Trip ReportWatchtower Peak (Hoover Wilderness Area) trip report
Watchtower Peak - Hoover Wilderness Area - trip report (way too long)
Summary: 9 days, 14 people, 8 mules, 2 cases of beer, 5 gallons of booze, and one Barbie doll.
The buffoonery that ensued was the brainchild of our fearless leader Dan. He had been looking at exploring the Tower Peak area for many moons and devised a sure way to get us all to show up for this adventure: by requiring us to pay $150 in advance for the mule fare. Once paid, it would be too financially painful to bugger out no matter how convincing an excuse we could make up. So there we were, the dainty dozen (#13 and #14 hiked in several days later), all gathered at the Leavitt Meadows pack station, ready to shoulder our 4 pound day packs for the 11 mile hike to Upper Piute Meadows. We started out hiking just ahead of the mules, our first footsteps of the journey passing through their feedlot- a festering landscape of droppings and urine kneaded together by millions of hoof-steps. Not exactly the best start, but hey, we didn’t have to carry 80 pound packs!
Five hours later we were at basecamp- a beautiful pine stand at the edge of a vibrant meadow. We began setting up camp, just minutes before a thunderstorm enveloped us. That’s when Dan began to worry about his daughter and nephew, who were missing in action.
Here’s a shot of the lost kids. They’re the one’s to the right of the dope wearing the spongebob shirt :
Not the savviest of outdoor folk, these two managed to take a wrong turn at about mile 9. Dan’s fatherly instincts kicked into to overdrive and he led a search party to find the hapless hikers. An hour or two later the drenched dozen were reunited, but now encountered a different dilemma: mosquitos. They were so thick, you had to take shallow breaths to avoid inhaling the little buggers. There was nowhere to hide, so we sprayed down with DEET and donned mesh face nets.
Our camp is by the far end of this meadow:
That’s Hawksbeak Peak in the background.
What you can’t see from basecamp is our main objective- Watchtower Peak. This elusive formation lies another 3 miles up the trail. Here’s what it looks like from Tower Canyon:
Little was known about Watchtower Peak. For all our research we only came up with a 3rd class route from the saddle with Tower Peak proper. So we figured there may be some new climbing to be had on the 1700’ North face…
Our crew consisted of just 33% climber folk, the rest being non-climbers content with hiking, drinking, and the occasional toproping. So we used day 2 to scout out possible new routes, top rope the “kids”, and stage gear at the base. Dan felt too worked on day three for a summit attempt, so it was up to myself, Kumar (aka screwmar, aka eastside barbie), and Alyse to climb the North face. After the refreshing hour and a half uphill hike we reached the base of the North face and our stashed gear. The climbing turned out to be really nice. The granite was like a cross between Tuolumne Meadows and Lover’s leap. Lots of horizontal dikes to stand on. Most of the climbing was in the 5-easy/moderate range, so our ascent went pretty quick.
Here’s a shot taken at the start of our climb. We followed the right of the twin cracks streaking up the face.
Here’s a shot of Kumar on pitch 5. A butt shot, for sure, but definitely his better side.
Spongebob at the start of pitch 6, just past the large tree ledge that bisects the North face.
Kumar starting pitch 7.
Kumar on pitch 9.
Alyse near the top.
Alyse and Kumar enjoying a summit soda at the top. Tower Peak Northeast Face in the background. The Swanson/Nye 5.10 route goes up the orange colored dihedral (we think).
Our route is #2.
So, from various internet sources we gathered that there would be a 3rd class way off the Watchtower. Not exactly correct… turns out that the 3rd class route was for the South Watchtower summit- the one closest to the saddle with Tower Peak. There are actually 3 distinct summits separated by long couloirs on the West. We would need to make an 80’ rap into the notch between the North and middle summits. We placed two bolts (3/8” SS w/ SS rings) into a huge block for this rappel. Once into the notch we were able to work our way past the middle and South summits via mostly 3rd class scrambling to the saddle.
Here’s a shot of the guilty party at the saddle with the three Watchtower Peak summits behind us. We were surrounded by High Sierra grandeur and the views all round were spectacular. Yup, this was going to be a good week.
We took this shot of Watchtower Peak from the Northwest on the descent. You can see the three distinct summits and more climbing potential on these NW faces.
Day 4 was spent toproping the kids, hiking, relaxing, and drinking. There is an amazing amount of cragging to be done up here. Many good formations in the 50’ to 300’ range litter the landscape. Dan was feeling frisky this day, so we decided to have another go at the Watchtower for day 5. We would attempt the NE facethis time, just around the corner from the previous route.
Here’s the start.
Pic of Dan (the Old Dork) at the pitch 1 belay.
Pic of the Younger Dork trying to get lost on pitch 2.
Old dork looking confused (early senility + altitude) at the pitch 4 belay.
Pitch 5. We found a strange item on a ledge midway up this pitch: a pilot’s emergency strobe. More on this later.
More pitches of 5-fun up higher!
Younger Dork on summit.
Old Dork on the summit wondering how two has-been (never were) climbers summitted a 1700’ face via a new route in less than 4 hours. See route #1 on the overlay.
We were stoked to find these shiny SS bolts and rings allowing us to rap into the notch. I promised to buy a beer for the kind person who put them in.
Since we had plenty of daylight we decided to take some photos on the middle summit. Here is Dan posing as his hero (what’s his face?) from Europe.
