The Rolls Royce of Climbs

19 Jun 1999 - by Steve Eckert

I know the "rolls merriam" trip title confused a lot of people, but it's not too much of a stretch from Rolls Royce to Royce and Merriam to Rolls Merriam, is it?

Anyway, Robert Evans, Larry Sokolsky, Dylan Schwilk, and I headed up the Pine Creek trailhead in what felt like the first summer climb of the season - no jackets even at 7am, a cacophony of birdsong to wake us up, and only occasional wafts of sulfur from the local titanium mine... but strangely enough there were few mosquitoes at the trailhead and none once we climbed a few hundred feet.

The first major stream crossing left us looking at a sawn log bridge under four inches of fast moving water, so we headed for the lake outlet "cross country" on a good use trail and waded on shallow flat rocks. (On the way out I discovered it was possible to do the crossing with only one ski-pole-vault and keep your boots dry, but others waded.) There was no snow at to speak of until the Honeymoon Lake /Pine Creek Pass junction (which we missed) and above that we tried hard to avoid the soft thin slush.

At the pass, at 1pm, Robert headed toward an apparent ridge to survey the amount of snow betwen us and Royce Lakes while the rest of us contemplated our navels and enjoyed the warm afternoon. I was concerned about dry campsites and running water, others about postholing in the snow with full packs the next afternoon. We decided the pass campsites were too good to pass up, but it turned out the higher lakes were more ice-free than the ones at the pass and there would have been dry (if somewhat unprotected and boring) campsites.

Starting before 6am, we were on the summit of Royce by 830am and spent an hour up there reveling in the view and the warm air. Dylan and I climbed both bumps just to make sure the register was on the higher one and for hero shots (the lower bump is the more photogenic, I think), then we stormed down the sand to the saddle and rested briefly before heading for Merriam. We met two other climbers who had camped at the upper lakes, but since they chose the opposite peak to climb first each group had each mountain to themselves. It was often possible to choose between sandy walking, boulder hopping, or third class moves to make things more interesting.

We spent less time on Merriam, and also climbed both bumps, and returned once again to the saddle. The permanent snowfield betwen the saddle and the lakes had not required crampons on the way up, and by now it was so mushy that a standing glissade only worked for a short distance. (It's 45 degrees at the top, but only that steep for 100' or so.) The rest of the snow required a glissade pad or slick nylon pants but was enjoyably fast with the right gear.

Breaking camp was made tedious by the wilting heat - overnight it barely froze dew on my bivy bag, but in the early afternoon it was scorching in the sun. Summer Solstice or some such thing. Anyway, we squished our way back down to the cars as the day cooled, bottoming out around 6pm. Larry opted out of the second peak, and hiked back to his car alone with only a surprise bath in a stream crossing to mar the day. No bugs, no bruises, both peaks in good weather. What more can you ask for?

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