Hawksbeak Peak is a fine-looking peak in Northern Yosemite with a near-vertical face more than one thousand feet high. The boundary line for the Park actually goes over the summit, so all of the mountain is not inside the Park. According to Secor, there is only one route on this 1,000' face (for that matter, on the entire peak), the West Face, a Grade III 5.10- route that is composed mostly of 5.7-5.8 climbing with the sixth pitch as the crux with a 5.9 thin crack followed by a 5.10a off-width, ten pitches overall. The North Face appears to hold potential for some 3rd and 4th class routes as well, and the West Ridge may be one of those neglected classic stiff 3rd class routes. It is likely you will find seclusion in this area, it is a long way from anywhere.
Secor has this peak listed at 11,341 in both his first and second editions, but the USGS 7.5' map lists it at 11,134'.
This is the entire problem with this peak, it is a long, long approach, no matter which trailhead you choose. The three most likely trailheads are Leavitt Meadows, Buckeye Canyon, and Twin Lakes (Bridgeport).
Option One: Leavitt Meadows. I haven't approached the peak from this trailhead, so I have opted to use info from Matthew Holliman'sTower Peak page since he has first-hand knowledge of the route. The Leavitt Meadows trailhead is located along Highway 108, a mile or two past the Marine Warfare Training Center if approaching from Highway 395. "Backpacker camping is located at the trailhead lot; day use parking can also be found in the Leavitt Meadows campground. Walk through the campground to find an unsignposted bridge over the West Walker River; cross the bridge and follow the trail towards Piute Meadows." Just before reaching Upper Piute Meadows proper, and before crossing the West Walker River, take the left fork on the trail and remain on the northeast side of the West Walker. This trail is the Kirkwood Pass Trail, and eventually leaves the West Walker and parallels Kirkwood Creek. The trail steadily climbs, and when you reach the first major switchback, leave the trail and follow Kirkwood Creek. From here you are on the flanks of the mountain, and will navigate to the aspect of your choice.
Option 2: Buckeye Canyon (Kirkwood Pass Trail). This is the other end of the Kirkwood Pass Trail, and this is the least recommended option. It is the longest of the three by far, and the most unpleasant. The lower part of the trail is hot, dry, boring, and dusty (except for the parts when you're walking through occupied cow pastures). Buckeye Creek does run down the canyon, so you are never very far from water, but for the most part the trail avoids the creek and stays in the brush and hot sun. There are many subsidiary streams the trail crosses, so finding drinking water is not an issue.
The trailhead is at the Buckeye Campground. To arrive here from the north on 395, watch for the left turn about 3 miles before Bridgeport. The road is dirt, in fair condition (no high clearance required), but with lots of washboard. Follow the signs to the Buckeye Campground. The road contours the mountainside above Bridgeport Valley, and then enters the Buckeye Creek drainage. When you reach a major intersection, bear right and continue up canyon. You should soon cross Buckeye Creek on a nice new concrete bridge. If you cross on a wooden bridge, turn around and retrace your track for a 1/4 mile or so, and look for the road to continue up canyon.
If you are arriving from the south, drive through to the west side of Bridgeport and take the left turn on Twin Lakes Road. Follow this up until you pass a small subdivision on the right, and watch for the signs for Doc 'N' Al's resort. Turn off here (to the right), but don't pull into the resort. Continue up the road, cross Robinson Creek on a wooden bridge, and the road will soon turn to dirt. Carry on, the road runs uphill and contours the sidehill to enter the Buckeye drainage. As soon as you cross Buckeye Creek on a wooden bridge, watch for the left turn towards Buckeye Campground. You will soon cross the concrete bridge, your clue that you are in the right place.
Soon after crossing the concrete bridge you will reach Buckeye Campground. Drive most of the way through the campground, past the tent camping only area, and watch for a wilderness information billboard on the left. Turn in here. There is ample free parking, but this is a day-use only area. Don't camp here unless you want a hassle. If you wish to camp, you could pay the $13 dollars or so for a site at Buckeye, or you could pull off the dirt road almost anywhere along the way and camp for free.
From here, walk back onto the road you just left and head up-canyon. Almost immediately you will pass through a steel gate, and another soon after. Along the way there are a few wire gates to pass through as well. The first few miles are suitable for mountain bikes, and they are allowed until you enter the Hoover Wilderness (you will have abandoned the bike by then anyway). Continue on, passing The Roughs, up to Kirkwood Pass. Descend to join Kirkwood Creek, and choose your route from here.
