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