By: Barbee Tidball
SPS Labor Day Weekend trip to learn about and support the proposed Hoover Wilderness expansion areas. By Barbee Tidball In 1988? the Forest Service proposed giving this area Wilderness designation in its HumboldtToiyabe Land Management plan. We decided to lead a trip to Tower Peak through this proposed Wilderness addition rather than the traditional SPS approach from Yosemite. Leavitt Meadows and the West Walker River are reported to be a beautiful area with good fishing, and there was the prospect. of some excellent peak climbing.
After confusion over meeting times and trip dates and then the prospect of stormy weather the leaders, Barbee & Larry Tidball and one participant, Jack Wickel met at the trailhead near the Leavitt Meadow packstation on Hwy 108 to Sonora Pass, with backpacks and fishing gear under a rainy sky. We headed out hoping the weather would clear as the weekend progressed.
Our route followed a -well-maintained trail along the Walker River to Piute Meadows. The area has been cared for by Tom Forsell, an incredibly dedicated and very pro-wilderness ranger for the past 17 years. This is not a rugged and wild wilderness area. The trail follows along the river twisting up through rock sections and along forested paths and open meadows. At one point we came upon a couple small lakes (ponds actually) with a beautiful display of Nuphar polysepadum, Cow-lily or Yellow Pond-lily. The large yellow flowers and huge floating leaves are far more common in the northern Sierra than the rugged Eastern Sierra.
Upper and Lower Piute Meadows have a history of recreational and ranching use. Leavitt Meadow Packstation currently serves the area and there are numerous fishing trials near the campgrounds along the main highway. The trailhead is not far from the Marine Corps Cold Weather Camp. Campsites near the meadows and -surrounding lakes offered many sites for fishermen. Jack and Larry are both fly fishermen and I like to at least pretend I can fish.
Our first day we hiked to Upper Piute Meadow. At the lower end of the meadow is a comfortable ranger cabin. The cabin is situated with a view of the peaks and is surrounded by the most unusual garden. Over the years a "rock" garden has developed incorporating colored stones and stones of unusual shapes to create a "flower" border around the cabin's front porch. The front "lawn" of the cabin is a sun shape 15' round design. Rock lined paths around the cabin lead to the outhouse and coral. (Maybe the cabin should be considered a historic structure or an in-holding in the future Wilderness designation.) We saved exploring the cabin for later and went on to find a great campsite on top of a knoll at the upper end of the meadow. From camp we could climb up and see views of the meadow and Tower Peak when the clouds broke open. We made camp just in time to set up tents and eat dinner before the rain that had kept us lightly wet all day turned into a real storm. The storm poured down on us all night and continued into the next morning.
We had planned to-get up early and head for Tower Peak the second day, but the onset of winter kept us in our sleeping bags. Later when we decided to dodge the rain and get out of our tents for breakfast we discovered that there was a beautiful white layer down to at least 9000' and just above our campsite elevation. Day two was spent reading in the morning. By afternoon the weather was clearing and Jack and I grabbed our fishing gear.
Day two was a disappointing day - bad weather for climbing and lousy fishing. Jack is -'a proficient fly fisherman and he was able to land a good number of fish -r all WAY TOO SMALL for the pan! It appears that the area has been perhaps too popular of a fishing destination.
Day three dawned sunny and we were on the trail heading up to Tower Pear. The views of the ridges and peaks were wonderful - the first snow fall of the season is always special. From Upper Piute Meadow to Tower Lake the trail is easy to follow. There is one area just before the ascent to Tower Lake where a few trails appear to criss-cross - but all routes lead up to the lake.
At Tower Lake we were greeted with a completely white winter scene. Our route continued over the snow up to the ridge. At 10,000'+ we found white pine and flowers along an alpine creek peaking out from the snow. Asters, Ranger Buttons, Sorrell, Mimulus and many other late summer flowers had been caught by the snowstorm. We crossed the area in the morning on 6-12" inches of snow, by afternoon on our return the snow was starting to melt and we saw bear tracks. Apparently between our morning crossing and afternoon return a bear had crossed over the mountain ridge heading towards Mary Lake.
The route to Tower Peak follows on up the ridge directly toward the peak. We planned to climb the peak via the Northwest class 3 chute. At about 11,000' we were climbing in thigh deep snow up and around trees and rocks still with our sights on the chute and the summit. We passed rocks covered in beautiful rime ice and filled our boots with the powdery snow. At about 11,500' we arrived at the chute the wet, ice covered, chute. The beautiful Winter storm had apparently rained and snowed at the mountain tops rendering the chute unclimbable for us in boots with light gloves and no gear.
Defeated but not disappointed we headed down, stopping along the way at the rock towers over looking Piute Meadows.
This proposed Wilderness area has been a favorite place for many outdoors enthusiasts and as such should be preserved. Wilderness caretakers will have to resist the temptation to "care" too much for the land-- but the Peaks from Hawksbeak to Ehrnbeack, Tower and Forsyth provide this area with a wild and challenging back drop that is complemented by the accessible meadows and lakes. SPS leaders - other suggested climbs in the area include: The west face of Hawkspeak class 5+, accessed from Upper Piute Meadow to Kirkwood Lake. Ehrnbeack Peak with a class 3 Northeast ridge approach also accessed from Kirkwood Lake.
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