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Ascent of Tower Peak on 2018-10-14

Climber: Rafee Memon

Others in Party:AJ Kaufmann -- Trip Report or GPS Track
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, October 14, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Tower Peak
    Location:USA-California
    Elevation:11755 ft / 3582 m

Ascent Trip Report

The days were getting shorter and chillier, and I was looking to do one last tough hike before the season ended. I had been eyeing up Tower Peak, which I had considered too long for a day hike as recently as a couple months prior. But having completed long day hikes of Williamson, Brewer, and Cotter in that time, I was eager to slay the Tower dragon. After AJ agreed to join me, I was looking at my second thirty-miler in as many weeks. We agreed to start at the Leavitt Meadows Pack Station, which looked to shave a mile or two off of the round-trip distance. I drove up from the Bay on Saturday night, found a turnout near the pack station that had cell service, messaged my location to AJ, and set my alarm. The temperature dipped into the 20s, and despite my layers and blanket, I turned the car on three times throughout the night to run the heat. I never felt that I completely fell asleep, but time seemed to pass quickly every time I looked at the clock. At 3:15am, I decided that any further attempt at sleeping was futile, so I made tea and started getting dressed. AJ arrived at the turnout at 3:40am, and soon after, we drove to the lot near the pack station and set off at 4:05am.

Things got off to a rough start as we wandered around the pack station trying to find the hiker trail marked on the USGS map. We gave up after about ten minutes and instead headed down the dirt road to the pack trail. Almost immediately, we were faced with two creek crossings that we managed to stay dry on, followed by a significant crossing of the Walker River. We found a spot that seemed to be shallow, and, figuring that hesitation would only increase the risk of dunking, I gingerly darted across, and AJ soon followed. From there, we bushwhacked our way to the hiker trail on the hillside, and only then did it feel like the hike had properly begun.

We cruised down the trail for hours through the darkness, with dawn finally hitting around 7:00am. We reached Upper Piute Meadows and Piute Cabin around 8:00am. Frost covered the meadow as far as we could see, but we weren't cold since we were generating heat and the wind was calm. The views down the canyon opened up as we could see some peaks near our destination, but Tower was still hidden behind a hillside. We continued onward to Tower Lake, reaching it at 9:50am, where we took a break for breakfast and examined our route. From here, we could see that the snow cover was more significant than we expected and would play a significant role in the rest of the climb. The northwest chute was in the shade and covered in snow, so we decided to head up the north ridge, figuring that it would be a more interesting climb anyway.

We climbed up the ridge to Tower Pass, and we were treated with an up-close view of the Watchtower and Tower Peak finally coming into full view, six and a half hours after we had begun. By then, we were walking through an inch or two of sugary snow, and as we carefully rounded the ridge to the bottom of the summit chute, we could see snow the whole way to the top of the mountain. The giant steps that we had expected to ascend would be too trecherous to attempt in the snow. We debated continuing to wrap around the next ridge to where we knew another class 3 route existed, but we decided to continue upwards and stay to the left of the chute where we could see a route with slightly less snow. We slowly and carefully made our way to the top, making several risky exposed moves along the way. Our boots filled with snow and my fingers started to tingle from the cold, but we pushed forward with the summit nearly a stone's throw away. We finally summited at 12:50pm and took a well-deserved physical and mental break as we took in the views and signed the register. One summit register entry joked, "I'm scared to descend, help!", and at that point, I started to dread our descent back down the chute.

We started our descent at 1:25pm and took a similar route down the chute and across to the ridge. The descent was somewhat scarier than the ascent due to us staring down the full runout if we were to slip. As we neared Tower Pass, it was a huge relief to finally reach the end of the risky section as the talus and boulders gave way to sand. We decided to make a quick detour to the Watchtower which, from below, appears to be an imposing rock climb, but from the saddle, is a simple scramble. We found it humorous that we were voluntarily adding distance to a day that was already shaping up to be well over thirty miles. We reached the summit at 3:00pm, and while it was mostly anticlimactic, we had our best view of Tower Peak of the day.

The descent from Tower Pass was easy compared to what we'd gone through on the ascent, and we reached Tower Lake around 4:00pm. AJ planned to run from there, and he offered to wait at the proper hiker's trailhead to give me a ride back to the dirt lot at the pack station. I am decidedly not a runner and expected him to finish over two hours before me, so I told him he shouldn't wait. I bid him farewell and rested for another ten minutes before starting my own journey back to the trailhead around 4:30pm. I enjoyed the two hours of remaining daylight through the canyon before I stopped for an extended break at dusk to have a snack and don my extra layers and headlamp. The darkness seemed to exacerbate the tediousness of the return, my senses heightened as I made my way down the trail by way of my dim headlamp and the faint glow of the crescent moon. At one point, I lost the trail and got turned around; luckily, I realized my mistake only about a quarter of a mile later after finding it odd that I was now hiking in the direction of the moon. I stopped for one final break around 8:00pm where I put on a podcast to make the remainder of the descent a little more bearable.

When I reached the pack trail cutoff a couple miles from the end of the trail, I decided to take it and find my way back across Leavitt Meadows, eager to end the hike as quickly as possible. I mostly relied on my GPS track to cross the meadows and fight through every bush and tree that I blindly encountered. I made the three creek crossings pretty carelessly, not caring much about getting my boots wet as, by this point, I could see headlights from cars driving by on 108. I hopped the gate at the pack station and was finally back at my car in the deserted lot at 9:45pm. My boots had frozen over from the creek crossings, and as I waited for them to defrost in the heat of the car, AJ pulled up beside me. It turned out that he finished only an hour and a half before me and had been waiting at the proper trailhead to give me a ride after all. We went our separate ways, and I drove over the pass and into the valley, which was pleasant without traffic despite my fatigue. I stopped at a gas station in Manteca and napped soundly for an hour and a half before finishing the drive and reaching my apartment at 3:15am.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Tower Peak from the Watchtower (2018-10-14). Photo by Rafee Memon.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6701 ft / 2041 m
    Extra Gain:1053 ft / 320 m
    Round-Trip Distance:34.8 mi / 56 km
    Route:North Ridge
    Trailhead:Leavitt Meadows Pack Station  7160 ft / 2182 m
    Grade/Class:Class 3+ (snow)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Weather:Cold, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Part of Trip: Tower Peak

Complete Trip Sequence:
OrderPeak/PointDateGain
1Tower Peak2018-10-14 a6701 ft / 2042 m
2The Watchtower2018-10-14 b100 ft / 30 m
Total Trip Gain: 6801 ft / 2072 m    Total Trip Loss: 6801 ft / 2072 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rafee Memon
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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