A technically less challenging alternative to the classic East Ridge route, the Shale Bench also starts up the ridge from Priord Pass, but after gaining just 200 ft vertical it then contours around the base of the cliffs, eventually connecting with the easier South Slopes route.
Shale Bench, view from the East
The pass and the peak, seen from the meadows above Norice Lake Lamotte is the first peak greeting hikers on the trail to Norice Lake
One can get to Priord Pass either by a 10 mile ascent from East Fork Bear River TH (just up valley from East Fork Scout Camp, which can be reached by taking North Slope Road from SR 150, then turning South in two miles from the pavement) or from the Rock Creek side, typically by following Highline Trail - Lightning Lake Spur for 13 miles from the Highline TH on SR 150. Upper Rock Creek Basin may also be reached from Rock Creek Reservoir downriver, or from Hades TH on the other side of Grandaddy Mountains.
First steps along the Old Priord Pass Trail The cairned section of the old trail above Priord Lake
Since the Northerly approach to Priord Pass is the quickest, it deserves a few more lines of details. After following the trail along the East bank of East Fork Bear River for 4 miles, you come to a marked junction. The trail to Allsop Lake splits to the left, and the trail to Norice and Priord lakes continues straight, fording Right Hand Fork 3 times. On the meadows past Norice Lake the trail is hard to follow; just remember that Priord Lake is nested in a hanging valley to the West, and so keep angling slightly right above the valley bottom.
Columbine at the Old Priord Pass Trail On the Old Priord Pass Trail
The old trail, marked by numerous cairns, re-emerges again at the timberline SSE from Priord Lake. After a few short switchbacks, it cuts a long upward traverse to the right, becoming less and less distinct. Anyway the saddle of the ridge is now close!
From Priord Pass take East Ridge towards the base of the summit cliffs. Contour to the South-West just below the quartzite cliffs, and above several islands of stunted krummholtz conifers. This layer of the mountain is made out of eroded shale; sometimes it gave way so much that the quartzite layer above has been left overhanging.
Shale Bench route - view from the South
Keep circling clockwise around the peak and in a few minutes the cliffs above come to an end. Take a note of the landmarks because it may not be so easy to locate this spot on descent. The best landmark here is a very long ribbon of krummholtz below you.
Ascent from the West end of the bench A class 4 moment at the top
Angle to the left at first, until you pass the next band of cliffs. Then it is straight up to the top. The final few yards may be a class 4 move or two, but there is no exposure to speak of.
Return to the Shale Bench The summit
Enjoy the view, and ponder if you missed the fun of the "straight" ridge route by taking this curious detour below.