Merriam Peak, Royce Peak
By: Beth Epstein, Kim Gimenez
On Saturday morning August 15, I was joined at Pine Creek trailhead by Therese Herzog, Brad Jensen, Nitsy McCarthy, Eileen Ricks, Eric Siering, and Kim Gimenez, who graciously agreed to co-lead when the scheduled co-leader, Tim Keenan, bashed his ankle at Stoney Point. We waited for two no shows among the parked cars, packer shanties and sulpherous emissions from the nearby mill operation, and finally departed at 8:30 am, hoping that whatever had happened to the missing, they were safe. Despite the lack of resemblance to a trailhead, you just walk right through the pack station, perk up your ears at the mules, and you are on your way. The trail merges with the old Brownstone mine road, but once it turns back to trail, the sprawling tungsten plant disappears from view and all seems right again with the mountains. Still, I have to admit to being slightly haunted all weekend by inklings of how closely industrial development lurks at the edge of the sierra.
We moved into an unoccupied packer's camp on ledges overlooking the southeast -end of Honeymoon Lake at about 12:30, and the site served us well, providing sun and shade and open granite slabs for a congenial happy hour (to which Therese and Brad contributed curried shrimp, and Nitsy unveiled extraordinary homemade brownies) but our tents were barely down on Sunday afternoon before a group of 15 materialized to claim the large pile of equipment deposited by packers in our absence. I know there are campsites further along the trail above the inlet to the lake, and also in the pretty cirque meadows beneath Treasure Peak just below the pass, though I hesitate to encourage their trampling.
Sunday morning we started walking a little after 6:00 am, leaving the Italy Pass trail before it crosses the inlet stream in the meadow above Honeymoon Lake. We clambered directly over the easy ledges on the rock face at the meadow's western end, and headed to the pass between Treasure Peak and peak 12,470'. It was pleasant walking. After circling Royce Lakes on their east side above some snow banks, we climbed up onto the east shoulder of Royce to get a view of the saddle between Royce and Merriam, which was still full of snow and a little hard in the morning, but looked like it would make an easy and well-runout afternoon descent even without axes. I had planned to go up a third class route on Merriam first, but there we were, so instead, for efficiency's sake, we went up the class 2/3 east face on Royce (actually a gully which empties dead center on the land passage between the two lakes east of Royce and appears to emerge from the "e" on the word "Royce" on the 7.5 minute map; it isn't particularly distinctive, save some outcroppings of red rock up higher). In retrospect there were good and bad things about the decision to climb Royce first. The gully went fine, offering nice clean slabs and ledges in the first half, but it was loose and somewhat sandy in the second. I think if we had headed to the ribs either left or right when it deteriorated, it would have saved me some rockfall stress (there is probably some good psychological term waiting in the wings for this -- lithograviphobia?). Furthermore, the left rib would have deposited us directly on the summit plateau. As it was, we topped out one easy pinnacle over. Fortunately, the climbing got more enjoyable near the ridgeline.
The view from Royce is panoramic, and especially outstanding toward Seven Gables. On the summit by 11:00, we lingered with the register and enjoyed the clear morning, and congratulated Nitsy, who recently completed WTC, on her second summit with the SPS. Heading down the sand and scree to the saddle, I was very glad we had decided to go up the east face and had avoided the cruddy sand crawl, and my gratitude grew on the way up the class 2 ridge of Merriam -- muy bueno! -- lichen-covered, polemonium- filled, mostly solid, stairstep blocks. Eric led up at his "social pace" and we were on the summit in 30 minutes. We climbed the south summit first, marked higher on the map but sans register, and then went on to the nearby north summit. Though theoretically lower, the north summit is blessed with a stunning view down the third class route on Merriam's eastside, a heartachingly beautiful, clean and open chute, reminiscent of Middle Pal, but in some respects more classic in proportion. (On the 7.5 map, it is the first chute to the east of the prominent northeast ridge; it merits mention in Moynier as a descent route for the spectacular 5.10 north buttress). Eric and Brad exclaimed about it's skiability and I was full of regret for having forsaken it, but still happy to have avoided that sandy old south ridge on Royce. Returning to the saddle, we descended about 50 feet over rock to the snow and with a little creative glissading arrived at the lakes again at 2:30.
For kicks, per Eric's suggestion, we really made a loop of it and headed cross country east to return to camp over Pine Creek Pass. We were back at camp at 4 pm, and back to the cars by 7:00, and waiting for a table at Amigo's in Bishop by 8:30.
Many thanks again to all the participants, and my admonishment to the no-shows of the world, especially on co-sponsored WTC- SPS trips. When qualified students manage to get onto the participant list, it is a great chance to introduce them to the SPS, and they get an opportunity to enjoy a rewarding climb and fulfill their graduation requirements.
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