Hawksbeak Peak, Ehrnbeck Peak, and the Magnificent Seven

20-23 Jul 2006 - by Tony Stegman

On July 20th I joined a 4-day backpacking trip to the Hoover Wilderness and Northern Yosemite organized by Rod Java of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter's backpacking section. Seven of us planned to backpack approximately 8 miles from Twin Lakes along the Robinson Creek Trail to Peeler Lake and then continue cross country to Thompson Canyon in Yosemite where some planned to relax and enjoy the scenery and others planned to climb some peaks nearby. The group of seven intrepid hikers departed the Mono Village parking lot at 8 AM Thursday July 20th and headed off towards Barney Lake and then Peeler Lake. By early afternoon we arrived at Peeler Lake and the first of several thunderstorms was already building. Steve Thaw led the cross-country travel to Thompson Canyon via an unnamed pass south of Buckeye Pass and Kerrick Meadow. At 3 PM or so the storm began - thunder, lightning, rain, and hail all heavy at times. The group stopped during the heaviest rain and looked for shelter. After a while we decided not to proceed to Thompson Canyon that day as planned and instead find a camping spot near Kerrick Meadow, which we did. The storm soon abated and we set up camp, took some naps, ate some dinner, swapped some tall tales, and then went to bed. We agreed to get up early Friday, leave camp, and head to our original destination, which was upper Thompson Canyon.

After two hours hiking Friday morning we found a nice camping spot on flat sandy ground at approximately 10,000 feet elevation right next to Ehrnbeck Peak and just south of Hawksbeak Peak. After resting a bit from our morning work five of us decided to climb Hawksbeak Peak (elevation 11,120 feet) - a very prominent peak near the head of the canyon. Steve Thaw, Alan Mendoza, Tom Post, Mike Warner, and myself took approximately one hour to reach the summit which is achieved by taking the sandy slope to the east of the rocky summit and sheer west face. The route is straightforward and obvious, with only a bit of bushwhacking either to enjoy or avoid. After spending an hour on top enjoying the fine view we descended. We were back in camp 45 minutes later. All the while Rod Java and David Lopez took naps and swatted flies.

The mosquitoes in camp were numerous and annoying so those who had the foresight to bring netting put them on and the rest of us applied the DEET in generous amounts.

Saturday morning four of us decided we'd climb Ehrnbeck Peak (elevation 11,240 feet) which was just to the west of our camp - if we were John Elway we could toss a football across the creek and hit the east side of the peak.

We weren't sure what route to take since everything looked steep, rocky, with many snowfields. We knew there was a plateau that led to the summit because it was easily visible from Hawksbeak Peak After mulling things over Steve, Alan, Tom, and myself decided to pick our way up the east side facing our camp with the goal of reaching the summit plateau from where it would be an easy stroll to the summit. All went well until we reached a short (approx 30-40 feet) snowfield with a 30% slope just below the plateau. Since none of us had an ice axe or even walking poles this snow wasn't trivial. Steve and Alan took turns making footholds using their feet and what I learned is sometimes called a Canadian ice axe - a sharp rock. After a few slips and retries Steve made it to the top and reached the plateau where he reported a clear path to the summit. Alan then decided to follow in Steve's footprints and also made the plateau. Tom and I weren't sure we wanted to take chances with this snow because of the slope and because a slip near the top might land us in some rocks below which probably wouldn't kill us but could result in a fracture or serious lacerations. After pacing a bit I found an excellent "Canadian ice axe" and decided I'd venture up the snow slope. I punched the sharp pointed rock into the soft snow while also kicking a step into it. I gave a few tugs on the rock and it held a firm grip in the snow so I continued onward and upward. In a short while I reached the top of the snow slope and breathed a sigh of relief. Tom followed me up and then the four of us began our stroll across the sandy plateau and quickly reached the summit block, which barely had room for us. We spent nearly an hour at or near the summit and then headed down. We were back in camp in a bit over three hours from when we left camp to begin the climb.

Because our camp in Thompson Canyon was 10+ miles from Twin Lakes we decided we'd move camp to Peeler Lake Saturday afternoon and then have a shorter hike out Sunday. After resting an hour after our Ehrnbeck climb we headed down the canyon towards the pass that led back to Kerrick Meadows and then the trail to Peeler. We arrived at the lake by mid-afternoon and found what we thought was an excellent camp spot in a rocky area with many flat, soft spots for tents and bivies - it was just off the trail at the park & wilderness boundary and had easy access to water.

Thunderheads had been building Saturday afternoon and by late afternoon the show had begun. Lightning lighted up the Sawtooth Range as the sun began to drop lower in the sky to the west. We all took spots on the rocks in camp and sat back to enjoy Mother Nature's spectacle. Some of us commented that the only thing missing was popcorn. This must have upset the gods because soon the storm moved over our camp. It quickly ceased to be an enjoyable show. The wind picked up and then the rain began. Not just a pleasant summer rain to drive away the mosquitoes. This was a tremendous storm - the rain came down very heavy along with hail, the lightning was frequent, very close, very bright, and the thunder was very loud. The sky turned an eerie red. A rainbow appeared, Then another. A double rainbow. The torrential rains continued. The thunder and lightning continued. This storm was very slow moving and intense. None of us wanted to be in our tents or bivies, so we sought shelter under small trees and away from open spots. Soon the camp was overrun with a flash flood.

My bivie began to float in the 4-6 inches of water. I hesitated to move my bivie to higher ground while the lightning was at it's most furious - it was next to a tall tree. I hunkered down near a shorter tree and waited out the storm. I finally decided to run out in the rain and dragged my bivie to rocks above me. My sleeping bag was too wet to use and most of the clothes I put in there were wet as well. Others in the group were more fortunate but no one escaped the storm's wrath entirely. Some tents took on water. The rain penetrated bear canisters - mine was set on it's side and water still got in. Rod Java had a two-person tent and managed to keep his sleeping bag and a few clothes dry so he offered me shelter and lent me some of his dry clothes. I spent the night in Rod's tent trying to keep warm and hope the morning would bring clear skies. The rain eventually stopped sometime before midnight. It rained more at 5AM but then stopped by 5:30AM. We all stepped out in the early morning light and took inventory of our belongings looking for dry clothes to wear.

We planned to depart camp at 7AM and did so shortly after. A quick hike of 8 miles brought us to Mono Village by 11AM. The creeks are running high with snowmelt and the three major crossings required some diligence to safely navigate. After a hot shower at trail's end (25 cents for five minutes) and a delicious meal at the Hays Street Cafe in Bridgeport we were on our way home. I arrived home a bit before 6PM.

The Magnificent Seven: Rod Java (co-leader), Steve Thaw (leader), David Lopez, Alan Mendoza, Tom Post, Mike Warner, Tony Stegman.

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