Steelhead Lake to Pine Creek Trailhead: Bear Lakes Loop Day 8

Between Steelhead and French Lakes
Between Steelhead and French Lakes

The sun was up and I poked my face out of my tent, still wrapped up in my warm sleeping bag like a burrito. My water bottle was frozen. Hm, that was a first for this trip.

Our original plan was to have an easy day down to Honeymoon or Upper Pine Lake where we would have a relaxing last night on the trail before exiting and driving home on Sunday. Instead, we decided to cover the final 10 miles (2 cross-country, 8 on trail) and almost 5000 feet of descent in one day. After a successful trip with every summit on the list bagged, I certainly didn’t feel like we were cheating or bailing on our plans by exiting a day earlier than planned. Anyways, I only had one packet of Starbucks Via coffee left and we’d polished off the end of my bourbon the night before. The real world has coffee and beer. I was ready for the real world.

After packing up we took off cross-country towards French Lake. It was a really pretty little area with nice meadows and some campsites tucked away along a lightly flowing creek. At French Lake we dropped our packs for a quick snack and some photos. There are some relaxing looking beaches along the shore of this lake, but they didn’t look too tempting on this cold and windy morning. It wasn’t warming up like the previous days. There was an autumn-like chill in the air.

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Four Gables 12,720 feet: Bear Lakes Loop Day 7

Steelhead Lake shore - well follow the green ramp on the left
Steelhead Lake shore – we’ll follow the green ramp on the left and avoid the talus (for now). The chute we’ll take to the summit plateau is visible as well.

It was really cold when we woke up at Steelhead Lake on the morning of day 7.  We had this high and exposed lake to ourselves though, and that was worth the cold morning. Although we had passed several people around the lakes along the trail, a short distance of cross-country travel seemed to discourage anyone from reaching Steelhead Lake other than us.

While sucking down my next-to-last packet of Starbucks Via I wandered to the top of the hill behind our camp and found some other nice campsites, and although the views were better than from our measly little spot, the exposure to the wind kept me from wanting to move my stuff. The view across French Canyon to Feather, Royce, and Merriam Peaks was clear and impressive. It may have been a bit colder this morning, but the crisp clear sky was encouraging. Time to bag another peak!

We had vague descriptions about two class 2 routes up Four Gables from Steelhead Lake, and both started with us needing to get ourselves to the far end of the lake, so along the shore we went. There was a bit of rock hopping and lots of stopping for photos. It’s a beautiful deep blue lake. It would be even more amazing on a still day, but today the wind was kicking up some waves.

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Royce Peak and Merriam to Steelhead Lake: Bear Lakes Loop Day 6

Royce Peak Southwest Slope
Royce Peak Southwest Slope

The previous day’s early cloud build up had us a bit paranoid about today’s weather so we were up and ready to climb Royce Peak first thing in the morning. It wasn’t a big climb – 2 miles, 2000 feet of gain, and routine class 2. We expected it to take a few hours at a regular pace,and to be back at camp mid-day, long before the typical danger time-frame of afternoon storms. This was us being so smart. I’m sure you can tell where this is going.

Leaving camp around 8:30, the clouds were already starting to build over the ¬†surrounding peaks, but they were light and didn’t concern us. If they built at the expected rate we’d have plenty of time to get up and down the peak. Royce Peak was still under clear skies.

We wandered up the southwest facing slope, one big ramp all the way to the summit. Evidence of wildlife was around – we saw some baby grouse hopping around, and also saw a ‘pika pile’. It is a well-known fact that pikas are the cutest animal in the mountains, looking like some adorable mouse/rabbit hybrid. They spend all summer stockpiling green plants to insulate their den and provide food for the long months they spend under the snow in the winter. We came across a pile of greenery in a dry and non-green pile of talus. It could only have been a pika!

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