Tower Peak, Ehrnbeck Peak, & Hawksbeak Peak Via Buckeye Canyon to Rainbow Canyon

  • Updated: July 26, 2015
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

July 24th to 26th, 2015
Tower Peak (11,755')
Hawksbeak Peak (11,134')
Ehrnbeck Peak (11,240')

This was an official trip led through Sierra Club by Neal Robbins and myself.

The general idea was to look for an interesting 3rd class peak and to do it in as interesting a way as we could manage.  We decided on Tower Peak, notable for being remote and seldom climbed, then Neal came up with a plan that involved coming in via Buckeye Canyon and grabbing two bonus peaks from the Vagmarken Sierra Crest List.  Additionally the second day we'd attempt to get both Tower and Ehrnbeck by traversing the ridge between them.

I carpooled with Jen and Kristen and we did our usual late night drive up.  This one was fairly far north near Bridgeport so it was late when we pulled into the campground a short distance before the trailhead.  The next morning we met the others and learned they had found spots right at the end of the road.

The Buckeye Canyon trailhead is kind of odd since it's before the end of the road (which ends at a gate giving access to cattle fields) and feels more like a picnic area vs a normal backpacker trailhead.  There were bathrooms but no bear boxes.

The trail starts by going a short way to the end of the paved road where you go through a gate and continue down a dirt road.  This turns into fields crisscrossed by countless cow trails and a stream running in the middle.

Heading up Buckeye Canyon
On the way out we stuck to the south side of the river and ended up off trail several times as what looked like a trail one minute would disappear without warning.  On the way back we tried the north and ended up even further off trail so treat the GPS tracks of this section as very very rough suggestions.

We ended up crossing the river three times.  Two of these had absolutely nothing we could use to get across and we just had to take off our boots and wade.  I'm pretty sure we were only on the actual trail (such that it exists) on the one pictured above.

The cow fields eventually gave way to the forested terrain.

Which of course meant we lost the trail.  Again.  This time we had cut through an impressively dense grove of aspens to reach the point where the GPS claimed we might find a trail.  Normally this is pretty straightforward but in this case, the Garmin map showed more than one trail and disagreed with the printed topos of the area.  It kept us on our toes.

Oh and there were cows.  Kristen disapproved strongly.  No aggressive bulls at least unlike a certain trip to the Spanish and Tehepite area.  We found the trail again for a short distance only for it to disappear into the brush again.

Only slightly overgrown...
13 miles (-ish) later we reached a saddle and made a hard left.

From here it was cross country and a bit of light 3rd class mixed in.

This was the only real pay attention spot and it was just a matter of the moves being awkward with a pack vs difficult.

After that climbed a boulder field next to a stream eventually reaching a flat area north east of Hawksbeak Peak.

Hawksbeak was only a short side trip.  We dropped packs on the slope and slogged up the sand.

Nice view from the top.  We could see both the peaks we'd be aiming for tomorrow.

Tower on the right, Ehrnbeck (just barely) on the left.

We dropped back down, grabbed our packs, and headed for Rainbow Canyon.  Half the group traversed high to the saddle while the rest dropped lower.  Staying high worked better if you ask me.

Rainbow Canyon was pretty but has the worst mosquitoes I'd seen this season.  We had a bit of trouble finding a flat campsite but eventually settled on the area marked on the map.

Headnets were the in fashion at dinner.

The next morning we hustled to get through all the morning rituals before the mosquitoes returned in force and struck out west toward Tower.

We approached the peak directly cutting off to the right to gain the north ridge.

We climbed up just right of this.

The backside was nice and solid and led up to a steep chute.

Again good solid climbing.

And once we reached the top of the chute we were basically there.

There was also one of the increasingly rare old school register boxes up there.

Reversing down the chute went smoothly and we backtracked from there until we could sidehill over to the eastern ridge of Tower which we hoped to take over to Ehrnbeck Peak.  We had a single report of someone who had managed to do the ridge but reportedly the part right under Tower was not passable.

