North Buttress 5.10b/c
Trip ReportNorth Buttress, Merriam peak & Royce lakes
I have been lurking around on here & all over the internet for that matter for some time reading trip reports about the high sierra like a fiend. I figured it's time to contribute a bit.
One of my best climbing experiences so far begins in September 2011 when me and a friend who lives down in mammoth decided to plan a little backcountry climbing trip for a few days over my bday on the 20th. Charlie being the loc-dog was given the option to be the route selection guy, my requirements: something far away & awesome. I didn't really care what we did, i knew it would be rad, that we would have fun, i would get to do something new in a fairly remote area at a slightly higher elevation than squamish, & that chuck could hopefully tick a few new peaks off of his list. My only previous sierra climbing experiences (bouldering & sport climbing aside) have been cathedral peak & a few routes on stately pleasure dome so i was super stoked to do something a little more south and hopefully higher up. Not to mention the fact that i was going to wake up in the backcountry on my bday on Tuesday & climb a new peak literally onsight!
So after getting off work on Saturday afternoon, me the wife & dog all head out of Canadia around 8pm & pin it for Yreka for breakfast. We get to mammoth around 7pm Sunday and delirious from the drive we grab some thai food, Charlie pops by and joins us then we take off & crash in the condo that we had rented for the next 3 weeks. The next day, after a solid 14 hr sleep we head to town & i wrangle some food and things for the trip, Charlie texts me and says "pizza" so i stop by dominos where buddy sells me into 2 large meat lovers for $20 so obviously i grab some good old american ranch & the pizza & head over to his place. I hadn't seen Charlie in a year & we only had a quick visit last time so i was pumped we were going to go on an adventure. He's definitely one of my favourite guys to climb with because he is so psyched on everything, everyone is climbing. Not to mention we always have a blast with the jokes and whatnot. We stuffed the bear can with pizza, bars, tea, oatmeal, chicken, pasta, & some sauce & some sandwich making materials. We ate all the ranch & most of one of the pizzas while we were getting ready, so Charlie was going to have to go without america's finest condiment for a few days.
Charlie wouldn't tell me where we were going so he took care of the rack & gear selection which, in retrospect was pretty good. When i saw the rack i was very curious, when i asked him how hard we would be climbing he said 5.10.
small blue Camelot
8 dyneema 60cm slings made into quickdraws &
4 long quickdraws.
We also had some lockers and a few long slings for anchors.
30m mammut half rope, maybe 8.6mm??
The only other thing i would bring next time is a set of med-large nuts, maybe trade a green for a gold.
We set off towards bishop around 130 or so & turned off up towards Rovana not too much later. We arrived at pine creek pack station, shouldered our packs and headed off up the trail.
The wife & dog came for the initial slog up to pine lake. Beyond that i really had no idea what was up this pass, i quizzed Chuck incessantly on the way up, for a while he ignored but after enough pestering he finally told me that i would know what peak we were going to climb as soon i saw it. I trusted his word and continued the slog up the switchbacks to lower pine lake. From there we chilled for a bit before bidding farewell to the lovely, understanding wife that permits climbing adventures. As she runs back down the trail, we forge on up past upper pine lake before taking the italy pass trail at which point it starts to rain! Then pour! We get under a boulder and share a sandwich from the health food store by subway in mammoth, so good. After 15-20 the rain stops & we head on up out of the forest & into the alpine aiming for the pass above honeymoon lakes.
Beautiful cross country travel. It is really cruisey hiking cross country in Cali compared to Squamish where you are probably either sinking or bushwhacking if you are off trail.
We were always keeping our eyes peeled for classic boulder problems.
The only challenge hiking here is the elevation, with packs. I was weezing like an old man when we got to the top of the pass after such a long drive & hike. Then i saw this:
It became pretty obvious what we had came to climb
We hiked along the eastern shores of the Royce lakes until it was starting to get pretty dark
by the time we set up camp & ate pizza we were toast so we forced down a bunch of water & Chucky finally revealed the route details & the name of this beautiful peak we had witnessed on the hike in, before the evening came & cloaked it's beauty in darkness.
