Trip Report
Return to Watchtower Peak, FA Northeast Ridge
Monday August 26, 2013 7:54pm
Upper section of route in red. Attempt in yellow.
Upper section of route in red. Attempt in yellow.
Credit: Banquo

When I first became interested in 5th class peak climbing in the Sierra Nevada, I picked up a copy of R. J. Secor’s 1992 book “The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails.” Secor follows what I believe is the Sierra Club habit of listing the high Sierra peaks from south to north. People in Tahoe may be disappointed to hear that mountaineers consider the northern limit of the Sierra to be the northern border of Yosemite National Park and Tahoe is not the High Sierra. The last peak listed in Secor’s book is Tower Peak (11,755’), the Northern limit of what is considered to be high Sierra mountaineering. Moynier and Fiddler’s 1993 book “Sierra Classics: 100 Best Climbs in the High Sierra” also included Tower Peak which further piqued my interest. Tower Peak is very remote, not often visited and offered routes from 3rd class scrambles to 5.9 grade III. I was hooked and wanted to go see it for myself.

In 2009 I finally decided to go to Tower Peak. I enlisted my climbing buddies Bob and Jay and started making my plans. However, the more I studied Tower Peak the more I became interested in the subpeak that sits on its north shoulder. The subpeak isn’t officially named but is generally referred to as Watchtower or Watchtower Peak. I have avoided calling it “The Watchtower” because Secor lists a peak in the Minarets by that name and there is also a rock tower in Kings Canyon that climbers refer to as The Watchtower. Watchtower Peak has two summits of about 10,900’ and my research found no record of any ascent of the northern most of the two. This became the focus of our 2009 trip which Bob has written up nicely here:

http://www.supertopo.com/tr/Watchtower-Peak-Hoover-Wilderness-Area-trip-report/t379n.html

We also submitted a report to the American Alpine Journal which, to our surprise, published it.

http://aaj.americanalpineclub.org/climbs-and-expeditions/north-america/contiguous-united-states-lower-48/california/2009-watchtower-by-d-merrick/

On that trip we made the first recorded ascent of the northern summit although people had no doubt visited it before.

In 2013 I decided to return and try yet another new route. My son Ford readily agreed to go and he invited his friend Spencer along too. We planned a Wednesday evening to Sunday evening trip which would give us plenty of time to make the long drive to Leavitt Meadows and the 14 mile hike each way. It also allowed for an extra day that we could use if we didn’t finish our route in one day or perhaps time to try something else.

Ford and I picked up Spencer in San Jose at 2PM on Wednesday, August 21 and headed for Sonora Pass. There had been thunderstorms in the high country for several days but they were supposed to clear up by Thursday but we still kept an eye on the weather. As we passed through the foothills we could see huge thunderheads directly over our destination and in front of the towering white clouds was the darker smoke of the Rim Fire burning near Yosemite.

Rim Fire 8/21/2013
Rim Fire 8/21/2013
Credit: Banquo

Rim Fire report: http://inciweb.org/incident/3660/

We arrived at the Leavitt Meadows trailhead, parked at about 7PM and decided to walk part way in that evening. There is a bridge over the West Walker River at the nearby campground but you can save about three quarters of a mile of walking if you wade the river next the trail head parking.

Crossing the West Walker River
Crossing the West Walker River
Credit: Banquo

We walked to the stagnant Roosevelt Lake, ate dinner and sacked out. On Thursday morning we hiked the many miles up the river passing Lower Piute Meadows and lots of granite.

Credit: Banquo

Arriving at Upper Piute Meadow is always a pleasure. The view looking south, up the meadow at Hawksbeak Peak is wonderful.

Hawksbeak Peak from Upper Piute Meadow
Hawksbeak Peak from Upper Piute Meadow
Credit: Banquo

There is an old Forest Service cabin at upper Piute Meadow which must have been a fine place to spend the summer for some lucky ranger.

Upper Piute Meadow cabin
Upper Piute Meadow cabin
Credit: Banquo

As we hiked up the meadow we came across a small cairn with a message that we could not decipher. I assume it wasn’t intended for us. Something about meeting at the river behind the hill.

Credit: Banquo

Leaving Upper Piute Meadow we entered Tower Canyon and got our first close view of our objective.

Watchtower Peak
Watchtower Peak
Credit: Banquo

We found a nice flat sandy spot to camp near a good water supply.

Approach
Approach
Credit: Banquo

I spent Thursday evening figuring out the approach and after dinner we all needed some sleep after the long hike in. On Friday morning we made a somewhat less than alpine start.

Watchtower Peak
Watchtower Peak
Credit: Banquo

Viewed from the approach, Watchtower Peak is pretty awesome. It really looks like a huge fang.

Credit: Banquo
Credit: Banquo

I had decided the day before that the Northeast Ridge route would begin at some small trees.

Start of NE Ridge route
Start of NE Ridge route
Credit: Banquo

My son hasn’t done much leading on gear but I asked him if he wanted the honor of the first pitch and he didn’t hesitate a second. It went 190 feet and the boys decided it was 5.6.

