Hike to and Free Climb Castle Spire in the Castle Crags Wilderness

Rate this Adventure Lake Tahoe Castle Lake, California

  • Activities:

    Photography, Running, Snowshoeing, Hiking, Fitness, Rock Climbing

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:


  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    4 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    1200 Feet


A rugged trek through the wilderness grants the opportunity to climb the tallest pinnacle of the Castle Crags!

Most people only see California's Castle Crags from the south but only a small portion of the granite pluton lay within the commonly visited state park. To truly experience all this wonder of nature has to offer, one must venture off the beaten path and through the woods. Our journey begins at Castle Lake near the town of Mt. Shasta. From there, trek around the east side of the lake to the top of the ridge that lines it. From there, you will be able to see your goal for yourself; the one pinnacle that stands above the rest. There is no trail, so you must navigate your way through the forest toward the cluster of spires.

From the top of the ridge where the first picture were taken from, make your way down through the gully toward the crags then back up the other side. This is one point where snow comes in handy, in summer this area is covered in dense manzanita brush. Once you emerge from the forest at the foot of the northernmost ridge of the Castle Crags, the other reason to do this in springtime becomes apparent; the surface you need to traverse is very long and very steep. It simply would not be climbable without snow to dig into with your crampons and ice axe.

That being said, make as direct as a course as you can toward the base of the North Pinnacle as it is called, digging into the snow with your crampons. As you climb, you will pass Castle Keyhole, the large granite arch pictured in my third image. Once at the base of the pinnacle the surface levels out, offering a great view of the southern portion of the crags. From here, your task is to spiral around the spire, making your way up. Cantilevering is necessary to climb the narrow cracks that lead to the top and the climbing is fairly dangerous and advanced, but the pride is knowing you can do something that not many people can.

The view is amazing, you can really see the true size of the craggy granite pluton, and Mt. Shasta is framed by the rocks in a way you can be sure nobody else has posted on the internet. The only evidence I saw that anybody had ever been up there was the name SIMPSON engraved in an old piece of wood at the top. At this point the adventure is only half over, as getting back to the safety of the flat parking lot at Castle Lake is just as difficult as it was climbing to the distant pinnacle you saw early in the day. Be sure to bring electrolyte replenishment, as the last things you want at any part of this journey are cramps!  

Pack List

  • Crampons
  • Ice Axe
  • Snow Gloves
  • Electrolyte Replenishment
  • GPS
  • Camera
  • Courage
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Chaz Shand

Speed mountaineer based in the State of Jefferson!

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