Here I am re-arranging the summits blocks to increase the feng shui of the middle summit. Very hard work, mind you, those blocks were heavy. I’ll be sending a bill to the Forest Service for the improvements.
Here’s a shot of Watchtower and Tower Peaks with Tower Lake just visible at the bottom of the photo. Dan took this shot from atop a high ridge that he and his daughter hiked on day 3.
Mr. Bumb (one of our hikers) enjoying the magical meadow below Watchtower Peak.
It’s too bad our camp was in such an ugly location.
On day 6 a huge cold front moved in so we just sat around camp enjoying the near freezing temps. We basically did nothing productive other than sport eating and cocktail mixing. Luckily we had a good supply of graupel which was used to shake Martinis.
Day 6 also saw the arrival of Dan’s better half Gretchen as well as BigWallPaul- both joining the group for the last few days of the trip. Day 7 saw Dan ,Emma, Kumar, and Alyse begin their hike into the Hawksbeak area for a day 8 ascent of that peak. BigWallPaul and I planned to ascend the far right side of the North Face of Watchtower Peak for day 7.
Amazingly enough, a party of 3 (Will, Bill, and David) separate from our group had muled/horsed into Tower Canyon and were planning on climbing Watchtower Peak as well. They were under the same impression and were surprised to see us as well. (on all ascents this week of the Watchtower, it appeared that no climbers had been up the North face- key pro placements had to be dug out, on-route loose flakes were peeled and tossed by the lead climber, no rappel set up into notch, etc.) So the odds of two separate parties showing up the same week to climb the same unclimbed face must be staggering.
Anyway, Day 7 dawned clear and cold. BigWallPaul (BWP) forgot to pack a jacket so I lent him mine. He also couldn’t find his climbing shoes due to his house being a mess during a renovation. So he was content to be a little cold and climb the face in his sticky rubber approach shoes. We chose a crack system on the far right end of the North Face (see route #5 on the overlay). Will, Bill, and David chose a prominent crack system just left of the big water streak- see route # 3.
Here’s the start.
It was so cold and windy that after about 20 feet of climbing you had to put your hands back into your pockets to thaw them out. Myself and BWP freezing at the pitch 2 belay.
Our objective is the prominent tower.
Yesterday’s graupel still frozen to the cliff.
David and Bill about halfway up. Will is up and around the corner on lead.
Here’s the crux of our route: a 5.8 chimney. I do believe I heard BWP crying for mama midway up it.
We arrived at the steep tower after 7 pitches, however it was insurmountable due to lack of talent, fitness, and courage (déjà vu?). So we went around it with some 5.8 friction and a fixed nut self-back belay for the follower. Here’s BWP rounding the corner after the traverse.
No, Paul, put your rope back on, we’re not done yet!!
Here’s Bill on lead, near the top where our routes converge.
BWP on top. Just a little windy.
All of a sudden there’s people everywhere! Bill and Will on the summit. David bringing up the rear. They named their route “Where there’s a Will, there’s a way” (III 5.8).
Will joins us at the summit lounge.
David on the summit wondering why he didn’t bring his parachute.
A shot of Watchtower peak on our way back to camp.
Day 7 was so much fun that BWP and I decided to go back up and climb another line on Watchtower Peak. We saw a nice crack system that ran through a series of roofs between our previous route and “Where there’s a Will there’s a way.” We would aim for the giant right facing corner and join WTAWTAW about mid way up the formation. See route #4 on the overlay. One of the hikers in our group joined us for a top rope on the first pitch. Rikkie is smiling because she has no idea that her life is in the hands of a couple of half-wits.
BWP and Rikkie at the pitch 1 belay.
Looking up at pitch 2. We avoided some steep OW climbing by going left up a shallow right facing corner. This stemming corner was the 5.8 crux of the route.
Here’s the start of pitch three.
Pitch 4. Chucking off a loose flake and then the improbable 5.7 roof avoidance move.
These last two shots of the route were taken on the 4th pitch. Interesting rock formation. What do they say about little green aliens and… probes?
Day 9: rest day, toproping, and departure day for half the crew. The rest left on day 10. This 150’ tall cliff is directly across from Watchtower Peak and right next the Tower Lake trail. We climbed a pair of four-star 5.7’s and top roped some of our hiker folks here. Rock similar to Manure Pile.
So a great time was had by all. 5 climbers climbed 35 new pitches. The hikers explored up and down Tower Canyon and the Hawksbeak area. And we all made it back in one piece.
Clint is hosting the topo at:
and the overlay at:
NOTES: The strobe mystery… Our theory based on what we have found is that this strobe may have been dropped from (or left on) the summit by military SAR crew that helicoptered a crewman atop the summit to set up a communications station (or something). A Marine Corps base is only 20 miles away. We found a military type piton fixed at the summit, but in a place that did not make sense for belaying or for rapping into the notch. It did make sense to anchor a crewperson after exiting a chopper since it was in the flatter, open part of the summit. Also there were no rappel slings or gear above the notch, suggesting that whomever placed the piton may have left the summit via the chopper. It makes sense that whomever was left at the summit would carry this strobe as part of his survival gear. If it was left on or dropped off the summit, wet snow avalanches could have easily brought it down to the ledge where we found it. Information and photos has been sent to the Navy in Fallon, Nevada so they can cross reference known plane crashes in the area.
Here’s one last pic- Dan’s long exposure of the rising moon over Hawksbeak.
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