Shangri-La in the Sierra
(Royce, Merriam, Four Gables, and Stanford (N))

3 Aug 1996 - by Ron Hudson

This was a very enjoyable mid-summer trip with near-perfect conditions. We Started at Pine Creek (7500') 7am Fri and got to "Royce Pass" (above Honeymoon Lk) 11,700' at 1pm. Nice there by the lake, but it is a better take-off point for peaks and more vegetation down at the lowest of the 4 Royce Lakes. It was still early and we felt good, so we ate, parked our packs there and took off toward the Royce-Merriam Col at 230pm.

Sue and Virginia, very strong hikers from San Diego, were new to ice ax use so I gave them a class - the usual self belay, grips, head first, glissading, etc. They were model students, and snow conditions were ideal for practice. Temperature in the 70's. Then up to the col at 12,400'. Some steepness to the snow, but not dangerous in the soft conditions. From the col we all did the easy 900' (class 2) to the top of Royce, and back to the col. John McCully, our 4th group member, opted to head back for a nap while we three did the 700' up the talus to Merriam's summit. Glissaded back from the col; got to camp at 7 pm. I visited with Pat Orris from SCMA who happened to be next to our camp; she and Tom the next day were to climb the 5.10 multipitch route up Merriam's spectacular N buttress.

Wind came up at night but blew away the clouds and humidity that had lingered in the Sierra the last 2 weeks. 39 deg F in the morning -- because of the dry cooler air associated with the weak cold front that moved in. We felt good so went for 4 Gables -- about 5 miles x-country on the other side of Pine Creek Pass. Figured Steelhead Lake best camp spot for the peak. What a view in the pass area! Extremely green, water all over, hardly a dried leaf or blade of brown grass. Flowers at height of bloom; polemonium blooming near the top of Merriam. The 120% of normal winter season, and the 180% previous season left snow still feeding the creeks. Recent rain also helped. So we moved across this paradise and deposited our packs at Steelhead Lake. At 10am we went toward the W ridge of 4 Gables to find a good chute to the summit plateau. Secor mentions no summit route from the W in his book. From the E end of the lake we could see a chute that looked sandy all the way up. It went with no problem-class 2.

Four Gables is impressive from the other side at Horton Lks. But from the west it doesn't look like a mountain. There are higher summits on either side of its ridge. But we used the map and did find the register on the nondescript elevated area at the side of the plateau. The register (3x5 notebook) was started in 1988 but is only 10% full. Windy on top--one of the few times on the trip we weren't wearing shorts and t-shirt. Beautiful with the green and all the Lks above French Canyon and Piute Canyons.

Got back to packs at 2:30 pm so decided to hike out. That way I could get still another (the last in the area) peak I needed for the sacred List. At the cars at 7pm, ate pizza in Bishop, and camped at the campground near the "town" of Tom's Place.

At 7000' it was cool for sleeping, yet warm enough in the morning for easy rising. Up at 6 and started the hike to Mt Stanford (N) at 730am from the 9280 level on the Rock Creek road. My old map didn't show the cutoff trail about 1/2 mile farther up the road; it didn't matter because it took us only 20 minutes to hike up the steep slope and meet the Hilton Lakes trail.

Then onto Hilton Lakes. A lot of forest around there. Talked to a fisherman who offered us "grease pie"?? on our way back. We continued on up the drainage through the life zones from forest to beautiful alpine meadows, alpine fell fields and talus piles. Went through the col as in RJ's book, but not at its N edge as he says. Arrived at noon on Stanford's summit; weather perfect -- bright sun, good view, warm. The register was in a good ammo box but on the wrong summit bump. We put it back on the highest one. Back to the car at 4pm, with stopping for apples from the fisherman, and I took a dip in the lake. We made haste back to LA; stopped quickly at Schat's (and Carl's across the street), and my favorite Fosters Freeze at Rosamond. Got to SF Valley at 9 pm.

I will remember the perfect midsummer Shangri-La conditions on this trip. And John's extensive narratives of his social and international exploits while we all were strolling across the fell fields and enjoying the beauty!

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