Merriam peak they called it & Charlie had been dying to get up the North Buttress; i could obviously see why & instantly joined the club. We sussed the topo a bit & passed out. Upon waking up i couldn't wait to jump out of the tent & realize our surroundings. Here is what our backyard was for the next two days
After checking things out i obviously became super stoked to get the day going & climb this peak. What an awesome BDay already just being able to wake up in a place like this. I kicked Chuck's ass out of bed as quickly as i could, it took a few different stages to bring him to life, but eventually we were warming up in the sun eating oatmeal & drinking green tea. After taking our time & having an enjoyably casual start to the day @ around 930 we left camp & rambled around the lake & up the talus towards the shady finger of the North Buttress.
Our plan was to try & simulclimb as much of the route as possible, as the birthday boy i was given the leading duties to start and the plan was to hopefully take us up the lower angled first 1/2 of the buttress to the triple crack corner which lay some 4-500 feet up the wall in one pitch. I gladly grabbed the dental floss and tied in. The air was clean & refreshing & the views down on the Royce lakes & eventually into
the owens valley were such an awesome, drastic change from all the driving & working i had been doing for the past weeks. This was exactly where we were supposed to be.
I had just received a go pro head cam for my bday from the wife so i tried to do a time-lapse of our climb with it strapped to my head but it didn't exactly work how i thought, however i did get some interesting photos from the first half of the climb while we were simulclimbing
After sussing the best starting options i was off & wow! did it ever feel good to continuously climb over such wonderful stone in such a great position. Splitter after splitter, fingers, hands, corners, even a few face moves on flakes. The climbing was generally around 5.7-5.8.
The jams and holds were so good i didn't even want to stop & place gear but managed to keep 2 pieces between me and Chucky for the most part.
By this point i could hear Charlie laughing and shouting & i began doing the same, the unencumbered movement was incredible & the energy from the stone & surroundings was one of the more enjoyable experiences i have ever had.
There was one little 10a move that was well protected with a red camalot and a few 5.9 finger locks up to there.
The consistent factors were that the climbing was brilliant, the stone was beautiful, and the position was great- right on the plumb line up the centre of the peak!
In what seemed like no time at all i was using the final 4 pieces i had squandered to set up a gear belay at the base of the famous triple cracks corner and waiting for Charlie.
The triple cracks were amazing and beautiful, so many good jams!! great hands with lots of features on this perfect dihedral, but you are climbing this great hand sized face crack next to the corner on a lichen coloured face! so awesome!
Charlie casts off without a gold camalot!! Sorry buddy!
After this my camera shut off but i also had a point & shoot. I led the next pitch, an overhanging 5.9 jug haul into some exposed stemming and a nice corner with a great hand crack that curves up into an exciting fingery layback up to some decent ledges, very classic again. I set up a belay & brought up Charlie who took us up the 10b corner which was a great pitch & perhaps not the most technical 10b, It climbed up this cool set of twin cracks then up into the crux of the climb, a well protected powerful, short, steep layback on perfect compact granite then up past a few more reachy moves to a nice ledge.
I think this pitch, the 5.9 & the triple cracks were each close to 25 meters, with a longer rope it would be possible to link up those 3 into 2 pitches if you wanted. They may have also been the 3 best pitches of the climb. Awesome quality climbing.
After this we did another few pitches of simulclimbing for 400 feet or so along the summit ridge crest to the true summit.
by this time it was 130 or so and because of our position on the north buttress we had not noticed the bulk of little clouds forming from the southwest. We chilled on the summit for a few minutes and enjoyed the amazing views and position, relishing how much fun that had just been. Hard to believe that less than 72 hrs prior i had been sitting at work all the way up in Whistler, BC! Yes life is good.
As we glanced again at the sky we decided that saving the retrospection might be best for later on & headed down the southwest slope towards the merriam/royce saddle where we scrambled/glissaded down to the talus field where we spent a bit of time looking for boulders until it finally started raining lightly. As we hurried back around the lake it started to hail, lightly at first but when we got back to camp- it really started hailing.
