Ski Mountaineering

Hawksbeak, Ehrnbeck and Tower
July 28- Aug 2, 2008

Reiner Stenzel

The summer months are the best time for climbing Sierra peaks. Since many years this has become a tradition for some SMS members. Bahram Manahedgi, Mark Goebel and I planned a week-long trip but closer to the departure date Mark could not make it and so we were two. I wanted to revisit the Northern Yosemite Park, famous for an abundance of wildflowers in mid-summer, and climb some non-listed peaks while Bahram wanted to go for Tower, an SPS mountaineers peak. We had one of the best times: Perfect weather, three fine peak climbs, great sceneries, swimming and fishing, hot spring visits and superb food. Here are the details:

We carpooled on Mon, 7/28, from LA to Bridgeport where we secured a wilderness permit and then headed to Buckeye Hot Spring where we camped and soaked in the evening and next morning. On Tue, 7/29, we drove past the Twin Lakes to Mono Village where we had a good breakfast before a 9:30am start of the hike to Peeler Lake. After about 2 hours we reached Barney Lake. At the main beach it was a bit crowded from day hikers, but at the far end it was quiet and we stopped for a break and swim.

We proceeded up the creek, along many switch-backs to the next lake, Peeler, which was reached by about 5pm. Fine campsites are on the west end of the lake where we settled down. It was time for a short dip into the lake and fishing. Chef Bahram concentrated on preparing a fine dinner, all with natural health food. The fishing did not go well, too few trout and no bites.

In the evening a dark brown cloud moved through the area: It was smoke from a forest fire in the western Yosemite N.P. It caused a reverse sunset where the top of the mountains darkened first and the base last. The shades were red-brown. After an hour the cloud drifter elsewhere and the sun rose again. At the real sunset the Sawtooth Range turned red and the peaks reflected in the lake.

On Wed, 7/30/08, we hiked out at 7:30am to Kerrick Meadow. At the trail junction we headed cross-country over a saddle into Thompson Canyon west of Kerrick Meadow. At the pass we had a first glimpse of one of our peaks, Hawksbeak. The creek in Thompson Canyon was running well and there were small trout in it.

Abundant lupins were blooming along the creek. The valley is green and pretty, truely remote without trails or signs of humans other than a rare find of obsidian chips from Piute hunters eons ago. At the upper end of the canyon we found nice sandy places to camp with nearby water and whitebark pines to hang our food.

By 11am we had our camp established and were heading up to Hawksbeak. One follows up the canyon and ascends the eastern slopes which are unfortunately sandy and covered with low pine trees. On the return we found a use trail which avoids the bushwhacking. The upper part of the mountain is an enjoyable cl 3 climb. There was no summit register on this nice peak. The views were splendid, especially to nearby peaks like Tower and Ehrnbeck.

Plenty of snow was still on north-facing slopes which supplied water to creeks and lakes. We took pictures and lunched on the summit. In the southwest the air got bad from a wildfire in the western Yosemite Park. By 1:30pm we had retraced our steps down and had a break near a small lake. Since it was too early to go back to camp we decided to go for the next peak, Ehrnbeck Pk. It is a straightforward cl 2 ascent along the eastern ridge.

By 4pm we were on the summit. There was no register can, just a broken plastic bag with a spiral notebook without any signatures. We found a pencil in a crack between rocks, cleaned up the notebook, signed and placed it in a new plastic box under a cairn. It may last for a while but a better solution is needed. The air got rather hazy which limited the picture taking. So we returned to camp and started dinner by 6pm. Mosquitoes were abundant. By 9pm it got dark. After a few hours of sleep the coyotes started a concert, which did not last too long, just enough to wake us up.

On Thur, 7/31/08, we planned to climb Tower Peak. Since it would be a full day hike we had a 7am start. We ascended over a saddle between Hawksbeak and Ehrnbeck, dropped into the northwesterly drainage between these peaks and then ascended west toward Tower Peak. The terrain involves a lot of up and down over small ridges and moraines with large boulders. But there were also nice streams and grass and red and white heather. We headed initially toward the low point of the north ridge but decided for a short cut, a snow field and a chute leading to the high end of the north ridge.

Since the snow had deep suncups it was safe to ascend it without ice axe and crampons. From the high point of the ridge one ascends the north face of the mountain aiming for the gap between two high points the right one of which is the summit. It is enjoyable class 2-3 climbing. By 11:30am we were on the summit. This time, we were lucky with a register. A 1941 Sierra Club box contained half a dozen of bound and spiral notebooks, loose sheets and business cards.

The registers dated back to only 1990, indicating that the peak is climbed frequently by many people. It was fun to find my signature from 1996. We had lunch at 11,755', enjoyed the views, took pictures before the haze built up, got no cell phone connections, and then descended down the north face and ridge. From the low point of the north ridge we headed straight down to the creek which involved some steep terrain. Eventually we reached the stream and lakes below Hawksbeak. Its steep west face is impressive.

After a last ascent over the pass into Thompson Canyon we were back at camp by 5pm. Bahram cooked another fine dinner. I introduced him to miners lettuce soup and pennyroyal tea. It was a long but successful climbing day. On Fri, 8/1/08, we hiked out of Thompson Canyon into Kerrick Mdw, followed the trail to Peeler Lake where we had a nice break and dip. From then on it was all downhill till Barney lake where we had a second lunch break.

This was my last chance to fish. After an hour I had three nice trout in the pan. Bahram went to work and sauteed onions and garlic in olive oil, cooked the fish in organic butter with fresh lemon juice, sea salt and spices. It became a first-class gourmet dinner. At 5pm we marched down to Mono Village, picked up the car and drove once more to Buckeye Hot Springs. We soaked till it got dark and went to bed after 9pm.

Next morning, Sat, 8/2/08, the best way to wake up was to warm up in hot clean water. Occasionally a short dip into the cold creek helped to wake up. Around 8am we drove to Bridgeport for coffee and a no-more-oatmeal breakfast. Then we cruised south in 100 deg summer weather through the Mojave desert.

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