What a great role I'm on (knock on wood or something). Tim and I climbed Merriam Peak's North Buttress (10b) 13,103' on Tuesday 8-17-10. I first learned about this beautiful mountain on a ski tour to Feather Peak with Solid gold in 2004.
http://www.thebackcountry.net/bb/viewto ... ather+peak
You access the peak from the Pine Creek Trailhead behind Mount Tom, at around 7400'. We left Tahoe at 6am, drove 4 hours to the trailhead, and hiked 5 hours to Royce Lakes at 11,750'. I found info from 3 sources: John Moynier's High Sierra Climbing guidebook, Supertopo.com, and summitpost.org.
None of these pictures will show how beautiful the wildflowers were unfortunately. They were subtle, but spread out evenly at every elevation.
With a little over 4000' to go and 45lb packs, we were too excited to feel any pain. I really regretted not forcing more people to come just for the overnight backpack trip. The second half of the hike is off trail on easy terrain, and Merriam Peak can be summitted with easy class 2 terrain.
Upper and lower Pine Lakes are worth a trip for sure. Don't pay any attention if you read about hot, dusty switchbacks at the start. How else are you going to get into this type of setting. Totally worth the hour hike up there. You will see unreal, unique mixtures of rock color in the mountains, crystal clear lakes, and high 13,000' granite peaks all around you.
We went to the Royce Lakes area via Co Co La pass, which I believe is the more direct way. We passed a sign for Pine Creek Pass, then followed the sign for Granite Park for a few minutes, and then split the difference heading up to an obvious notch on the north side of Treasure Peak (peak on the left here). This is really scenic, low angle, and has water all along the way.
Finally we arrive at the pass. Holy *** is pretty much what comes out of your mouth here.
Feather Peak is out of view to the right, Royce Peak is in the center, and Merriam Peak is to the left.
Here's a shot I took last year of the three peaks from the top of Bear Creek Spire:
A sweet last minute addition to my pack was my daughter's kid's camp pillow. No tent neccessary, it's California right? Temps were in the high 30's at night for a few hours, and a perfect 70 all day.
Here's an approximate crude route drawn in the peak of the North Buttress route. This route was first climbed in 1976 by Bob Harrington and Vern Clevenger. A second route to the left called Silver cloud was put up in 1994. and I read in the summit register of a few other first ascents, one by Peter Croft last year to right of this line somewhere 5.9.
The locals. I've heard stories of agressive vermin eating at non-food items in this area. We found a boulder they couldn't climb up to stash our stuff while we were on the climb. No Marmot sightings this time, only small Pika and field mice.
The mountain reflection in the lake was really nice. Winds kicked up just enough at times to blow the mosquitos away. Bring bug juice when you go into the backcountry. I need one of those mesh head things for the bivy.
Tim and I are quite happy to be here.
Morning light on Feather Peak.
We left camp around 7:30am and started climbing an hour later.
Another view of the route. We did about 10 pitches in all, including some very short ones. I followed advice I'd read online about combining a few pitches, which were accurate. Not that you're going to find the route at all with Moynier's simple topo, but you want to make the first 3 pitches only 2. You also want to combine the 2 pitches above the dihedral into 1 (you'll still have half of a rope unused). So the climb is 6 or 7 pitches to the ridge, where you can simul climb or belay for 2 traversing pitches or so. Moynier Fiddler's guide says 900' for the climb.
I led a short 5.8 pitch on excellent granite. This whole climb follows cracks that protect well, but there is a lot of loose large rock to avoid. Not loose like in slippery sand, but more just blocks that vibrate and will eventually come off. I'd compare the loose rock danger to be about the same as my climbs on Temple Crag and Mt. Goode. The crack climbing was way better though.
After Tim combined pitches 2 & 3 (be careful on these, this is the vibrating rock area I'm talking about)...I led the famous 5.8/9 parallel cracks shown in Moynier's Guidebook. This is the dihederal pitch you can make out from anywhere. It gets pretty vertical, and was definately one of the most fun moments so far for me climbing in the mountains.
I stopped in the protection of the obvious alcove at the top of the dihedral. Lots of boulders just lying around in this area. I stayed on the wall and stepped over them at the top. I made a solid belay in the cracks above my head in the roof.
We are loving it!
The pic in the guidebook of Harrington leading the first ascent with hexes makes it look like you stem in the corner. Maybe you could, and he did, but then you're heading into the loose rock area. I think I did what most people do, which is stay out of the corner and climb the parallel cracks.
