06:39am PT
Excellent. What a primo base camp! nita and I just love that Rae Lakes area. Congratulations on another very fine adventure and TR

  Jul 24, 2014 - 08:56am PT
Boy you sure are keeping busy Vitaliy. Thanks for sharing your adventures here
Flip Flop

Earth Planet, Universe
  Jul 24, 2014 - 07:11am PT
I hopped in a helicopter where you put your tent back during the Randy Mortensen search. Castle Dome has always whispered in my ear. Maybe I'll see you in the GOD in September. Nice postin up.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jul 24, 2014 - 07:46am PT
It is the style I enjoy the most, but I'd be pretty stoked if I can put up a rap bolted 5.12 by the end of this year. And I don't think I would be better or worse if I placed a bolt on this climb. Not like it would be a sore in the eye for everyone on the Rae Lakes loop. But in any case there is something to going in far and finding an aesthetic, natural line. Good or bad but I have trouble with v4s in the gym. Many things to improve.

flip flop, maybe! That area sounds awesome. Sent an email to guyman, wonder if he got it...

  Jul 24, 2014 - 08:03am PT
Wonderful!!!!!! Thank you for sharing.
lars johansen

Trad climber
West Marin, CA
  Jul 24, 2014 - 08:53am PT
Beautiful as always, thanks.

Trad climber
Oaksterdam, CA
  Jul 24, 2014 - 10:16am PT
nice work- did you get my email?
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jul 24, 2014 - 10:58am PT
Snowhazed, no. this thing is not very reliable at times

Social climber
  Jul 24, 2014 - 10:10pm PT
hey there, say... vitaliy... very nice trip report!! very lovely pics, too... too!

did you a have a long-distance lens--skunk wise, :)

say, email me, if i may use some of the landscapes for 'examples' in my painting ideas, hoping that i get time for such extras, :) the colors and contrasts and manythings, are very very neat! ...

would GIVE you photo credit, of course, :)
Jebus H Bomz

Sacramento, CA
  Jul 24, 2014 - 10:12pm PT
Credit: Jebus H Bomz

Anchorage Alaska
  Jul 24, 2014 - 10:20pm PT
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  Jul 24, 2014 - 10:27pm PT
Thanks V!! A lovely trip, certainly.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jul 25, 2014 - 11:42am PT
Neebee you can use my photos with credit, no problem. Enjoy!

And thanks for all the nice comments. Put it on your tick lists, the area and climbing is awesome.

  Jul 25, 2014 - 11:50am PT
Hey Vitaliy, in that picture of The Sphinx, is the route you and Daniel put up visible?

Trad climber
Lake Tahoe
  Jul 25, 2014 - 12:09pm PT
Wow, what a smorgasbord!! Thanks for posting. Beautiful.

Somebody call Bonnie Tyler, hero's been found!!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jul 28, 2014 - 07:50pm PT
Rincon, you can see our line really well. We took a line from the bottom of the canyon (4 pitches) to a ledge with trees. Than we took the prominent arete (sun/shade line) that is facing the camera. 6 more pitches with about 400 feet of simul climbing on the last pitch. Tops out on the true summit. I will make a report for my own record and draw the line in. Super excited about this one. The Sphinx overlooks Kings Canyon like a boss. No wonder Beckey climbed that thing as soon as he saw it.

Trad climber
Salt Lake, Utah
  Aug 8, 2014 - 07:01am PT
Fantastic TR here- would like to go check out your climb this season. How could I contact you with a few questions about the route?

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Aug 8, 2014 - 11:25am PT
Gorgeous spot, gorgeous climb, great style, reportage, and photos. What's not to love?
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Aug 11, 2014 - 03:37pm PT
C_Man, I created a mountainproject page for the route. It is not hard to follow, stays close to the arete (mostly on the crest or just right of it) and goes up prominent features. Will create a topo for it too at some point, but I never tried to make one. i guess I should try. You are welcome to email me with any questions! Really good route in an amazing spot. Worth climbing IMHO.

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  Aug 11, 2014 - 06:47pm PT
Thanks for your consistent, high quality input Vitaliy . . . way to live the dream.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, California
  Aug 11, 2014 - 07:30pm PT
Nice route, way to be history.
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
From Panorama City, CA
  Sep 24, 2014 - 10:59am PT
No wonder Beckey climbed that thing as soon as he saw it.

Beckey may have put a route on Castledome back in the late 60s if I didn't cramp his style. I had just bought a pair of big crazy mountain boots at Westridge called La Faulkes or something - they had these big stretchy rubber flaps that covered the laces. Anyway, I tried to hike in to the Domes with Beckey with these new un-broken in boots. It did not work out. We didn't get close enough to get a taste for any of it, and at least I never went back. I went back in there a few years later to climb the North Ridge of Clarence King with Mark Rodell but that's about it. Great post Vitality - it was good to finally get to climb a route in the Domes, been on my list a long time!
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Sep 24, 2014 - 01:26pm PT
spam bump

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
  Sep 24, 2014 - 01:57pm PT
I don't know if I am angry or jealous... Angry that I am not there or jealous that you are. Either way... BRILLIANT!

You know there should be a route up the center of this...

Never mind the gully cracks... that rib is calling!
Never mind the gully cracks... that rib is calling!
Credit: Ihateplastic
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
  Sep 27, 2014 - 03:59am PT
TO YOU. !!!!
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
  Sep 27, 2014 - 04:44am PT


Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
  Sep 27, 2014 - 05:26am PT

Social climber
  Sep 27, 2014 - 08:15pm PT
hey there say, love this trip report... love the pics...

got to come back and READ all the comments though, soon as i can ...


was reminded of it, just recently by, of all things,
a burrito... not as in burro, either... ;)

Trad climber
Little Rock and Loving It
  Sep 28, 2014 - 05:52pm PT
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Sep 28, 2014 - 07:37pm PT
Ihateplastic, the rib wasn't super featured, didn't look very protectable. One of the gullies must be Silmarillion. And the other one could be a new route maybe! :)
Someone should go climb it and report back, would love to hear about it.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jul 10, 2017 - 08:37pm PT
in the main dihedral of the face
From the AAJ of Silmarillion

As a result, I think it must be the right hand dihedral.


Trad climber
  Jul 24, 2017 - 09:06am PT
Keep up the stroke. Killin it. Nice TR

  Jul 24, 2017 - 09:13am PT
you da MAN!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jul 24, 2017 - 11:09am PT
The route already had at least 5 ascents including ours. But the approach from kings canyon is not an option for now. There is a broken bridge in Paradise valley. Supposed to be fixed in the next 2 month. Onion valley works well, but makes the hike slightly longer. You do get to see Rae lakes and all. Purdy.

Thanks EC! I just like to hike far and climb things, like a lot of other people. Should see me flailing in the gym. Or not. Would have nightmares! :)
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