|Hiking||8.01 Miles|| 4 Hrs 9 Mns ||1.96 mph|
|2,133 ft AEG|| 4 Mns Break|
||no linked trail guides|
|The combination of sleeping in and having evening plans left me short on options, so I decided it would be a good day to determine if the extremely insignificant looking bump on the topo, [located 2 air-miles West & slightly South of Patagonia], does in fact live up to its name, Castle Butte. Similar to my other two hikes in this area [Squaw Peak about 1 month ago and El Plomo & Salero Mountain a few days ago], I experienced little to no drama, thankfully; and both the overall aesthetic rating and overall ‘fun-factor’ kept getting better with each hike… [although that might have more to do with the fact that the % of off-trail increased with each hike]. Ironically however, despite topping out at only 4,500’ [vs. over 5,400’ for Squaw, El Plomo, & Salero], it was reaching the top of the *ridiculous-looking [*based on the topos] Castle Butte that proved to be the hands-down most fun. Needless to say, this peak may be tiny, but it definitely lives up to it’s name…
…in fact, [after catching a very brief glimpse of this peak toward the beginning of my adventure], my immediate thought was: ‘Holy feces, I sure as hell hope that’s not my peak!’ For those familiar with China Peak in the Galiuros, Patagonia’s Castle Butte looks like a miniature replica; having relatively gradually sloping sides for most of the way up, less the last “little” part, which consists of near vertical rock crag and hoodoos. Without ropes/gear or knowledge of a ‘hiker’s route’ up, the typical strategy I use for such peaks is to try and spot a doable route as I approach and head for it; and if that doesn’t pan out, then simply start contouring the peak at the base of the craggy area and hope to find something that will. Having to work for a summit like this always makes it more fun and rewarding for me… but given just how many damn bee encounters I’ve had lately down here in wine country now that the temps have warmed-up, tackling a craggy summit like this was on a warm day was less than appealing.
Miraculously however, today’s adventure landed a spot among the very small percentage of adventures where I actually did not have any angry bee encounters. I saw & heard them at several points, [particularly near the brushier areas & drainages]; but for once my presence did not piss them off. There were also lots of wasps flying around as well, but unlike with bees, I’ve never had an issue with wasps and have never been a ‘wasp magnet.’
In terms of route, the most direct looked to be from the S/SE, off Blue Heaven Road; however, thanks to limited parking and the fact that nearly all roads [and adjoining land] in the direction needed to go to reach the peak have ‘no trespassing’ / ‘private property’ / ‘do not enter’, etc. types of signs, the next best option looked to be from the W/SW, via FR 4103 [aka Squaw Gulch Road]. However, about 0.15 miles down, there is a gate accompanied by a ‘no trespassing’ / ‘private property’ sign. Luckily, before reaching the private property, I was spotted a small pull-out like area on the left, which proved to be a perfect parking spot and starting point.
With the unanticipated gate very early on, what I had intended as a very fast and easy first 1-1.5 miles along jeep road ended up being a fun and beautiful bushwhack on surprisingly generous, off-trail terrain. From my parking spot, I stayed on the jeep road for all of 0.07 miles before beginning the first part of the off-trail on a very defined cattle route, heading up toward UN 4552, [which looked very similar to Castle Butte but with much smaller crags]. And after just 0.65 miles into my adventure, I was enjoying the exceptionally beautiful views from atop UN 4552.
I then headed North off the unnamed peak and for the next mile ran almost parallel to FR 4103 as I made my way across some gently rolling terrain. Eventually, [after having crossed the boundary and entering onto Coronado NF land], I followed a very defined route down back down to FR 4103 / Squaw Gulch Road, reconnecting with the road in a spot that’s almost due East of UN 4862. In doing a topo spot-check, I noticed there was supposedly a Dam right in this area and was surprised that I hadn’t noticed it while planning my route; [as it turns out, it was one of those few & far between situations were something that still exists is shown on CalTopo but not of FS Topo; hence the reason I’d overlooked it initially]. The dam was really pretty and this was the first time I’ve seen an old dam with some extra masonry work, [rocks & stones set in concrete along the entire top part]. I’m wondering if this was for aesthetics or if it had any function at one time…
After checking out the dam, I headed South for a short ways down Squaw Gulch and then East, paralleling FR 4102 for a short ways as I headed toward Goat Canyon. Before dropping in to Goat Canyon, I couldn’t resist grabbing UN 4547, which was extremely well-routed and very easy, but fast, fun, and filled with some excellent views. By this point, it was pretty obvious the peak that had me thinking ‘holy feces’ in the beginning was in fact my objective, Castle Butte… though, [given that I was now nearly 2 hours in to my adventure and miraculously had not had any angry bee encounters], the thought of attempting the peak now evoked more excitement than fear.
