Two couloirs on Feather Peak offer nice climbing routes to the summit. The most popular of which, the Feather Couloir in fall often presents 700 ft of nice Sierra low-angle ice climbing (AI2). The easier couloir which ascends from upper Royce Lake to the Royce/Feather Col is shorter, even lower-angled, and substantially less difficult than its northern neighbor, yet offers a great warm-up climb prior to climbing the Feather Couloir or an easy climb in and of itself for the beginner ice climber. From the top of the couloir, once can either rap (or carefully downclimb, or ski, depending upon season) the route or continue up to the summit of Feather Peak via the Southwest Chute route which begins from the Feather/Royce Col. The Royce/Feather Couloir is often the descent route for climbers coming off the summit of Feather Peak from the Feather Couloir.
From the Pine Creek Trailhead, take the Pine Creek Trail. Just after the second lake passed, Upper Pine Lake, the trail forks and continue towards Italy Pass. Stay on this trail for about 10-15 minutes before veering off cross-country to Royce Pass, which is situated between Peak 12,562/Treasure Peak and Pk 12,470. From here, hike down and north around middle Royce Lake (labeled “11725” on the USGS Topo Map) to upper Royce Lake. From here, the Royce/Feather couloir is visible. The total time for the approach to from the Pine Creek Trailhead to upper Royce Lake takes approximately 6:30 hrs if packing a tent and ice climbing gear.
Climb the couloir. The climb is straightforward and gradually steepens as you near the col but never is steeper than 40 degrees. If climbing in winter or early season, the climb will likely be a snow-walk-up; in fall, the climb may be either neve or ice. We found in fall of 2007, after a low snow year, the climb is proximately hard ice, protectable with screws (if necessary) but, if comfortable on very-low-angle ice, one can easily solo it. From the top of the col, you can continue to the summit of Feather Peak via the southwest chute , or you can descend the route (rappel slings are present on both sides of the couloir) back down to the Royce Lakes.
This route is also commonly descended by climbers who summit Feather Pk via a northern route. Asmrv adds, "this Royce-Feather Couloir serves as the descent route from Feather Peak Couloir (aka Feather-North) Couloir. From the summit of Feather, scramble down on 3rd class ledges to the top of the Royce-Feather col and downclimb the gully down to the basin."
If climbing in fall, two tools, crampons, and a few screws are all that are necessary. Bring slings for rappels if you don’t feel comfortable downclimbing ice. Any other time of year, the route will likely be a snow climb: bring skies for the decent.
There was some discussion on the summitpost CA forum about what it means for this route to be “in”. Upstanding SP member The Chief claimed the route is “in” if and only if the entire route is fully covered, including the 10-degree sloped mouth of the couloir below. During low snow-years, this part of the climb will likely be melted out, climbers will be unable to climb the 10-degree sections, and, as according to The Chief, the route will not be “in”. Furthermore, The Chief referred to this picture as an example of the route being “in”; the photographer of the picture describes the route at the time the picture was taken as, “The top was mostly neve, or neve on top of ice. The bottom was pretty much fresh snow.” From this controversy, it can be gathered that to some climbers, “in” refers to the route (or whatever is left of it by the end of the year) as being ice, to other climbers, “mostly neve” or “fresh snow” can constitute being in. Regardless of the official designation of the route being “in” or “not in”, please climb at your own discretion and, more importantly, have fun.
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