Off the beaten path, hidden in an isolated valley, tucked away on the edge of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness, Castle Rock is truly a forgotten crag. Located in Southern Oregon, this special place rewards the explorer with an enjoyable scramble through the heart of a virtually unknown rock.
I first saw this crag when I was helping my friend Jeff (who was a biologist for Fish & Game) look for a dead cougar along Rocky Ridge, also located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, and from that view it was nothing special, but it was my friend Mike who pushed me to go there with him (Mike is a disabled climber), and when we saw it from the south, it revealed itself as the spectacular wedge-shaped mountain seen in the picture above.
When we first approached Castle Rock, I kept telling Mike that I was sure there was no ‘easy’ way up, it certainly appeared that it was purely vertical, but to his credit, Mike kept insisting that we get closer and explore, and so I went along with him. When we reached the base of the rock, it still seemed like there was no scramble route, but as we traversed around its northern base, a steep gully appeared, and I headed up it to check it out, and when I reached the apex of the gully, a narrow break in the rock led west, up some steep ‘steps’ ten to fifteen feet tall. I told Mike about it, and he scrambled up the gully to join me. Once he had climbed up to where I was, I led up the first couple of steps, which, while exposed and covered in scree, was no more than class 4 climbing. When I had reached the ‘garden heart’ (as I named it) of Castle Rock, Mike once again climbed up to join me. From there, two more steps led to another dirty gully and a final step before the turreted summit. On the crown of it, we could see no evidence of any other climbers, no cairns, and certainly no summit register. I am certain that others had climbed it, but my guess would be that fewer than ten people had been up there before us.
I have returned multiple times to climb Castle Rock, and it has become one of my favorite scrambles in Oregon. I posted a page for it on SummitPost, and I know at least one other climber has climbed it as well. I plan on placing a summit register up there this summer.
Getting there: From Roseburg, Oregon, the easiest way to get there is to drive highway 138 east approximately 62 miles until you get to Watson Falls. Turn right on Fish Creek Road 37 for about 13 miles. Then turn right on Incense Cedar Loop Road 800 for 3.5 miles then turn right again on Fish Creek Valley Road 870. Follow this badly rutted and narrow road as it snakes it’s way into the wilderness, Continue until it ends at the base of Fish mountain. Note that Google Earth shows the road as 800 instead of 870 all the way to it’s end.
From roads end, head north towards the top of the ridge, where a fun little crag should be scrambled to it’s top, at approximately 6000′. From there you can see the first good glimpse of Castle Rock, and the broad, forested ridge that leads you to it. Downclimb the crag and descend the ridge, keeping in a north-northwest direction. Follow the broad ridge for about half a mile until you reach the base of the rock. Make sure not to descend into the drainages to the east and west.
Once you arrive at the rock, the easiest way to find the route is to traverse east below the rock until you see the Big Cleft, the huge split in the rock with a loose gully at it’s base. Follow this gully (one person at a time) until you reach the obvious first step, to the east. Climb the first two steps, each about ten to fifteen feet high until you reach the Garden Spot, an open hollow in the very heart of the crag. Traverse around the left, stepping around an exposed spot and climb the third step, to the north, also about ten feet high. Take time to notice the hollowed-out cave underneath the third step. Then climb the fourth step, just above you, and follow a loose, dirty gully beside a surprisingly large fir-tree until you reach the fifth step, which is the summit tower. Descend the way you came.
The really cool aspect of this climb is that it literally snakes through the heart of the rock, you are surrounded by sheer walls on all sides. There are also really neat little caves, windows and arches all over the crag. Another fun thing to do is to circumambulate the rock, descending down the north side, around the west and back up the south side.