Ironically however, while my adventure was free of bee drama, I can’t say it was entirely drama-free. In stopping to tighten my shoelaces in preparation for my ascent up Castle Butte, I looked down in horror to see that the toe of my left shoe was nearly completely unglued. This has been an issue with all of my previous pairs of Five Tens [although with this particular pair, the separation in the toe area did not occur until I’d logged well over 200 miles; and at the start of this adventure, [at which point there was only mild to moderate separation], I’d logged just over 280 miles and had a brand new pair of Five Tens at home in preparation for when my current ones bit the dust. Having logged record mileage in my current Five Tens, I was definitely kicking myself for not having opted to ‘retire’ them & break out my new ones.
The thought of having my toes potentially exposed on rocky/thorny off-trail terrain was not exactly comforting; but I somehow managed to push it aside and focus on the task at hand: reaching the top of Castle Butte. From a distance, I’d spotted a gulley-like area within the hoodoos, which I thought looked potentially doable. As I closed in on the summit, it was my best option in terms of what I could, so I headed for it; but upon reaching it, the climb looked to be at the absolute upper end of Class 4 at best, likely Class 5. Thus, I began to contouring, following along a very well defined route that contours the peak at the base of the crags. I’d headed counter-clockwise, from the NW to the SE side of the peak. It felt like there would definitely be a route up somewhere; and it didn’t take long before I spotted two small rocks on a large boulder that resembled a cairn. Very shortly after that, I can across an area that had a few small gullies, [several of which looked promising], and the one I opted for panned out. Surprising, despite the rather vertical appears this peak gives from below, it didn’t take more than some Class 2+ scrambles to reach the top. The summit views were truly awesome; and, while not a particularly huge summit, there was a lot more room on top to walk around than I would have thought from viewing the crag-like ‘crown’ of the summit from below. I was unable to find a register [and a bit disappointed that I forgot to replenish my pack with a writing implement & paper [since I always have a container on hand].
For my return trip, I totally ‘winged it’. The most direct path back would’ve gone through private property, which I wanted to avoid at all cost… but given the condition of my shoe, my plan was to opt for what I though would be the easiest route back in terms of the terrain, [which I initially expected to be: dropping into the super sandy Temporal Gulch, taking that out to Blue Heaven Road, and then having a few miles of car-drivable dirt road to get back to my vehicle]. However, the off-trail terrain continued to be much easier than I anticipated, [and my shoe appeared to be holding up very well]; thus, about 2/3rds of a mile after having departed from Castle Butte, I angled my path away from Temporal Gulch and began heading towards Salero Canyon Road, [a much more direct route back and one that would put me back on Salero Canyon road in spot where I had not seen any ‘private property’ / ‘do not enter’ / ‘no trespassing’ types of signs.
After making a very slight detour to grab UN 4353, I dropped into Goat Canyon where I picked up a horse/cattle trail, just before reaching a trail/old jeep that would soon lead me back to Salero Canyon Road. To my pleasant surprise, the trail/old jeep road led right through a small, absolutely beautiful area along the East side of Salero Canyon that is filled with hoodoos and neat rock formations. I’ve wanted to explore this area from the time I first saw it about a month ago on the drive in to my Squaw Peak adventure; and ironically, my decision to ‘wing it’ for my return trip from Castle Butte resulted in me going right through this very spot. I would have loved to explore more, but I was tight on time and the toe of my left shoe was now completely unglued… although unlike with my other pairs of Five Tens, [which never had such a large area pull apart], when I went to examine how it was possible that my toes were not at all exposed and how the shoe still seemed to offer good to excellent support, I discovered that the issue was not as serious as I first thought: there was actually a 2nd layer of rubber, and this was fortunately still completely intact. Nonetheless, the last, super easy mile or so of car-drivable dirt road back to my vehicle also doubled as the final mile of my first pair of Five Tens to hit the 300 mile-mark.
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