NE Face, AKA The Beacon

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 38.15507°N / 119.54354°W
Additional Information Route Type: Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer
Additional Information Time Required: Most of a day
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.7 (YDS)
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 9
Additional Information Grade: III
Sign the Climber's Log


FA August 5, 2009, Bob Steed & Dan Merrick

I had long wanted to visit the Tower Peak area and when I started researching in preparation to go, I became more interested in Watchtower Peak (Usually known just as The Watchtower but I will stick with the SummitPost convention since there is already a Watchtower in California’s King's Canyon). Here was a fine granite peak with a 1500' face and no record of any established routes. So, we set off on a 10-day trip to the area.

On August 3 after exploring the face, we started up the next route to the right (The North Face). Bob Steed and I swapped leads on the first 3 pitches and then descended leaving the belays.

On August 4, Bob, Jay Kumar and Alyse Bertenthal completed the North Face route (5.7+, III, 10 Pitches). They told me that the climb led to the northern of the 3 summits and that they had found no evidence of previous climbing on the route or of any climbers on the north summit (there are 3 summits with the south one being the highest and the middle the lowest). They had to establish a rappel station to get off the north summit and left behind two nice stainless steel bolts.

Beacon found on The Beacon
Kicking myself for missing the possible first ascent, I returned with Bob on August 5 and we climbed the NE Face (5.7, III, 9 pitches). About half way up we found a pilot’s rescue beacon on a sandy ledge. The bright orange plastic case was lying exposed on the remains of the nylon canvas case it came in. We think it dates to the 1970’s based on the type of beacon and the decay of the case and so I’m pretty sure nobody had been on this route before but one never knows for certain. I’m still researching the beacon and am not yet sure of its story. For now, I am guessing that since it was still in the case, it was dropped from somewhere. Bob calls this route the NE Face and I think of it as The Beacon route.

Over the following several days, Bob and Paul Tieslau established 2 additional routes on the nearby faces.
"Over the Hill", 5.8, III, 9 Pitches
"Where There's a Wall There's a Way", 5.8, 9 Pitches

To our great suprise, another group of climbers appeared and began exploring the face as we descended on August 5. They were from southern California and later established a route which they named “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way” 5.8, 9P.

An old piton was found in the north summit but it was not placed where a climber would put it for a belay or a rappel. It was a military type and we think it probably arrived by helicopter as part of SAR or military operations. The Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center is nearby.

Getting There

Hike up the Tower Lake trail until you come to an open area which is the avalance swath through the trees where the north face dumps its snow. Scramble up the the avalance zone to the start of the climb.

Route Description

Climb 9 to 10 pitches right up the face and through the obvious gully left of a prominent arete to the north summit. We simul climbed some of the lower part resulting in a total of 9 pitches. Without simul climbing it should be 10 pitches.

To descend from the north summit, head for the middle summit and find the rappel bolts on the south side of a large block facing the middle summit. Rappel (80') into the notch between the north and middle summits. From here you can either follow 4th class ledges to the left of the south summit or climb over the south summit via a hand crack.

Lots of "five fun" climbing on really terrific rock, some of the funnest climbing I've found.
Watchtower Peak routes

Watchtower Peak topo

Essential Gear

The usual extra layer, rain jacket, headlamp, etc. as conditions warrant.

We used a 60m alpine rope and carried a huge rack. However, this route doesn't require a lot of gear, some pitches we only set one or two pieces between belays. I think a handful of nuts, 5 or 6 cams (No bigger than 2 inches) and a couple hexes would do for protection, take more if you like the comfort. The usual slings and carabiners.

External link

SuperTopo trip report by Bob



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.