Route: North Buttress (5.10b, 1000', 7-11p)

TR #: 158

Category: California       Summit Elev: 13,103 ft       Rock Type: Granite

Partners: Mark Thomas, Nic Risser

A gleaming triangle of steep granite that just begs to be climbed.

A couple of great annotated photos of the North Buttress of Merriam Peak, by Mark Thomas.
Merriam Peak is a mountain of loose choss with one solid, gleaming triangle of granite punching out in the center of its north side. With its cracks, clean granite, and challenging and aesthetic lines, this feature just begs to be climbed. Even though the approach is somewhat long, this remote peak has risen in popularity in recent years, partially due to Peter Croft and Lisa Rands putting up some hard first ascents in 2012.

Mark, Nic, and I climbed the North Buttress, 1000 vertical feet of mostly 5.8 to 5.9 crack and flake climbing with a crux 5.10b layback section. For an "alpine" climb, the rock was quite solid, apart from the occasional loose block along the way. The climb is north facing and parts of the route never see direct sunlight, so we kept our jackets on until we reached the summit. SuperTopo gives eight pitches to the top of the buttress and three more to the true summit, but we linked a couple of pitches to climb the buttress in six pitches and then we simulcimbed in one long pitch to the summit. Since we were a team of three, we climbed with two ropes, allowing both followers to climb independently at the same time about 30 feet apart.

Since the approach is rather long and there is gorgeous scenery along the way, we decided to make it a two-day adventure, hiking into a camp at Royce Lakes the first day and then climbing the North Buttress and hiking out the next day. The climb is feasible in a really long car-to-car day, but it would be a big day and probably best for earlier in the summer when there is a maximum amount of daylight. Plus, we had a team of three so this would slow things down some. Our stats are as follows:
  • Car to camp: ~4 hours (with overnight packs)
  • Camp to base of route: ~1 hour
  • Climb: ~7 hours (with team of 3)
  • Summit to camp: ~1 hour 15 minutes
  • Camp to car: ~4 hours (with overnight packs)
The following page gives a trip report for our fun two day mountain outing encompassing our climb up the North Buttress of Merriam Peak.

The approach to Merriam Peak is between 8 and 9 miles depending on the route you choose, with 4,400 feet of elevation gain. The hike starts on the Pine Creek Trail not far north of Bishop.
We decided to approach Merriam Peak via Royce Pass (rather than Pine Creek Pass, an alternative route option which is longer but involves more trail hiking). In this photo we are approaching Royce Pass via easy cross-country travel. Treasure Peak on left of Royce Pass.
We camped at Royce Lakes. There are a few lakes in this area, but from the one closest to Royce Pass (where we camped), it was about an hour approach over easy rocky terrain to the base of the North Buttress of Merriam Peak. Merriam Peak is the triangular form in the distance on the left and Royce Peak is the mound on the right.
Merriam Peak from one of the Royce Lakes. The North Buttress is the obvious buttress on the face.
I enjoyed chasing around a flock of white-tailed ptarmigan near our camp at Royce Lakes.
Earlier in the summer, I had spotted some glow sticks at the Dollar Store, and I had carried them around ever since hoping for a night photography opportunity. We* had a lot of fun with these glow sticks! (*Ironically, I had not brought my SLR camera on this trip, so it was mostly Mark who had the fun taking photos while I soon retired to my tent bemoaning my SLR-less situation.)
The next morning, it took us an hour to approach the North Buttress of Merriam Peak. The triangular buttress became even more distinct as we got closer.
Nic leading up the first pitch of the North Buttress of Merriam Peak. We linked Pitches 1 & 2 from the SuperTopo guide, which begin up some cracks, and then continue up 5.9 and 5.10 terrain angling slightly left toward the large, obvious dihedral above.
Looking up our second pitch (SuperTopo Pitch 3). Here we traversed left under a large block and ended at the base of the large dihedral. 
One of the highlights of the route is the Triple Cracks Pitch (SuperTopo Pitch 4) which goes up the large dihedral you can see from the base. In this photo Nic and I are following the upper section of the Triple Cracks Pitch. The climbing on this pitch is 5.9 ish and really fun.

Since we were a team of three, we brought two ropes. In this way the two followers could climb independently at the same time, staggered about 30 feet apart, as Nic and I are doing in this photo. Mark is belaying both of us at once on an ATC guide.
Looking north from the summit of Merriam Peak, the beautiful Royce Lakes area below. It was late in the summer and also a dry year, so there was no snow whatsoever.
Looking over at the saddle between Merriam and Royce Peaks. The descent via Merriam's 3rd class west ridge goes to this saddle.
Some cool pinnacles on the ridge to the northeast. These walls are pretty vertical.