Ford starts up the first pitch
Ford starts up the first pitch
Credit: Banquo

The second pitch went a full 200’ crossing some glacial polish. The boys felt 5.8 would be a fair rating.

2nd pitch
2nd pitch
Credit: Banquo

The slope eased off and we scrambled up a long section dragging the ropes.

Credit: Banquo

At the top of the easy section I scrambled around to the left while the boys had a snack to have a look at the steep east face. There will be routes there one day.

East face
East face
Credit: Banquo

The view to the east and southeast was great. You can see Matterhorn peak from here and of course Hawksbeak Peak.

Hawksbeak Peak, Matterhorn Peak in far distance
Hawksbeak Peak, Matterhorn Peak in far distance
Credit: Banquo

From the top of the easy scrambling I wanted to stay close to the northeast ridge since that was the proposed name for the route so I headed up some features on the left side of a big, steep slab. It turned out that the rock in this area was eroding and what I thought would be a flake with good placements was flared with a tight crack at the bottom. I went up an edge of the flake and underclung where it arched to the left. The gear sucked and I didn’t think any of it would hold a fall. I got to where the edge went pretty much straight up and found a good alien placement just below a horn. Feeling reassured by the alien, I skipped slinging the horn and moved up. Above the horn I couldn’t get any gear in and the eroded granite surface was going to kitty litter on me. I kept moving up hoping for some good gear but didn’t find any before my left foot slopped off some loose grit and down I went. I really fear falling when I climb but when I do fall, it is anything but scary. I simply wondered how far I would fall and how bad it would be when I finally stopped. Luckily, I came to an abrupt stop long before I expected to. My last piece, the good alien, was just below my feet. Wondering what had held the fall, I looked up and saw that one of my ropes, I was using a pair of half ropes, was snagged on a little knob. The knob was too small to snag both ropes, perhaps too small to have snagged a single lead rope. When things get interesting, I always forget to take a photo but I really wish I had. The horn I had passed was right in front of me so I cut some cord to sling the horn and managed to place a small stopper next to the horn. While hanging from the stopper I untied from the two ropes and set up a rappel so I could go down and try something else. After getting down and pulling the ropes, I headed up to the right where there was an easier corner to work with. This spoiled my idea of a ridge route but so it goes.

Upper section of route in red. Attempt in yellow.
Upper section of route in red. Attempt in yellow.
Credit: Banquo

After a couple more pitches and a fair amount of loose rock I found that we had been enveloped with smoke from the Rim Fire.

Looking down pitch 4 in smokey conditions
Looking down pitch 4 in smokey conditions
Credit: Banquo

The view of Hawksbeak Peak was anything but clear now.

Hawksbeak Peak in smoke
Hawksbeak Peak in smoke
Credit: Banquo

After another pitch, I was very near the top. The sun was barely visible just above the summit. The final roped pitch of six was a short 100 feet.

The sun just over the summit
The sun just over the summit
Credit: Banquo

We topped out and signed the register that I had placed four years before.

On the summit
On the summit
Credit: Banquo
Credit: Banquo

After making the summit and figuring out the tricky descent, I walked to the south and got another photo of the steep east face.

Credit: Banquo

We headed for Tower Pass and Tower Lake as the sun dropped out of sight.

Credit: Banquo

We made it back to camp about 8PM, ate and sacked out. In the morning we had some tea and made our plans for our spare day. After a long lazy morning and a double ration of pop-tarts, the boys decided that hiking out would be the thing to do. This turned out to be the right decision since work had piled up and it allowed me to catch up on Sunday.

Credit: Banquo

The 14 miles out was tough on the old man’s feet. I calculated that I have 13 years on the combined age of the boys.

Credit: Banquo

We made it to the car by 7PM and were home before 11.

Credit: Banquo

Watchtower Peak, Northeast ridge, 5.8, III, 6P

Watchtower Peak, Northeast ridge, 5.8, III, 6P
Watchtower Peak, Northeast ridge, 5.8, III, 6P
Credit: Banquo

  Trip Report Views: 2,136
Banquo
About the Author
Banquo is a climber from Amerricka.

Comments
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tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
  Aug 26, 2013 - 08:01pm PT
Well done gentlemen. It's great that the Sierra still offers first ascents for those that take the time.

Going with family makes it even better.
sullly

Gym climber
  Aug 26, 2013 - 08:29pm PT
I like how you describe the fear of the fall eclipsing the fall itself. Good thing that knob showed up.

Since you have so few lines in Macbeth, I'll go with great to see you and Fleance...er...Ford getting out there, Banquo.
Dapper Dan

Trad climber
Menlo Park
  Aug 26, 2013 - 09:18pm PT
What a fine TR , what are the ages of you and your kids ... ?
10b4me

climber
  Aug 26, 2013 - 09:34pm PT
TFPU
limpingcrab

Trad climber
the middle of CA
  Aug 26, 2013 - 09:38pm PT
Sweeeeet. That's the best kind of trip, loved everything about it! Hopefully my 3 month old will take the first lead on an FA with me someday!!!

Thanks
-Daniel
Banquo

climber
Amerricka
Author's Reply  Aug 26, 2013 - 10:09pm PT
Dapper Dan-

My son (Fleance) is 21, his buddy is 22 which, so you don't have to do the math, makes me 56.

