2015 Mt Lyell Summit Attempt

Description: From Tuolumne Meadows, 12 miles along Lyell Canyon and the JMT/PCT to set up a dayhike to Mt Lyell and the Lyell glacier the next day.

Long term weather forecasts for this region indicated snow the days before and heavy rain on the first day of the trip. As the trip got closer, most of the weather forecasts were downgraded to 20% chance of light rain. But I already had it in my head that I was going to be cold and wet (I was neither). So my pack was several pounds heavier with my older double-wall tent, an extra layer of clothing, and snowshoes. The snowshoes were a last minute decision, as the ranger who issued the permit that morning recounted that a few friends post-holed waist-deep at Mt Dana recently.

Lyell canyon is gorgeous, but the river, sometimes gentle, sometimes roaring, weaving to and fro from the flat trail, lulls you into monotony. As the trail started to climb, I questioned my decision to add 4 pounds to my pack with the snowshoes. I began to encounter some mosquitoes higher up the trail and was surprised at their absence in the calm valley below, especially around the marshy and muddy sections. The mosquitoes were manageable as long as I kept moving, which meant very few and very short rest stops. When I got to the tarn at 10200’, an application of repellent was finally necessary. I noticed that many of the campers there were wearing head nets. After crossing the river and a final push up the next section, I set up camp at the detour to Mt Lyell, a short distance from the trail alongside another tarn. A clear moonless night led me to my first attempts at capturing the Milky Way.

Lyell River

Mt Lyell in center

Mt Lyell

A clear night

The next morning, I continued south with my daypack, with snowshoes attached. The snow slope started at about 11,000’. I noticed a pair of tracks going up a very steep ~25 foot section. Where else would anyone be going besides Mt Lyell? So I donned my crampons to follow the pair of tracks. I hadn’t fully recovered from the previous day’s long hike and found the trudge up the snow to be very slow. Post-holing ranged from ankle to the occasional knee deep, which was easy enough to step out of. Not enough to warrant the snow shoes. Mt Lyell became visible after coming around the peak that is north of the mountain. On the glacier, I noticed the tracks forming a large triangle, heading up the glacier left to the east end of Mt Lyell, then traversing horizontally across the upper snow line towards the Lyell-Maclure col, before coming back down. I decided to head towards the col, making my own tracks in a slightly more direct line towards Mt Lyell. I realized that I would not need the snowshoes so left them for retrieval on the way down. At the top, I followed a zag from the horizontal tracks up but realized that this stopped short of the exposed rocks. I don’t know whether the previous climbers had retreated. I continued onto the rock and soon realized I could not easily proceed up the steep smooth granite. I crossed the snow chute left to a promising granite ramp I had seen. This went well until I encountered a final obstacle. The wall along a ledge I had to traverse to had no cracks to hold onto so this seemed a boot-slip away from a serious injury. I considered a different route up or maybe Mt Maclure as an alternative, but at this point was extremely tired and opted for a fun glissade down the mountain instead. The snow was softer and slushier than earlier so was only able to glissade the steeper sections. Post-holing to the knee and lower thigh became more frequent and after I had to use my ice ax to dig my foot out, I finally made good use of the snow shoes.

Mt Lyell and the Lyell Glacier

View north from the glacier

A better route from the other side of the chute

View from ~12,800'

Bonus Video