This pinned us down for a few hrs so we played chess on my phone & ate some more pizza. After the hail stopped we went back outside and walked down to the bottom of the royce lakes basin where it drains down this spectacular chute/waterfall that is like a giant staircase for hundreds of feet into French canyon (i think).
The amount of hail that had accumulated was amazing, a few inches at least. The sun came out for a bit just in time to melt a bunch of the hail & give us a spectacular sunset. This was the 2nd day in a row where afternoon storms would be a factor.
But if weather is what creates this beauty then i'm all for it.
After watching Supertroopers on Charlies phone & passing out, we woke up to another beautiful day.
Our plan was to summit Royce and maybe Feather then perhaps see how much traversing was possible on the ridge line around the basin. Again there were no clouds or signs of anything but a bluebird day.
We slogged back up the Merriam/royce saddle, which was much easier coming down. After an hour and a bit from the the top of the saddle and much steep sandy hiking we were on top of Royce, which was
interesting as there were 2 summit blocks that were a few hundred yards apart on the summit plateau. We couldn't find a register on either!
Of course the clouds started forming again as we were on our way towards feather peak. After the amount of hail that came down yesterday we definitely did not want to be up high in case of a repeat& it seemed like the clouds were moving quickly. We made the call at the Royce/Feather Col to head down the Col which turned out to be the right call but at the time when we committed to the icy col, it felt like a bad call.
The snow was frozen solid, us of course, were wearing approach shoes (daescent myself) so it was actually super treacherous. Had we slipped down the Col it would have been a 6-700' glissade straight into a talus field, it would have been tough to slow down. We went straight for the moat on the skiers left of the Col from which all the hail from yesterdays storm had blown into, it was over 2 feet deep! Haha so we pick our way down to to near the bottom 3rd & come to a point where we have to traverse across the frozen slope, we dug some sharp rocks out from under the hail & myself being the canadian whom one would assume had spent more time surrounded by ice volunteered to break trail across the slope which was exciting & tedious. Some more sketchy 3rd classing and we were on terra firma, We found ourselves in the upper Royce basin which was a very nice place to end up, even though we had to do some primitive ice-downclimbing to get there.
We headed back around to camp and since the weather was still dodgy, decided to go bouldering across the lake on the Blocs on the shore underneath Merriam.
We had a pretty fun session, probably climbing 15 or so problems up to v16, when i sent one test piece in his face Chuck couldn't handle it & proceeded to raise the bar with a baddass OW solo FA in approach shoes.
At this point it was close to sunset so we headed back to camp where Charlie cooked up some chicken alfredo which was awesome! Then We kicked back & enjoyed the nightly entertainment.
The next day we took our time waking up & packing up, it was kind of sad to be leaving but i had such a blast hanging out in such an amazing spot on my bday with a good buddy. Not too mention getting to put all the summer's experience together & climbing an awesome route in an awesome style.
Instead of hiking back down Royce pass we decided to loop around back down to pine creek pass, Check out the lakes there & of course, keep our eyes peeled for any bouldering possibilities.
After Pine creek pass we pretty much headed straight down, stopping for one more snack break @ upper pine lake.
Once below pine lakes we endured the endless switchbacks back down to the pack station parking, @ which point we jumped in the truck & booked it straight to Mammoth where we grabbed a burger & a shower.
Great adventure, so much to do in the Sierra!
i would highly recommend a trip up to Royce lakes & to put the North Buttress of Merriam peak on your list!
After my time in the high country the rest of the trip was broken up between attending an amazing wedding, some quality time with the wife and dog, a Climbing stag up @ pine creek sport climbing then to a night stag session at the happies(big day), a bunch of hot tubbing, a few days at the milks, triple date up at clark canyon, a fun posse day at the happies, checked out the bachar boulders, hartley springs(didn't get to climb there, looks amazing), taco fiending, trail run out to 1000 island lakes, a day at Dyke wall & an afternoon on the boulder up at horseshoe lake. I would have loved to have gotten back up in the high country to get on a few more summits but after the wedding we got a foot of snow in Mammoth which signified that bouldering in bishop would be the only type of climbing that would be happening for the rest of the trip. I love the eastside, always something to do!
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