OverviewA quick trip into the high country was what my soul needed before a long week of meetings. So I headed up to the Royce Lakes Basin. The Basin, with 5 lakes over 11500', is surrounded by fantastic peaks, and makes a great place to base camp and stage from. It is pristine, remote, rugged, off-trail, and very wild. If I'd had more time, further explorations to the north and southeast would have been rewarding.
Pk 12563' ("Treasure") - Southwest Slope (Cl 3)
Merriam Peak - Northeast Ridge/Face (Cl 4) & Northwest Ridge (Cl 2-3)
Royce Peak - South Slope (Cl 2) & Northwest Chute (Cl 3-4)
Feather Peak - Southwest Ridge (Cl 4) & Southwest Chute (Cl 2-3)
Feather Pass (Cl 2)
Granite Bear Pass (Cl 2)
Royce Pass (Cl 2)
Full set of pictures: http://imageevent.com/lilprince/sierrasinthesummer/roycelakesramblings
I woke up early, got to the Looney Bean in Bishop and did some work. Around 11AM, I bugged out and made my way up through Rovana to the Pine Creek Trailhead.
The hike in was hard and hot, but I made it expeditiously to Lower Pine Lake, where the scenery got spectacular and the hiking was pleasant. I hiked past a few more lakes, before leaving the trail for the Royce Lakes Area.
Royce Pass proved to be an easy cross-country route, and I arrived at the biggest Royce Lake ready to find camp and enjoy being in such a remote, beautiful, off-trail area.
Pk 12563' ("Treasure")
First I told myself I wasn't going to do it. Not alone, no way buddy. If you fall, you're done. Then I thought, we'll I'll just check it out.
Then before I knew it, I had climbed a simple ramp, was balancing on a couple of nubbins, sticking my toes into a depression, and mantling onto the sloping top of the block. Beautiful. Fun, and not too hard. And the view was worth every second.
The Long, Long Day- The Peaks
I started out with the Northeast Face of Merriam Peak. This is a route described by Matthew Holliman here on summitpost, apparently discovered when off-route from Secor's "E Face". The diversion was worth it-- this is a fantastic route, with incredibly solid rock (for this area), and about 1400 feet of fantastic scrambling. I took a slightly different route than Matthew describes, I think... rather than going straight for the NE Ridge at the bottom of the climb, I angled up through the cliff band, and then took a somewhat looser, sandier slope that lead up to the NW Ridge. I ended up sticking to a rib to the left of this slope, which turned out to be the rib bounding the slabby chute that is eventually to be traversed into. This rib was nice, with solid Class 2-3 rock the whole way. The slabby chute was fine, and the headwall was fun Class 4+ climbing, with minimal exposure.
After taking in the views, I descended to Merriam Col, the saddle between Merriam Peak and Royce Peak. This route was loose and somewhat junky-- not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as the route I'd just enjoyed my way up. And unfortunately, the same looked to be true for the Royce route up from Merriam Col. Down to Merriam Col, and up the other side I went, for a relatively uneventful ascent of Royce Peak. I stuck to Class 2-3 blocks on the right side of the face going up from the Col, and this made the going easier. Other than that, it's use trails through scree and sand to the top.
From Feather Pass, I was expecting to follow a Class 3 David Brower route to the summit of Feather Peak. I expected "oh great! A Classic! A David Brower route!". Uh-huh. The route turned out to be brutal traverses over ribs and chutes, ribs and chutes. It's called the "Southwest Ridge", but I only got on the ridge once or twice. Mostly, I had to stay 100-300' below the ridge. At one ridiculous point, I got over the ridge and onto the Northwest Face. Some particularly desperate moves let me out of this fix, and back onto the ridge, where I could again traverse to the south side of the ridge. After what seemed like the 15th time when I was doing some 4th Class moves and said "Hmm... what if this cliffs out?", I saw that I was nearing the summit plateau. Hallelujah! This will indeed end!
The summit had outstanding views, especially toward the Little Lakes peaks to the north, and the Royce Lakes below. There had been a large load of fire-retardant dumped on the peak for some reason, and so all the rocks were stained red. There was no summit register on Feather Peak.
The Long, Long Day- The Passes
I ascended up Granite Bear pass, which was an easy slog up sand (with a use trail most of the way), and then descended the other side into Granite Park. After heading across a large meadow with a few lakes, I headed up the northern Royce Pass. I ascended slabs above Lake 11480'+, and eventually found myself staring down on Royce Lake #4. Another hour of cross-country travel around the lakes found me back at camp and rejoicing of a day well-spent.
The next day, I decided to take the scenic alternate route, heading over Pine Creek Pass to get back to the Pine Creek Trailhead. The views into upper French Canyon were simply spectacular, and it was worth every extra ounce of effort to check out this pristine and beautiful place.
I headed on out the trail, and was sitting in Bishop eating donuts from Schat's a few hours later. Huzzah.