Death Valley, California
April 21, 2015
There are two things I'll always remember about Daylight Castle. First is the routefinding on the summit block, and second, the jarring sound I encountered on the way down that scared the living daylights out of me. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Daylight Castle bears no castle-like features that I could see, although the summit block appears fortified with cliffs. On the other hand, the approach is obvious. Indeed, Daylight Castle can be kept in sight after leaving the parking lot on Daylight Pass. From there, Shin, Dinah and I headed northwest across sagebrush flats to a wash. This wash leads to a low pass. After hiking over it, we crossed a valley and ascended the east slopes of Daylight Castle.
The easiest ascent appeared to be to a col left of the summit. However, that still left us with finding a way up the summit block. Given the towering cliffs guarding it, I doubted we would make it, but after skirting the base of the cliffs, we happily discovered a little chute we could easily scramble up. Then we were on top of the Castle.
There was no summit register, at least not one intact: the plastic container by the cairn hadn't weathered well and lay disintegrated. After lounging on top for half an hour, we started back down. We considered attempting a more direct descent, down the steep east slope, but decided that retracing our steps back to the col was simple and certain. We continued back the same way except to veer left on the lower slopes, onto good scree which brought us to the valley quickly. Then we hiked over the pass and back into the wash.
I was leading when it happened. We were hiking down a narrow section in the wash, a ditch a couple of feet deep and so narrow we almost brushed against bushes lining the sides. All was quiet when suddenly I heard a rattling noise frighteningly close to my right knee. I reacted instinctively – I yelped and jumped left. It was a rattlesnake coiled in a tiny shrub, wagging its tail, but not because it was happy to see me. I must have passed within a foot of it.
The three of us gathered around the deadly snake, carefully observing it from 4-5 feet away. Rattlesnakes are rarely sighted (our first for Dinah and I) and we were all excited. But we were also rattled by the close encounter. There was some discussion as to who would lead after that, but the remainder of our trip proved uneventful. And that was fine. We had had enough excitement on Daylight Castle.
From the edge of the parking lot, Daylight Castle appears above Shin and Dinah
In the wash, Daylight Castle ahead
Looking back at the wash from the pass
From the pass we skirted the outcrop ahead on the right
From the valley, we took an S-shaped line to the col and then scrambled up the backside of
Looking back at the pass after starting up the slope. Daylight Peak on the right.
(click for a larger image)
We reached the first corner
The grade steepened as we climbed
Last section to the ridge crest was rocky
Nearing the col
From the col we skirted left along the base of the cliffs until we found a break
Searching for a break on the backside of the summit block
Looking up at the chute we took
We scrambled to the top of the chute
After the chute it was only a few steps to the summit
Kings and queen of the Castle
Climbing back down the chute
Heading back along the base of the cliffs. The chute is behind us, just around the corner.
On the descent we took advantage of the soft scree on the lower slopes
On the way back a squall passed over us and we received a few drops of rain
Rattlesnake rattling its tail
Daylight Pass 1:24,000 Topo (5.5 mi, 6047 ft, 1755 ft)