Trip Report
Watchtower Peak (Hoover Wilderness Area) trip report
Monday August 24, 2009 12:48am
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.

  Trip Report Views: 7,390
About the Author
cragnshag is a social climber from san joser.


Trad climber
Hustle City
  Aug 24, 2009 - 12:58am PT
The "Uber" TR!
adam d

  Aug 24, 2009 - 01:09am PT
Nice! Well done back there!
Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
  Aug 24, 2009 - 01:19am PT
Good Stuff! A+
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
  Aug 24, 2009 - 01:26am PT
first rate! thanks for the excellent TR

Mountain climber
Roseville, CA
  Aug 24, 2009 - 01:30am PT
Nice TR. I can't believe I have never hiked in that area - it looks great. I may have to make an emergency trip before the winter.

Social climber
Echo Parque, Los Angeles, CA
  Aug 24, 2009 - 02:03am PT
Sweeeeet. Thanks for posting.
John Moosie

Beautiful California
  Aug 24, 2009 - 02:30am PT
Awesome, what a beautiful area. Did the mosquitos stay bad for the whole trip?

Looked at a map and there is a harriet lake and cora lake near there. Whats with those names. There is a Harriet lake in southern Yosemite and Cora lakes just outside southern Yosemite. Aren't there any other names? Anyone know who Harriet and Cora are?
big wall paul

Trad climber
tahoe, CA
  Aug 24, 2009 - 02:45am PT
Great trip report man. I'm so glad I decided to take a break from work (and family) and hike in there the last few days you were in there and hook up for a few climbs.
Pretty good for the ONLY rock climbing day of the year for me -- geez how I've dropped off the map! That's what having kids does to you -- changes your whole world, but doing those climbs with you is snapping my head back to my other true love -- climbing (not you bob).
(uh, can i use "bwp" instead of drywallpaul now?)

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Aug 24, 2009 - 02:46am PT

adding the info to the SPH site too.

  Aug 24, 2009 - 08:41am PT
Thanks Bob,

Good job and fun to read.

Remember on day 2 we previewed the first 3 pitches of the first route and I even led the 2nd pitch? I'm still kickin' myself for not bagging the 1st ascent with you guys the next day.

Remember I have another unclimbed crag to visit - maybe next month?


Trad climber
Lee, NH
  Aug 24, 2009 - 09:18am PT
Excellent. Those look like fun routes, and people having a good time.

  Aug 24, 2009 - 10:45am PT
Great stuff !!

Social climber
Author's Reply  Aug 24, 2009 - 11:55pm PT
"Did the mosquitos stay bad for the whole trip?"

They were the worst during the first few days (warmest day/night temps). So bad that when nature called, I spayed my rear with DEET for just those 30 seconds (lot's of fiber, yo) that it was exposed!

When the cold moved in the skeeters moved out. I saw none on day 6, but of course it was too cold to do much of anything (low 40's all day). Day 7 was nice with very few bugs (mid 50's all day). As it got warmer the bugs came back. The entire area is quite swampy with plenty of standing water. I'm curious if this water tends to go away in the fall or if the colder spring temps would keep the bugs away.

Inner City

Trad climber
Portland, OR
  Aug 25, 2009 - 01:04am PT
What a lovely trip report!

Thanks for posting and it sure seems like a wonderful place for a group climbing vacation. Maybe later in the year would preclude bugs..

This TR was restorative for me with respect to the topo. Some of these threads are extraordinarily less interesting than this one. Thanks!!!!!!

Social climber
Lida Junction
  Aug 25, 2009 - 01:35am PT
that looks so cool

  Aug 26, 2009 - 09:03pm PT
Just noticed detailed route info here -

Sweet ! Thanks for posting this, gotta go try this sometime.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
  Aug 26, 2009 - 09:26pm PT
Just have to rub it in don't you.

First of all, I have to say I hate you all. Don't take it personally, the hate stems from pure jealousy.

I've been eyeballing that formation for years. The research I did came back the same as yours, virgin wall, visible from the road.

Boy, as much as I am overwhelmed with whining, you guys sure did it right. That's the way I have always dreamed of doing these climbs and others in the sierra. Go back there, and stay a while. Totally awesome. Next time, please invite me. Please? I take back all that "I hate you stuff" I promise.

Trad climber
Lee, NH
  Aug 27, 2009 - 10:08am PT
A TR that's worth reading twice, for the escape.

Big Wall climber
  Aug 28, 2009 - 11:40am PT
Here's some pics from that trip.

Here's a shot of some obscure rock we flew past on the way up there. It might be a nice place to climb!


Trad climber
Lee, NH
  Aug 28, 2009 - 12:30pm PT
More great pics from a trip we all wish we'd been on!

A pile of dirt.
  Aug 28, 2009 - 12:36pm PT
Hey Bob,

Nice TR. Looks like you've been busy this summer too. See you at the sand lot this fall.

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Aug 28, 2009 - 12:39pm PT
The more photos I see, the better the climbing. And future possibilities.

Wish I'd been there too.

Trad climber
Sunnyvale, CA
  Aug 28, 2009 - 06:02pm PT
wow. bumpity-bump-bump. Can't let this FA TR goodness disappear!

Big Wall climber
  Aug 28, 2009 - 10:22pm PT
I typed a full trip report yesterday morning & as I posted it, my server crashed. I lost an hours worth of typing & editing. Shoot, I hate it when that happens.

I will re-post after this weekend, I'm off to the Needles to do some crankin'!


  Jan 30, 2010 - 08:58pm PT

Mark Hudon

Trad climber
On the road.
  Jan 31, 2010 - 11:48pm PT
It looks like big time fun!
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
  Nov 6, 2012 - 12:22pm PT
Bump for one of the best TRs on supertopo...

  May 23, 2014 - 10:22pm PT
Summer is here so I thought I'd bump this. Get out there people, lots of virgin rock in a terrific place with almost no people. Also see the subsequent trip:

Trad climber
  May 24, 2014 - 01:18am PT
I dont ever remember setting up a supertopo handle of screwmar. but oh well. Bob, just read your TR and was shocked at how funny it an ass-burgers sort of way. it made me laugh out loud...especially your total dissing of the nice flatlander folks that came along on that trip. kudos to DSM for getting us up there. what good fun and good rock too. i remember eating lots of animal crackers during the cold snap....and all the snakes in leavitt meadow off trail. good people and good times and good rock too.
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  May 24, 2014 - 10:21am PT
This is what makes Supertopo so great...a great and fun trip report.
Vern Muhr

Trad climber
  Jan 26, 2019 - 06:10pm PT
Way back in about 1975 Armando Menocal and I climbed a route on the main wall of The Watchtower. We backpacked in with a group of friends (sherpas). The previous summer we also cached gear near where the trail leaves the Walker river. Back then Chouinard had popularized the idea of not writing up back country climbs so others would have a first ascent type of experience. Armando may have written up something at some point. The climb was a great experience.