By: Reiner Stenzel
Feather Peak is a beautiful Sierra peak that gets rarely climbed by the SPS since it is not on the “List”. It is located northwest of Royce and Merriam and makes a great weekend climb from the Pine Creek trailhead (7,400’). This is what Leslie Hofherr and I did to escape the heat of a mid-summer weekend. We ascended the Pine Creek trail, passed the two Pine Creek Lkes, Honeymoon Lke (10,400’), and entered beautiful Granite Park. At the 11,400’ level we left the trail over Italy Pass and hiked XC 0.2 mi south to Lke 11,420’, about 0.4mi N of the two upper Royce Lakes. There we set up camp after the 8mi, 4000’ hike. In the afternoon I explored the route to Feather Peak via the couloir between Royce and Feather (UTM 41 32 200N, 3 43 000E, NAD 27). The couloir was snow filled and looked intimidating from a distance. To brighten the mood we went fishing. No luck in our Lke 11,420’ but at the Chalfant Lakes we got six fine rainbows for dinner. On the hike up I had collected a pound of fresh mushrooms, king boletes.
Our gourmet dinner consisted of soup, sautéed mushrooms, fresh trout fried in butter with slices of lemons, and alas, some freeze-dried dinner improved with fresh onions. Not bad for Sat night.
On Sun, 8/17, 7:30am, we headed over a small pass (11,900’) to the beautiful Royce Lakes. We crossed between the upper (11,800’) and main Royce Lake (11,725’) and ascended the steep couloir between Royce (13,282’) and Feather (13,240’). It was filled with stone-hard old snow that turned partially into ice. We had no ice axe and crampons. Anyhow, an ice axe would be useless since one cannot arrest a fall on 40+deg ice. So we climbed the narrow gap between the ice and the rock on the right (N) side of the couloir. Climbing directly the ci 4-5 rock face was no option. Most of the chute walls consisted of red-brown rock that was in a state of decay. Few hand and footholds were reliable. Lots of loose gravel was deposited on ice. About 2/3 up into the chute Leslie reached the limits of her nerves and returned. I proceeded to climb into the 12,500’ saddle and that was the crux of the climb. From there I climbed the SE ridge of Feather, staying first below the ridge to avoid a pillar with a drop-off along the ridgeline. There was a broad chute parallel to the SE ridge, which started out sandy, then turned into talus and eventually into smooth slabs. Staying on the SE ridge was the best and an enjoyable cl 3 climb. At 10 am I found the summit register, a white plastic container with a spiral notebook, 2/3 filled. The peak is frequently climbed but the “familiar” SPS names are missing. Too bad since this is a worthy peak to climb. The NNW ridge has many impressive pillars, little “feathers”. The NE face drops steeply into the upper Royce Lke. The formidable “Feather Couloir” on the NNE side is a 700’, 60 deg snow/ice-filled chute. The easiest route is from the southwest via “Feather Pass” (UTM 41 31 785N, 3 42 209E, NAD 27): The summit views from Feather Pk are outstanding, ranging from nearby Seven Gables to the more distant Mts. Humphreys, Abbott, Bear Creek Spires, Tom, etc. On the way up I found a white feather and appropriately placed it into the summit register. Then I retraced my steps, carefully climbed down the Feather-Royce chute and met up with Leslie at the south shore of the upper Royce Lake. We hiked back to camp, packed and left just after noon. It was an enjoyable but long hike down to the cars. By 4pm it was still about 99 deg in Bishop, quite a temperature shock from the high country. Five hours later, at home near the coast, it was a pleasant 65 deg. This weekend climb was very enjoyable.
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