On Sunday, I hiked over Royce Pass into Royce Lakes. On my way, I passed Honeymoon Lake, which was also mostly frozen. The snow was stiff in the morning, but by 9:00 AM was turning to gawd-offal slush. I removed my crampons and continued anyway. The Royce Lakes basin was nearly snowbound, with some bare patches here and there. All the Royce Lakes were still completely frozen.
From the pass, I circled around the south face of Peak 12,470' to where I gained the west ridge of said peak. The sand chute mentioned in Secor had a long tongue of snow, so I decided the ridge would be better. Most of the peak was clear of snow, and I had a great time wandering up a maze of square class 3 ledges up to the crest of the ridge, where I encountered my first really tough obstacle. A patch of snow straddled the ridgetop right where I wanted to be. I gained the base of the snow, and, standing on a ledge, proceded to dig into the waist-deep slush to find hard ice beneath. It took me nearly 15 minutes to cover about as many steps, wallowing in the steep goo and hoping it didn't take leave of the ridge.
Once atop the ridge, easier class 3 meandering lead to an impasse. I traversed across the south face, where I encountered the snow tongue in the top of the afforementioned sand chute. The snow here was very steep, but firm enough that crampons weren't entirely useless. I crossed the snow and ditched the crampons and axe for the final push. I trudged up the remaining sand to a prominent notch atop the ridge. From here, more class 3 ledges and blocks lead to a point 80 feet below and 200 feet west of the summit. There were now only two class 4 options left - both sides of the ridge were very steep and partially snow-covered, with incredible exposure off both sides. Since I was alone, sans rope, I chickened out.
I spent about an hour munching snacks and taking pictures from a beautiful balcony on the north side of the ridge. From this vantage point, the whole of Granite Park lay before me, covered almost entirely by snow, with dots of ice-blue water where lakes were thawing. Looking south I could see the equally snowbound French Canyon and Humphreys Basin areas, with the northern end of the Palisades in the background.
As I packed up to descend, the clouds moved in and it began to snow lightly. I descended to the notch, then down the sand to my axe and crampons. From here, I could see a relatively easy rock rib dropping parallel to the sand chute. I scrambled down this as far as possible, then checked to my left (east) for a way down, but no luck. I backtracked and dropped off the rock rib into the sand chute, nearly at the bottom of the snow tongue. Some tense moments of descending the soft snow brought me to the easier slope below and easy traversing back to Royce Pass.
Some hours of postholing later, I was nearly back at camp. I was sitting on a rock, resting, when a fellow camper happened by. We exchanged howdy's and when he confirmed that I was the one camped at Upper Pine Lake, he gave me the good news that he had bestowed upon me a large fresh onion which he hadn't eaten but needed to unload. I was grateful, as I only had bland chicken soup for dinner.
I hiked out on Monday morning, and had a mostly uneventful drive home, except a 20 minute traffic delay north of Lone Pine - UGH!!! However, CalTrans has nearly finished the 'Mammoth Expansion' of US-395, so soon this traffic jam will be a thing of the past.
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