Tower Peak, Yosemite, August 27-28, 2009
(11755 ft / 3583 m)

Day 1:
This was designed as a 48-hours trip from the Bay Area. Eric and I left Palo Alto at 2:30 AM, and reached the Leavitt Meadow trailhead after a 205-miles drive at about 7 AM. Twenty minutes later we were on the trail, having our first view of Tower Peak way to the south. It took us five hours from the trailhead (7100 ft) to the far (south) end of the beautiful Upper Piute Meadow (8250 ft). After a short break, we continued through the Tower Creek canyon, and reached Tower Lake at 2:45 PM, much sooner than we had expected. The trail goes all the way to the lake, but its upper part is poorly marked (and poorly maintained), and some care has to be taken not to lose it. There were no problems with crossing creeks along the way, and we even managed to get to the other side of Walker River at Upper Piute Meadow without having to take our boots off. What a difference two months can make! We set our base camp at Tower Lake (9523 ft), and retired for the day. It is not easy to tell how long a hike, distance wise, we had on the first day. Various sources quote the distance between the Leawitt Meadow trailhead and Tower Lake anywhere between 12 and 16 miles. I added aerial distances of various segments of the trail (probably an underestimate), and came up with 10 miles from Leavitt Meadow to Upper Piute Meadow, and 13 miles from Leavitt Meadow to Tower Lake.

Day 2:
On the next morning, we were up at 6 AM, ready to attack Tower Peak (11755 ft). We left at 7 AM, and reached the summit at 9:20 AM, via Tower's North Ridge and Northwest Chute. We estimate our route from the lake to the top was about two miles long. On the way back we made a side trip to the top of the nearest (southern) Watchtower, a formation that guards the north end of Tower's North Ridge. We were back at the base camp before noon, and hit the trail at 1 PM. It took us 6 hours and twenty minutes to reach our car (7:20 PM). After a short rest at the trailhead and a long drive, we arrived back to Palo Alto a few minutes after midnight, thus completing the intended 48-hours trip some two hours ahead of time.

Thumbnails (and more) of all pictures from this hike, from Eric's site.

Report from my earlier attempt, in June 2009. Check also a description of the first ascent, in 1870.

Topo map of the Tower Lake — Tower Peak area.

Unmarked photos below are taken from Eric's report:

Tower Peak from the trail
Tower Peak from the trail, still miles and miles away.
 
Tower Peak from the trail, closeup
Tower Peak closeup... from far away.
 
Tower Pass from Tower Lake
Tower Pass (10115 ft) from Tower Lake (9523 ft). Earlier this summer, a snow field covered the entire slope around and above the lake. Only a narrow band of frozen snow close to the pass remains this late in the season.
 
Tower Pass from Tower Lake - route indicated
If you don't have crampons, stay right as you get closer to the pass.
 
Band of snow near the pass
Snow is frozen, steep in places, and slippery...
 
Band of snow near the pass. Bypass route is indicated
...but the right edge is clear of snow and dry.
 
Bypassing the remnants of the snow field.
Bypassing the remnants of the snow field.
 
Tower Peak from Tower Pass
Tower Peak (11755 ft) from Tower Pass (10115 ft).
 
Tower Peak from Tower Pass - route indicated
Bypassing another snow field above Tower Pass, and heading to Tower's North Ridge.
 
Tower Peak's Northwest Chute
Northwest Chute between two pyramids on Tower Peak.
 
Tower Peak's Northwest Chute - route indicated
We followed Tower's North Ridge for as long as it was class-2, then traversed up into the chute.
 
Traversing into the chute
Traversing into the chute.
 
Traversing into the chute - route indicated
The chute starts as a class-2, then turns into simple and enjoyable class-3 scramble on firm rock.
 
Northwest Chute
Northwest Chute.
 
Northwest Chute
Plenty of handholds.
 
Northwest Chute from the summit
View down the chute from the summit rock.
 
 

FIRST ASCENT OF TOWER PEAK, 1870

In February of 1926, Francis P. Farquhar asked Alfred Craven, the only surviving member of the first party that had reached the summit of Tower Peak, to write his recollection of that ascent. Mr. Craven was 79 at the time when he dictated his memorandum, and his description of the ascent that had taken place when he was 23, doesn't reveal much, and it is actually quite confusing. It is believed that Craven's party had used Tower's Northwest Chute to reach the top, but that cannot be corroborated from the report below. Alfred Craven died in September 1926, and his brief report was published posthumously in the Sierra Club Bulletin, Volume 12 (1927), page 419. Here is the relevant part of his text:

...There had been several attempts made by different parties of the Geological Survey of California to reach the summit of Tower Peak. The parties who had tried to reach the peak before had approached it from the wrong side, which was the cause of their failure. Our party followed an old trail that crossed the Sierra not a great way north of the peak. We followed this trail up through the foothills from the eastern side until we arrived near the summit of the main range, when we noticed what appeared to be a terrace, or bench, which ran along the easterly side of the range. We found it to be an old emigrant trail on which we found the parts of a large number of old wagons, a wheele here, an axle there, and other parts along the whole distance. As this bench appeared to lead in the right direction, we followed it until, almost before we realized it, we had reached the foot of the peak proper. Here were two small lakes within a quarter of a mile of each other. Just below the lakes the old emigrant trail went down to the San Joaquin Valley. From our camp by one of these lakes we could look up to the top of the peak, about a thousand feet above, over a pretty smooth slope of snow. The next morning we made preparations for the ascent of the peak, which preparations, I must admit, were rather useless, for soon after we started climbing up the snow slope we found ourselves at the top of the snow with little left to do. There was about a hundred feet of rock protruding above the snow, which presented the only difficulty, and that was not great. The weather was perfect; it was not cold. We made such observations as we thought essential and then returned quickly, sliding down the snow on flat rocks. We had left Oakland in April, and it must have been the summer of 1870 that we made this ascent. Our party consisted of Charles F. Hoffmann, in charge, myself as his assistant, and W. A. Goodyear, geologist.

— Alfred Craven, Pleasantville, New York