Royce, Merriam, "Treasure", and Peak 12918'

10-13 Sep 2004 - by Douglas Smith

The long-awaited chance to shoulder aside work and parental responsibilities finally came in early September--and luckily, it coincided with a break in my brother Kevin's schedule. Thus both of us managed to pull our noses away from the Topozone screens and actually visit the area represented by those oh-so-sexy contour lines: the high basins best accessed from the Pine Creek trailhead north of Bishop.

On first viewing, the Royce Lakes appear--especially after carrying a loaded pack the up Pine Creek Canyon from the northern reaches of Owens Valley--to be overly austere, sterile and barren. I had agreed to rendesvous with Kevin, who had hiked in a day before me, at the largest Royce Lake sometime between 2 and 5pm on Friday September 10th. I made it by 4:55, just in time to drop my pack and lay back on a flat boulder, wallow in self pity, and remind my long-suffering bro of his eternal wussiness (a recurring theme in our fraternal relationship) for doing the hike in two days rather than one. To his credit he recognized that I was merely delirious and offered to go refill the water bottles.

On further inspection, and once the fatigue wore off, I began to discern the singular beauty of the area: the appealingly pointy trio of Merriam/Royce/Feather looming over our camp; the spectacular Royce Pass, with its view down the steep canyon to the lush Round Valley nestled at the foot of the steep eastern escarpment of the range and filled with scenic farms; Royce Creek's cascading dropoff into French Canyon; or the frigid Royce Lakes themselves, with massive boulders disappearing into deep indigo depths. The potential destinations of dayhikes here seemed happily abundant, and we spent time in pleasant debate over which peaks we most wanted, and how for the next three days we could maximize our climbing. Because the approach to Feather Peak's easiest side involved a long detour around the highest lake to reach the col 1/2 mile NW of the summit, we opted to stick to the much closer Merriam and Royce Peaks via the Royce-Merriam saddle, and save Feather for another day.

While heading up towards these two summits, I enjoyed looking at the icefield just NE of the saddle and how its freshly-deposited moraines are so perfectly semicircular. These terminal and recessional moraines are pure rock and sand, making we wonder how recently this gully might have been filled to the brim with ice, and how quickly what little ice California has is receding. Would the gully have been full of ice in John Muir's time, for example? At the top of the present icefield was a curious formation of partly-frozen mud that was actively crumbling as I stood next to it, making a nice tableau of "geology in action" to look at while we caught our breath. We bagged Royce first, and after returning to the saddle took on the more interesting scramble to Merriam's top. The view south to the Glacier Divide, bordered by the ever-present sentinel of Humphrey's Peak, offered a mesmerizing prospect. Wanting to stand on the actual rim of French Canyon, we opted to descend Merriam ! by way of the steep slope on the east flank of the peak's south ridge. From Merriam's summit rocks this bowl is best accessed by way of the prominent slot between the highpoint and the lower SW summit. Looking across to the Gallic-themed Alsace, Lorraine and Paris Lakes framed in the distant background, this narrow defile atop Merriam is a great place for de rigueur mountaineer portraits.

With Kevin needing to leave a day earlier than I, our second day featured an easy hike to the top of peak 12563' adjacent to Royce Lakes, which on most maps is noted by the word "Treasure". I assume this means that the US Board of Geographic Names hasn't officially designated this name, although it's interesting that it's "official" enough that the USGS prints the name on its maps. There is a less significant mountain competing for the same name far to the north, near Sierraville, CA. But the peak we stood on looms over the lake basin in upper Pine Creek, and has a large summit block which seems to be just barely clinging to the uppermost portion of the north face. This mountain gets my vote for the name "Treasure".

On Monday the 13th I wanted to solo one more peak before hiking out, so I decided on the unnamed mountain at the very head of Royce Lakes basin, which tops out just shy of 13K at 12918'. I climbed this one via the cl. 2 gap located 1/4 mile NNE of the peak. This turned out to be another easy peak like the previous three this weekend, the highlight here being the fun bouldering route along the ridge from Granite Park. In a brief note Secor states that a 1966 summit party found a cairn in which there was a 25 year-old register. Searching all over the place, I could not find this phantom record. As on Merriam, I descended along a different route, down the steep and at times distressingly loose east slope. I chose this way because I wanted another chance to walk through Royce Pass, which I did, before hiking all the way down to my truck at the Pine Creek Pack Station and driving back to the Bay Area over Sonora Pass.

Tom Kenney adds:

> This mountain gets my vote for the name "Treasure".

The "Treasure" is simply the name of the benchmark. The peak has no name, officially or otherwise...yet! Unfortunately, there is also another "Treasure Peak" unofficially named just a few miles away in the Rock Creek drainage. There are several names, "Treasure Peak" among them, that would fit.

Great report! You really captured the scene well. One of my favorite parts of the range.

Steve Eckert adds:

There is one officially named Treasure Peak:

An interesting factoid came up when building that database... when can two peaks have the same name, and how do you know which one someone is talking about? The SPS Peaks List uses "1" and "2", and you're supposed to know which is which by looking up the region. I use N/S or E/W in the database by looking at whether lat or lon is larger. I ran lots of scans in lots of states' USGS databases, and their rule SEEMS TO BE that two peaks can have the same name if and only if they are in different counties.

For example, Rock Creek Rd separates two Mt Morgans by only a few miles, and there's a Morgan Mountain also: Rock Creek Rd is the county line, I believe, so the two Mt Morgans are close but uniquely identified if you know that one is in Mono county and the other is in Inyo county. Yeah, right. That's why the peaks and reports databases use "fuzzy matching" of shortened peak names - so you'll find what you're looking for even if there's something else that might be confusing.

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