Lots of Dans here.

Dan
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
  Aug 26, 2013 - 10:04pm PT
I know you wrote of some crappy rock, but in your pix. some of that rock looks really good. It really is unfair, how much great granite you Cali folks have. Cool TR!
cragnshag

Social climber
san joser
  Aug 26, 2013 - 10:12pm PT
This falling thing is becoming a problem, it seems. I suppose I'll need to chaperon you next time to keep you out of trouble. Of course, we will need to rent some steeds to get us to the base! And a mule for the beer.
johntp

Trad climber
socal
  Aug 26, 2013 - 10:31pm PT
Don't you know Amerrikan's are sutpid?
Banquo

climber
Amerricka
Author's Reply  Aug 26, 2013 - 10:34pm PT
Cragnshag-

I'm getting pretty experienced at falling. Anytime you want to go, I'm in. That east face awaits a FA. You can lead and I'll jug if I have to.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Aug 26, 2013 - 11:48pm PT
Omg, post this climbing stuff over on sonorapassclimbing.

seriously though, this is left of the other routes on WT?
ruppell

climber
  Aug 27, 2013 - 12:11am PT
Nicely done. I went in their last year with my wife and climbed some of the lines you guys originally put up. Super fun and incredible rock. Have you looked at that steep section off on the right side? That has some great looking cracks splitting it. I vowed to go back and have a look but somehow I became employed again. lol Labor day anyone?
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  Aug 27, 2013 - 12:23am PT
that's the good stuff
Banquo

climber
Amerricka
Author's Reply  Aug 27, 2013 - 12:25am PT
ruppell-

There was only one party there last year. Musta been you.

My daughter's name is Emma P.

You know my buddy Kumar? I presided at his wedding in Alabama Hills two years ago.

Credit: Banquo
ruppell

climber
  Aug 27, 2013 - 12:33am PT
Nope don't know Kumar. We just thanked him for the beta we found online. Guess I should thank you now as well so thanks. If it wasn't a 15 mile hike in that place would be climbed a lot more. lol
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Aug 27, 2013 - 01:05am PT
Awesome report! Have you checked out Matterhorn? From far looks big and steep!
Banquo

climber
Amerricka
Author's Reply  Aug 27, 2013 - 11:05am PT
Munge -

I'll check out your website. Is there a place to post routes? Is WP in the guidebook? I need to buy a copy. I believe that's Tanya in the cover shot, she used to teach with me at SJSU.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Aug 27, 2013 - 03:47pm PT
There's not much backcountry in the guide, but the web is for keeping of track of things maybe not always put in print, if you know what I mean.

send me an email. I'll get you registered.

yeah, that's her, on a Jerry Dodrill route at Chipmunk.
mucci

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
  Aug 27, 2013 - 03:53pm PT
Very Cool Dan,

Looks awesome, and I dig your style up there.

Banquo

climber
Amerricka
Author's Reply  Aug 27, 2013 - 08:39pm PT
Munge, I forgot to answer your other question. Yes, the new route is left of the 2009 routes.
Credit: Banquo

Credit: Banquo
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 27, 2013 - 08:50pm PT
very cool, those fire pics are incredible.
Thank you!
phylp

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
  Sep 4, 2013 - 07:20pm PT
Wow, this is just a terrific TR! I just love the Hoover Wilderness - such a gorgeous place. Congrats on your adventure.
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Sep 4, 2013 - 09:06pm PT
Excellent trip report, and excellent writing. I've been wanting to check that place out for awhile.
Yeah, the fear of falling. Probably has kept me a very mediocre climber. Well, that and a lack of talent.
But thanks for the post and the great photos.
kaholatingtong

Trad climber
Nevada City
  Sep 5, 2013 - 12:41am PT
ver nice, yes.
NutAgain!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Oct 24, 2013 - 03:46pm PT
Bump for goodness.
RyanD

climber
Squamish
  Oct 24, 2013 - 06:37pm PT
very cool!
scaredycat

Trad climber
Berkeley,CA
  Oct 24, 2013 - 08:06pm PT
Thanks for bumping that Nut... . Very nice TR.


Let me amend that: best TR ever.

http://goo.gl/maps/he95p



Oh, and I'm glad the lads rope-gunned you up that!.
scuffy b

climber
heading slowly NNW
  Oct 24, 2013 - 08:02pm PT
Another nice adventure and report.
I went in there hoping to climb on that rock in 1973, but my partners
were not really climbers.
It turned into a typical backpacking and fishing trip, with an ascent
of Tower Pk and some top roping thrown in.
RP3

Big Wall climber
Twain Harte
  Oct 24, 2013 - 08:05pm PT
Way cool!
LuckyPink

climber
the last bivy
  Oct 24, 2013 - 09:12pm PT
Nice .. missed this first time around. good move taking the twenty year old porters! ;) really nice, though, as a family event, huh.
Banquo

climber
Amerricka
Author's Reply  Dec 3, 2013 - 11:05am PT
Let me amend that: best TR ever.

Wow, thanks.
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