Pinto Valley Castle
Pinto Valley Castle is no castle but rather a striking peak in an area known as Pinto Valley. Although the castellated east side appears capable of rebuffing any ascent, the west slopes are more benign, allowing fairly easy access to the summit. To reach the west slopes we used Cottonwood Wash, a popular approach for nearby Hamblin Mountain.
Joining Dinah and I for this trip were Sonny and Zosia. Dinah and I had flown in from Calgary, while Sonny and Zosia drove down for a two-week hiking spree in the U.S. After meeting in Las Vegas, we drove to the trailhead in Lake Mead to a pullout just past mile marker 18. A short trail dropped us into Cottonwood Wash.
With so many washes branching off, staying in the main wash wasn’t easy and we managed to make one wrong turn. However, we quickly corrected our error and got back to the main wash.
The best way to reach the summit appears to be from the end of a hairpin turn, before the wash doubles back. In fact, much to our surprise, a trail runs from there to the slope beneath the summit, exactly where we wanted to be. It’s a steep slope, however, and while Sonny, Zosia and I were game to scramble up, Dinah, who suffers from vertigo at times, wasn’t feeling up to it. Just hiking up the trail had left her queasy, so even an easy scramble was out of the question for her.
So we attacked the Castle from a different angle. We retraced our steps almost to the top of a rise where we could reach the ridge by hiking through a break in a cliff band. From there, the summit was just 250 m away, connected to a narrow ridge. Dinah hung back, but from her spot she was able watch the rest of us hike and scramble to the top before returning a short time later.
After regrouping, we dropped down a ridge to get a better look at the remarkable cliffs on the east side before returning to the main ridge. Then it was time to head back, down the gentle southwest ridge. We ambled all the way down to Cottonwood Wash and returned to our car.
Pinto Valley Castle is one of many small peaks with unofficial names in Lake Mead National Recreation Area (see peakbagger.com). As obscure as these peaks are, they provide a good reason to visit Lake Mead again and again.
A short trail from a highway pullout leads to Cottonwood Wash
Hiking up the wash
Scrambling up the pour-over at Cottonwood Spring
Pinto Valley Castle remains hidden as we continued up the wash
Sonny poses on a gypsum boulder
A close look at some gypsum crystals
At the start of the hairpin turn, the wash narrows
We took a turn at a cairn only to realize it's a shortcut across the hairpin turn
Another cairn keeps us on track to drop over a low ridge back into the main wash
Back in the main wash, we can see the lower slopes of Pinto Valley Castle on our right
After reaching a rise, we found a road alongside the wash
At the end of the hairpin turn we started up a small wash, heading towards the summit
We soon found a trail going to the summit
We turned back at this point and looked for an easier way to reach the ridge
We backtracked almost to the top of the road where we saw a break in the cliff band
Heading to the break
From the road (centre) it's just a hike to the ridge
The yellow knob is the summit
Heading to the summit
Zosia climbs down the short cliff band below the summit
Going back along the ridge
We headed down the east ridge to look at the Castle from a different angle
Group shot on the ridge
We followed the southwest ridge back to Cottonwood Wash. Hamblin Mountain ahead.
It's a walk all the way back to the wash
Great Basin collared lizard in the wash
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