We cut high across the hillside above us in this picture from earlier

Initially, the ridge seemed promising but as you can see from our track we didn't get far.  The left side was cliffs, the right was steep vegetated terrain, and the ridge itself had drops much bigger than our rope.  We tried multiple times before deciding we were going to have to drop down.

I'd seen some 2nd class terrain from the peak that looked like we could get up it.  On the downside it meant skipping pretty much the entire ridge but that didn't seem like too bad an idea based on what we'd encountered and what we could see from below.  I was afraid several spots we could see along the ridge would offer similar challenges.

The spot above worked well and we soon regained the ridge to the east of the last of the interim bumps.

Once on the ridge we were looking at a direct climb filled with boulders and vegetation but we thought we were basically home free.

This was more of a hassle to climb than you'd think from the pictures.

Near the top we took a clear sandy chute hoping to see our peak once we reached the top.  Instead we found cliffs off to the left and no way forward straight over the top.  So we took the right side.

Neal went to the right of the block in the middle of the picture and got out on some sketchy cliffs that were far too high.  We were all tired and based on the time of day it was looking like we were going to need to give up and head for camp the way we came up.  This was long and had a lot of difficult terrain not to mention we'd have to try the peak the following day when we were hiking out if we wanted to get it.

Then Jen called back from the left side and said she found a way through.  When I saw it at first it sure didn't look like it went but there was a steep downclimb that allowed us to reach the next saddle.

This is a picture of the downclimb through from the far side.  We were in the dark cut to the right of the high point.  The report we had of someone doing this traverse didn't mention this spot but they'd started on Ehrbeck and this would have been obvious to them.

In considerably higher spirits we climbed up the far side of the and found a steep chute that took us up the next bump and finally to the summit.

It was a little on the snug side but worked.

Summit of Ehrnbeck Peak from below

The good news is now that we were here we knew we had an easy walk off.  We'd been able to see the eastern ridge the day before and knew we could reach the saddle above Rainbow Canyon fairly easily.

And after all the bushwhacking, dead ends, and reroutes an easy descent sounded nice.

The gully we used to drop into Rainbow from below

We actually took a shortcut rather than go all the way to the saddle.  There was a large gradual gully that took us straight down into the canyon.

And this is what it looked like while descending.

We even made it back to camp before dark.  Granted the mosquitoes hordes were waiting for us again.  Everyone was exhausted and went to bed early.

The next morning we had a long hike out and got moving early.

Leaving camp

Exiting Rainbow Canyon

The meadow below Hawksbeak.

Descending to the saddle.

Looking down Buckeye Canyon east of the saddle.

Back on the trail in upper Buckeye Canyon.

And after 3 days of not seeing anyone (or even signs anyone had been up this way) we started meeting folks.  Including a forest volunteer who wanted to check our permit.  We'd had issues getting our permit picked up so of course, this was the time we had it checked.

The trail got less distinct the lower we went and once again we found ourselves wandering back and forth across cow fields.  Each time I thought I had the trail back it veered the wrong direction or just disappeared on us and the GPS was not much help.

Eventually I just started crossing the fields in the most direct manner toward out goal and figured we'd find it.  This was slow going at times since the fields were filled with pits and ditches.  Finally I'd had enough and crossed the creek to rejoin the trail we'd come in on.

The slick rocks made the a bit treacherous and two people slid off and got wet.  Fortunately it was warm out and we didn't have far to go.

If you're trying to follow my track I'd recommend sticking to the red line north of Big Meadow rather than the blue.

I also found a tick when I got home which in retrospect isn't a huge surprise considering the cow fields we were wading across.

On the way out Kristen, Jen, and I tried to checkout Buckeye Hot Spring while Neal and company were off showering.  The only pools we saw were occupied at the time so we decided we'd go back another time.

You Might Also Like