Option 3: Twin Lakes, Robinson Creek (Barney Lake) Trailhead. This is the shortest and probably the best option to approach the peak. The best access to the area is from US 395. From the north, as you arrive in the tiny town of Bridgeport, watch for the first right hand turn just after the Shell filling station (rip-off-fuel prices--see below). This is Twin Lakes Road. From the south, enter Bridgeport and proceed to the end of town and take the last left-hand turn, right across from Buster's Market. This is the same Twin Lakes Road. At the end of the road is Mono Village. If you are staying overnight, enter the Village and bear left, along the shoreline to the boat trailer parking and a large dirt turnaround. The trailhead parking is along the edge of the turnaround. Dayhiker parking is along the shoreline of the lake prior to the turnaround.
From either parking area (they are quite close together), head into the campground through the main entrance. There are 3 roads branching off to the west from here. Take the middle road, and watch for a meadow on your left after a couple hundred yards . If you see it, you are on the correct road. Otherwise, backtrack and try again, there are many roads running through the campground area. When you see the meadow, continue on and you will pass a cable stretched across the road, and this is the recognized trailhead. Follow the road to the sign indicating the turnoff to Barney Lake.
There is a trail touted as a shortcut to Thompson Canyon, and it only shows on the 15' map. Just prior to Barney Lake, there is a non-maintained trail that goes up the slope and past Little Lake, and then eventually joins the Buckeye Pass Trail. This trail is difficult to find, and in poor condition, however it does exist and might be a viable option for routes on the north side of the peak.
The easier (maybe longer) and well-maintained approach is to walk past Barney Lake and follow the trail to a creek crossing, which in the spring will be a bone-chilling wade (it will be dry feet after late June in most years), and head on up until you reach a fork. The left fork goes to Robinson Lakes and Crown Lake, and the right fork goes to Peeler Lake. Continue around Peeler, and when the trail intersects the PCT, leave the trail and cross the ridge northeast of Acker Peak, and drop into Thompson Canyon. The head of Thompson Canyon divides Center Mountain from Hawksbeak Peak, and offers access to routes on the southern and eastern aspects of Hawksbeak. To access the West Face, cross the pass at the toe of the North Ridge of Ehrnbeck Peak and the toe of the Southeast ridge of Hawksbeak.
As mentioned before, most of Hawksbeak Peak is in Yosemite National Park, so wilderness permits are required for overnight stays. I am not aware of any parking restrictins at the Leavitt Meadows or Buckeye Canyon Trailheads, but parking overnight at Mono Village costs $7, and this fee is good for several days, it is not per night. The parking pass is issued from the campground kiosk staffed by unfriendly minimum wage workers.
When To Climb
Due to access issues with the trailheads, this peak is climbed primarily in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Highway 108 is closed in the winter, Buckeye Road is not maintained in the winter, and the Twin Lakes Road is kept open if avalanche danger (to the road) is not too high. This peak is secluded in the best seasons, so an off-season foray into the area would virtually guarantee seclusion.
As mentioned, camping in the vicinity of the peak requires a wilderness permit. Camping at the Leavitt Meadows or Buckeye Canyon trailheads is easy, there are campgrounds at both, and free camping on adjacent National Forest land, and instead of paying to camp at Mono Village, just pull off on the Buckeye Road and camp for free.
The NWS weather is pretty reliable and detailed, and is worth checking out.
Caution -- Extremely high fuel prices in Bridgeport!
Unreasonably high fuel prices in bridgeport motivated me to add this section. There are 2 filling stations in Bridgeport, and both are owned by the same shyster. The fuel prices are often a dollar or more per gallon higher than surrounding areas. With this in mind, I want to recommend to everyone using a trailhead in the Bridgeport area to fill up well before you arrive.
If arriving from the north, fill up in Minden/Gardnerville, or next best, at Topaz Lake. Coming in over Tioga, Lee Vining is also expensive, but (slightly) less than Bridgeport. From the south, Bishop is the best bet, but Mammoth is 40 - 50 cents per gallon less than Bridgeport. Coming over Sonora Pass, I guess you're out of luck unless you buy enough in Sonora to get over and back.
If you for some reason do find yourself in need of fuel in the Bridgeport area, Mono Village (at Upper Twin Lake) has fuel for 20-30 cents cheaper than in town.
While the fuel prices are a rip-off, other merchants in town are more reasonable, especially restaurants.