French Lake to Granite Park
(12 miles, +2,500/-2,500 feet).
Half Cookie got cold last night so we closed the storm flaps on the tent. While that did warm things up a few degrees, it also exacerbated condensation and we awoke to a very wet tent! Not to worry though — out here it is pretty easy to dry things out mid-day.
Our plan was to do a bunch of cross-country exploration, hitting several lakes above French Canyon before heading up to Royce Lakes and then down to Granite Park. By 5:30am we were done sleeping and ready to pack up and hike.
A nearly-full moon accompanied us in the pre-dawn light.
We climbed from French Lake up to some of its feeder tarns and to Little French Lake on its southeast side.
We then climbed up to Lower and Upper Petite Lakes.
We descended from the ridge above Steelhead Lake down a pretty steep ravine that turned out to be nearly class 3 in some places.
The lake was extremely gorgeous, and we decided to walk on its edge around to the south side where we could take a saddle towards Star Lake.
At the saddle we got our first view of the aptly-named (though backwards!) ‘L’ Lake.
I thought we could follow a topo line over to Star Lake, but we got cliffed out a bit and had to descend about 100 feet before heading back up.
We took a nice break at Star Lake before heading to a saddle on its west where we hoped to get a view of Puppet Lake.
From the saddle we headed back down towards ‘L’ Lake.
We originally planned to take the trail from ‘L’ Lake back up to Pine Creek Pass, but I worried that it would take us through a very buggy and very deep French Canyon. Instead, we headed cross country straight for the pass.
This turned out to be a mistake!
Not only did we end up hiking about the same distance off trail, but the mosquitoes were actually much worse on the wide, marshy, and tarny plateau northwest of ‘L’ Lake. For the first time we had to put on our head nets to keep our sanity as we hiked.
On the plus side, though, we got some very beautiful tarn reflections on the way.
Fortunately, we found the trail near the bottom of French Canyon and used it to head back up towards the pass.
We finally got a break from the bugs when we reached the tree line at the edge of the canyon, and we stopped for lunch, a nap, and to dry out our tent.
At Pine Creek Pass we once again headed off trail up towards Royce Lakes. There was a use trail that came in handy now and then, but it was faint and inconsistent so we mostly just walked straight towards Royce Peak.
We neared a tarn at 11640+ and had to leap from stone to tussock across a wide and marshy plain.
Honestly, we were happy to hit the snow which was not only easier, but beautifully sun cupped with snow tinged by bright red algae.
Above the tarn was a long shallow saddle that would eventually give us our first view of the Royce Lakes.
We passed two fishermen as we headed up to the next small lake, which was still partially covered in snow.
By 3pm we made it up to Lake 11725, which was absolutely spectacular.
We had originally planned to head up to the pass northwest of Lake 11725 and descend to Granite Park from there, but storm clouds were building and it has been described as class 2/3.
I worried there were still snow fields on the other side that would require special gear (which we did not bring). Even if there weren’t, the extra time it would take to descend might catch us in the middle of a storm right when we were exposed and needed to concentrate.
So instead we headed to Royce Pass (class 1) on the northeast corner of the lake.
Alas, right when we were most nervous about the weather, we had almost no choice but to traverse a snow slope above the lake to get to the pass. We kept our heads down and walked deliberately, trying not to think of the consequences of an unarrested slide.
By 4pm we made it to the pass (whew!) and started heading down the other side on granite slabs towards a tarn at 11160 where we hoped to take an easy shortcut over to the Italy Pass Trail.
The tarn was a little buggy, so we climbed a ridge above it to make some dinner. From the ridge we could see the Italy Pass Trail, but it was on the other side of the main drainage for Granite Park. We would need to figure out a place to cross.
After considering several options, we finally continued up the south side of the creek until we hit the ridge where boulders completely covered the creek to make an easy cross.
From there, we did find the trail, but it kept disappearing in the rocks. Cairns were inconsistent, and although we were both just a little tired of cross country for the day, it would probably have been easier to think about it as a route more than a trail.
It was already well past 6pm and we had not quite made it up to the part of Granite Park where we wanted to camp. Plus we had crossed a very steep snow field that we worried would be solid ice in the morning when we needed to recross it to head back down. So we decided to backtrack to a really nice campsite we passed a few hundred feet back.
It turned out to be a very, very good choice to backtrack. The campsite was flat and sandy and perched on a ridge right above a meadow and below the towering Treasure Peak. It was a perfect place to watch the sun set.
We sat for a bit once camp was set up, but tonight we were not so lucky with the mozzies. By 7:30pm we ducked into our tent were we counted the little bastards landing on the door.
At one point there were as many as 20 of them poking their noses through the screen looking for blood. But we didn’t care because we were safe inside and still enjoying our view of the light playing on the sierra. By 9pm it was dark and we drifted to sleep.