Notice the halo in the sky behind. The forecast for this day was calling for 30% thundershowers. The North Buttress route would be difficult to retreat from, so our plan in the case of a storm was to wait it out until it passed through or to just keep climbing up (the route is mostly on crack systems rather than slab). Fortunately, no storms ever materialized above us, although towards afternoon and evening we saw some thundershowers in the distance.
Nic leading up our fourth pitch (SuperTopo Pitch 5). He went left while the actual pitch goes rightwards up a series of discontinuous cracks. Nic got into some pretty sketchy terrain but was able to traverse back right to the route. He seemed to enjoy the spicy adventure, and I wouldn't be surprised if Nic knew all along that the route went right....
The actual route of our fourth pitch (SuperTopo Pitch 5) goes right up a series of discontinuous cracks. The benefit of being in a team of three was that Mark was able to clean all of the pieces to the left allowing me to climb the slightly less spicy standard route.
Here are some photos taken from the belay between our fourth and fifth pitches. Since we had combined the first two pitches of the SuperTopo topo, this corresponds to the belay between SuperTopo Pitches 5 and 6. SuperTopo Pitch 6 (the start of which is seen in some of these photos) is the crux pitch of the route, with steep hands followed by a 5.10b layback move.
Some enjoyable climbing midway up SuperTopo Pitch 6. This is shortly before the crux 5.10b layback section comes into view.
Steph climbing the 5.10b layback section of SuperTopo Pitch 6. It was pretty mellow for 10b, and quite fun climbing.
Mark climbing just above the crux layback section on SuperTopo Pitch 6. This pitch has some really fun climbing.
Looking up at the wide "S" crack of our sixth pitch (SuperTopo Pitch 7). We linked SuperTopo Pitches 7 & 8, which go up the "S" crack and then traverse left under the 1st large block and right under the 2nd large block to gain the top of the buttress. The rock is very solid in this area.
Looking at the airy traverse under the 2nd large block. Shortly after this the route reaches the top of the buttress and is on the summit ridge.
The North Buttress does not top out on the summit of Merriam Peak. Getting to the summit involves about 600 feet of mostly 4th and a few low 5th moves. Mark and I simulclimbed this ridge while Nic soloed it. The ridge is exposed and surprisingly enjoyable.
One of Mark's link cams. I don't own any of these myself so it was nice to try them out. The main advantage of link cams is their large range, but the main disadvantages are that they are heavy and expensive.
Shadow of Merriam Peak a thousand feet below.
Looking over at the west ridge of Merriam Peak. The 3rd class descent takes this way down.
The three of us on the summit of Merriam Peak. As a team of three and climbing at a comfortable pace, it took us just under 7 hours to reach the summit (SuperTopo gives 4-7 hours for the route).
Three more of us on the summit of Merriam Peak.
Nic enjoyed reading the summit register.
We easily descended the west side (3rd) of Merriam Peak and wrapped back round the north side. It took about 25 minutes to get from the summit to the saddle between Merriam and Royce (saddle is seen in this photo) and a total of 1 hour 15 minutes to get from the summit to our camp at Royce Lakes. (Earlier in the season there may be a patch of snow below the saddle between Merriam and Royce, but according to SuperTopo it generally doesn't require crampons.)
As seen from the descent: the North Buttress of Merriam Peak, profile view. This photo shows that the buttress is pretty steep. The actual summit is out of view to the right.

When we got back to camp after the climb, we discovered a note in Mark's coffee mug from a passing hiker (named Ann) who had taken some photos of us climbing Merriam earlier that day. Ann gave us her email, so I contacted her afterward. Here are some photos taken by Ann of us climbing the North Buttress of Merriam. It is pretty cool to see what we looked like from afar!

In this photo Mark is at the belay at the top of the large dihedral of the Triple Cracks Pitch. Nic and I are at the belay below. In this photo Nic is leading SuperTopo Pitch 5 while Mark and I are at the belay below. Nic went left and then had to traverse this sketchy section to get back onto the route to the right. In this photo Nic is the figure soloing/sitting on the ridge crest. I am on the crest simulclimbing at the end of the rope. Mark is out of view on the left. The North Buttress route tops out on the pinnacle on the right, but then traverses about 600 feet of exposed ridgeline to the actual summit.