South Castle Tower (4,500′) via North Face (4-pitch 5.7 Trad Climb)

Looking southeast at South Castle Tower (left) and North Castle Tower (right) from the Bell Rock trailhead.

Looking southeast at South Castle Tower (left) and North Castle Tower (right) from the Bell Rock trailhead.

South Castle Tower is a 4,500-foot (1,372-meter) rock formation located the Sedona region of northern Arizona. It stands 400 feet tall above the north edge of Oak Creek Village, completely detached from Castle Rock in a way that captivates the eye. This fin-shaped spire is a prominent landmark when viewed from the popular Bell Rock parking lot. The easiest route on the formation is the north face, which consists of four varied pitches that carry an unmistakably adventurous theme.


SUMMARY: I climbed South Castle Tower with Max in mid January of the year 2015, on a day trip to Sedona. We drove down from Flagstaff, got to the Bell Rock trailhead by 10:30am, and hiked 40 minutes to the base of the tower. We then climbed the north face route in four pitches to the summit, where we relaxed for the better part of an hour. Two double-rope rappels deposited us back at the base of the tower, then we hiked back down to the vehicle during sunset.


12 January, 2015

The two of us pull in to the Bell Rock trailhead parking lot around 10:30am, spend a few minutes chatting with a local climber, then cross the highway-179 toward South Castle Tower. It’s the most prominent feature on the western skyline, with our intended north face route shaded from the bright winter sun.

Max and Carson hiking southeast across hwy-179 toward South Castle Tower (left).

Max and Carson hiking southeast across hwy-179 toward South Castle Tower (left).

The approach from the highway to the base of the formation takes less than half an hour. The terrain is classic Sedona with open slickrock slabs, fragrant juniper bushes, and soaring red cliffs.

Panorama looking east at Castle Rock, with the south tower on far left in shadow.

Panorama looking east at Castle Rock, with the south tower on far left in shadow.

From the notch between the two Castle Towers, our view to the east opens up. Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte stand boldly against a backdrop of snow-covered cliffs.

Looking northeast at Bell Rock (left foreground) and Courthouse Butte (right foreground) from the notch between Castle Towers.

Looking northeast at Bell Rock (left foreground) and Courthouse Butte (right foreground) from the notch between Castle Towers.

The first pitch is a romp up blocky class-4 terrain with 12-feet of 5.7 hand-crack thrown in for a challenge.

Looking down at Max on the ledge at the top of the first pitch.

Looking down at Max on the ledge at the top of the first pitch.

The second pitch is a rather nasty 5.7 offwidth crack measuring some 60 feet tall, capped by a system of precarious ledges. For Max, this section is a startling introduction to the unorthodox techniques required in traditional-style climbing. I can’t help but reminisce on my own first offwidth as I listen to his grunts, curses, and cries of frustration below me.

Looking up at the author leading the second pitch (5.7 offwidth).

Leading the second pitch (5.7 offwidth).

Looking up at the author leading the second pitch (5.7 offwidth).

Leading the second pitch (5.7 offwidth).

Looking down at Max nearing the top of the first pitch. He's above the offwidth section, coming up to the loose blocks.

Looking down at Max nearing the top of the first pitch. He’s above the offwidth section, coming up to the loose blocks.

The third pitch is a delicate traverse across a class-4 ledge followed by an upward climb of a 25-foot 5.5 dihedral feature.

Looking down at Max traversing the third pitch.

Looking down at Max traversing the third pitch.

Max looking northeast from the top of the third pitch.

Max looking northeast from the top of the third pitch.

The best section of the climb is unquestionably the fourth pitch, which ascends a knobby, varnished sandstone face for 50 feet to the juniper tree that crowns the summit of the tower.

Looking down at Max climbing the fourth pitch.

Looking down at Max climbing the fourth pitch.

Looking down at Max climbing the fourth pitch.

Looking down at Max climbing the fourth pitch.

Being situated on the far southern edge of the Sedona escarpment, the views from this summit are fantastic. While our tower is flanked on the north side by taller cliffs, the suburban sprawl of Oak Creek Village is laid out at our feet to the south. The summit plateau, measuring no more than twenty meters in its narrowest direction, drops away hundreds of feet on all sides.

Panorama looking northeast from the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower. The mountain in center foreground is Castle Rock.

Panorama looking northeast from the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower. The mountain in center foreground is Castle Rock.

Looking northeast at the author on the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower.

Looking northeast from the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower.

Looking northeast at the author and Max on the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower. The formation in lower left is the iconic Bell Rock.

Looking northeast at the author and Max on the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower. The formation in lower left is the iconic Bell Rock.

Looking northwest at the author on the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower.

Looking northwest at the author on the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower.

Panorama looking southwest over Oak Creek Village from the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower.

Panorama looking southwest over Oak Creek Village from the 4,500-ft summit of South Castle Tower.

We utilize two 70-meter ropes to make two rappels back down the north face, exercising extreme care not to dislodge any of the death blocks along the way. While organizing gear on the intermediate belay ledge, the late-afternoon sun illuminates the sandstone walls of Sedona in all shades of fire.

Looking down at Max double-rope rappelling the bottom two pitches.

Looking down at Max double-rope rappelling the bottom two pitches.

Looking northeast at Bell Rock (center foreground) from the top of the second pitch on the north face of South Castle Tower.

Looking northeast at Bell Rock (center foreground) from the top of the second pitch on the north face of South Castle Tower.

Looking north at the alpenglow cast upon North Castle Tower during sunset.

Looking north at the alpenglow cast upon North Castle Tower during sunset.

We touch down on the base of the tower at 5:30pm, just as the sky fades into colours of cotton candy. It takes us half an hour to get back down to the cars, and then the two of us head straight to the Oak Creek Brewing Company for happy hour pints.

Looking northeast from the notch between Castle Towers at dusk.

Looking northeast from the notch between Castle Towers at dusk.

 

THE END.

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