(Still working through the backlog, slowed by my hand. — ed.)
I woke to clean air and my neighbor already heading out. Rather than taking the trail, I dropped straight down a creek opposite the impressive cascade from the Royce Lakes and picked up the French Canyon trail. Expecting a sign directing me to a well-used trail to Merriam Lake, I put in my headphones and turned off my brain. Most of a mile after passing the obvious place where the trail should be, I saw the error of my ways. I backtracked to the creek from Merriam Lake, then ground out the 1,000-foot gain cross-country. I saw horse prints below the lake, suggesting that the trail still exists somewhere, but I never found it.
Finally reaching Merriam Lake, with its splendid beach, at the northwest corner of the bench, I again left the official High Route. Consulting my map the night before, I noticed that Gemini and Seven Gables — “west side peaks” — were only a bit out of the way, and I have long wanted to tag the latter. I headed up some slabs to the ridge between Merriam Lake and the “Indian Word Named Lakes” (and “Lake Awee-ma-wep,” where the lion sleeps while away from the mighty jungle). Mostly because it would involve clockwise climbing, I headed south of the last pinnacle on the ridge, then made a descending class 2-3 traverse to the edge of the Seven Gable Lakes basin. I got lucky here — the other side of the pinnacle is impassable.
Noting a nice slab route down to the Seven Gable Lakes from the col between Gemini and Seven Gables, I made my way up the class 2-3 ridge northeast of Gemini to gain the connecting north-south ridge. I dropped my pack to tag Gemini, carried it down to the descent col, and dropped it again to tag Seven Gables.
As I remembered from Bob’s trip report, this impressive-from-the-east peak is mostly just a sand slog from the west. However, reaching the proudly overhanging summit phallus required some semi-exposed 3rd class scrambling which proved thought-provoking with one hand. Reaching the summit, I walked out to the end of the overhanging block, then returned to sign in. To my surprise, the register had been left by a group summiting earlier that day, including a name from my past that gave the already cloudy afternoon a melancholy cast.
After a quick and painless sand ski and walk to the col, I crossed to Vee Lake, where I found bits of use trail taking me through the maze of Bear Lakes (Little, to Big, to White, to Brown). Other than the nasty talus descent to Brown Bear, the hiking was all pleasant. I met two guys camped near Little Bear, and five dysfunctional ptarmigans below White.
I picked up the Lake Italy trail just past Brown Bear’s outlet, crossed to the west side of the lake to camp beneath Hilgard, then pocketed my camera and wandered around to kill time before dinner. A nice older couple, who had been camped at the lake for awhile, invited me up to their campsite to talk until I got too cold. It was good to have someone besides myself as company for a few minutes.