Tim leads out of the cave and steps right with an exciting 5.9 move to gain a sweet hand crack, and combines the 2 short Moynier Topo pitches to reach the base of the crux 10b pitch. This was really excellent climbing, from the dihedral to the summit. Really, the entire climb was fantastic...the best I've done. Just with some loose boulders around you, most of which can be climbed around without touching. A few however down lower are right in the line.
in the left pic, is the second half of the combined pitches above the dihedral. This was 5 star in my book. 5.8. On the right, Tim brings me up and gets psyched for the 10b part. The first overhanging part is actually 5.9+. The whole pitch is short and easy to protect. The 10b part is a short lieback, and Tim flew up the whole thing no problem. I didn't have any trouble following. I credit having tape on my hands to helping. Am I cheating? This makes such a difference for me. Mostly beause I don't have the honed technique down I realize. But 5.10 hand cracks and tape go together for me.
on the right Tim is at the 10b spot
Token exposure shot. I don't consider myself a "real" climber yet for a few reasons, when comparing my own program to other tahoe hardcores I know...but I have to say, looking down does not scare me at all, no matter how crazy it gets. Non climbers (including me before I got into this), just aren't going to understand. But when you know the route, feel confident that you can get up or down it, and understand how the gear works, looking down off a huge cliff doesn't mean anything.
Above the crux spot, Tim led a short excellent 5.8 crack and stopped at an obvious lunch rock. the perfect little perch for two, and our first moment of sun. Even though it's a perfect mid-august day, the rock is like a refrigerator at 12k on a steep north facing slope.
The pic on the right shows another short 5.8 flaring gap I got to lead. This is one of the few places on the climb where you need a #3. We actually used our BD #4 a few times too, but I don't remember it being the only solution. It's hard to do this short pitch with a pack on, and my gear sling should have been racked on my other side. You have to reach far in to get your hand wedged and go up.
Next I stayed on lead for another micro short pitch under the 5.7 roof. I was well prepared for this. Although I didn't do the leading, Eric Perlman and I climbed Gram Traverse and Fairest of All (fairview dome) a few weeks ago. These had very long roof traverses at higher difficulty. This was only about 40'. Still, it was really fun. A big drop below, finger sized crack in the corner of the roof, and nice dishes for feet.
Tim coming around the corner after the roof. It's pretty obvious to climb it going to your right, although this is not mentioned in the guidebook or previous trip reports I researched.
Then you get this view of the summit. Whoa.... Moynier says 3rd class for a few hundred feet to the summit. A supertopo reader said low 5th class and a long way (He may have gone on the right of the ridge). we experimented with a traverse out left out of view and found the Moynier way. You definately don't believe it'll work until you just try going around the corner to the left. I can't remember where I read this, but someone said you stay on a narrow ridge to the summit. Ummmm, no not really. Look at that ridge! It's a blank and vertical spire. Moynier's topo does show a line on the left side of the ridge, but you just don't expect it to be this dramatic when you get there. A fantastic finish to an amazing climb!
I just starting getting into reading summit registers for a few minutes. I never did before, but they are really cool sometimes. I need to get more creative. Here's some new route mention, some shrooms offering, and a very accurate 1-liner about this climb.
Tim over on the west summit.
Rather than make pano shots, here's the view as I turn around in a circle to my right. This is 7 Gables.
Looking north at Royce Peak's South slopes. Bear Creek Spire and Mt. Dade are to the right and further back.
Looking east at the Pine Creek Drainage we hiked through. Although the high plateau below looks hot and dry, there is a lot of color and water down there.
Pine Creek Canyon still in this pic on the left. Mt. Tom on the right.
This is the view to the Southeast of the Mt. Humphries basin and Peak.
Looking South. Mt. Humpries barely in view on the left. Mt. Darwin is in the center with some snow on it.
The walk off to the north is beautiful. Wildflowers popping up everywhere you don't expect them too, and an easy 2nd class climbers trail. You don't need the trail, it's easy to pick your way down to the notch in-between Merriam and Royce Peaks.
The view to the west of Gemeni and 7 Gables is sweet! Can't wait to go ski those, and Royce/Merriam.
Tim in black heading towards the notch between Royce and Merriam.
I wonder which cracks Peter Croft might be talking about in his 09 FA he mentioned in the summit register.
It looks like it could be tricky from far away, but the descent is really easy.
Tim is a professional trailshoesnowslider.
2 backpackers showed up as we were leaving camp. I tried to talk them into hiking up Merriam using the climbers descent route, and then asked them to take our picture. Hope they did it!
low angle granite slabs link up for beautiful and natural sidewalk descending to Honeymoon Lake. I can't say enough about how unreal this area is. If this trail head were 1000' higher this would be the most popular trail in the High Sierra.
Are you seeing the same thing I am? This bi-colored granite goes crazy like this along the trail. Then you look up, and the whole huge mountain is striped, with a few other neighboring peaks as well.