A 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)
- Northeast Ridge/Face
(Cl 4) & Northwest Ridge
- South Slope
(Cl 2) & Northwest Chute
- Southwest Ridge
(Cl 4) & Southwest Chute
Feather Pass (Cl 2)
Granite Bear Pass (Cl 2)
Royce Pass (Cl 2)
Full set of pictures: http://imageevent.com/lilprince/sierrasinthesummer/roycelakesramblings
I headed up to the high country on Thursday night, hoping to get in a night of sleeping at high altitude to acclimatize. I slept up at Horseshoe Meadows, at which I had a relatively hassle-free experience, for once. No drunks, no frat boys, no crazed gang of folks showing up at 3AM shouting about how light-headed they were from the elevation. Very nice, indeed.
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")
After getting to camp and ditching my pack, I decided a quick ascent of the nearby "Treasure" Peak would be lovely. Secor mentions a Norman Clyde first ascent of the Class 3 "Southwest Face". This proved to be a very simple scramble up broken rock and sand. I ended up moving to the left side of the face, along what was essentially a SW Ridge. The blocks were bigger here and the scrambling was much more fun and solid. This ridge led up toward the summit, where some diversions onto the SW Face itself were necessary to avoid difficulties. The summit block, on the other hand, was something else.
A freestanding pinnacle of rock, it had a mere 25-30 feet of exposure on the one side (the summit side), but going down the north face there was more like 800 or 1000 feet of exposure. And there were no obvious holds going up it.
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
The next morning, amidst the splendor of alpenglow, I set out with vague goals to "traverse the Royce Lakes Basin". Whatever that meant. There were a number of peaks surrounding the basin, Merriam, Royce and Feather being the most prominent. I guess my first intent was to climb those three. If others fell into line-- great!
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.
The view from Royce Peak was outstanding, probably the best of the three, and I enjoyed some fascimile of lunch: a bar. After playing around on the summit, I decided it would be in my interest to descend to the north. One TR I had reviewed spoke of a brutal traverse down to the Feather/Royce Saddle, so I opted for a likely-looking chute that descended from the summit. I had no info about the chute, but went for it anyway. What a blast. 1000' of sand and loose junk descended, with some tricky, wet, steep, slippery Class 3-4 slabs in the middle. I arrived at the creek and filled up my water bottle (sans treatment given it was such a remote area), and headed to the west toward Feather Pass.
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 descent was straightforward, heading down the Southwest Chute. I descended the first several hundred feet along the rib just to the west of the SW Chute. This was recommended by a TR, and turned out to be fine, with easy Class 3 scrambling along broken blocks on the rib. A Class 3 traverse into the chute provided easy access to the remaining several hundred feet of incredibly loose, powdery, junky crap. I ended up stirring up a minor dust storm and landslide at one point-- extreme care should be exercised here to ensure not killing friends! (If traveling with others).
The Long, Long Day- The Passes
After coming down off of Feather, I decided I wanted to check out Feather/Royce Saddle. Sure enough, after slogging up several hundred feet of sand, it was steep as hell snow. While camp was beckoning me, with an easy chair, and a book, more wild country beckoned as well, so I turned the other way. I headed back to Feather Pass, and this time descended the other side into the wild, remote, and trailless Bear Lakes Basin. It was nice. Very nice. That's all I have to say about it.
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 afternoon came and went, as I relaxed in glazed stupor after expending so much energy. Boy, was I ever glad for the easy chair that was left at my campsite by a previous party. A rainstorm came over at about 6:00, and lasted about 90 minutes. I had fun reading in my tent, except for a mangy little marmot who kept sticking his nose in my direction.
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.