Ascent of Mount Lyell

25 Jul 1998 - by Tony Cruz

On Thursday Pat Ibbetson, Dennis Hiipaaka and I rendezvoused in Sacramento and carpooled in my van while Joe Stephens, Barbara Berne and Rich Calliger drove separately in thier own vehicles. Just after Tuolomne Meadows, a familiar Forerunner with the license plate "PEAKBAG" passed us. I told Pat it was Joe's, so Pat drove up close behind and flashed his brights. The Toyota slowed to a crawl and we drove along side it. Joe didn't recognize us at first and thought we were picking a fight. We drove together to the hiker parking lot near the Tuolomne resort. Joe spent the night there in his Forerunner but we drove on.

A little before 10 p.m., we met Rich Calliger at Camp 9. He had been kind enough to get our permit and led us to a flat spot on the left hand side of the road. We bivied under the stars after sharing several dirty jokes. Earlier in the evening, Barbara had met Rich on the other side of the road. She chose to camp there.

Early Friday morning we got up and drove our vehicles next to Joe's. We had breakfast and put our extra food in a bear box. Rich reported that he saw two nearby vehicles that had been recently trashed by bears. We took our time getting ready and were finally off by 8:00 or 8:30. Rich covered his Land Rover with a huge aluminized tarp just before we left. I told him that it made his vehicle look like a giant icebox. We all laughed and he took it to heart and removed the tarp.

The trail toward Lyell is a section of the John Muir Trial, well maintained and remarkably level. We immediately crossed bridges over the Dana and Lyell forks of the Tuolomne River, which is very high this year. The trail stays just west of the lovely Lyell Fork and passes the equivalent of a dozen Tuolomne Meadows, many stands of pine trees and beautiful flowers. We made numerous creek crossings on our way south, the biggest being on the creek that flows from Ireland Lake. The river had overflowed in many spots, turning some of the meadows to marshes and making the trail muddy in dozens of places. We passed a shirtless hiker in Tevas who said that he was a through hiker who had started on the PCT on the Mexican border.

Pat and I fell back from the rest of the group and took a couple of long rests during which I snoozed. There was considerable cloud cover and thunderstorms to the north. We were fortunate enough to avoid rain and the clouds kept the air comfortably cool. After hiking 7 easy miles, we reached some moderate swithbacks, crossed a foot bridge over the river, climbed some more switchbacks and finally reached our campsite next to the river and a small lake at a little under 10,200 feet. The location is marked on the 7.5 min. topo as "Mile 160" of the John Muir trail. Pat and I arrived just after 6 p.m., while the others had already been there for hours. We had hiked over 10 miles but gained only 1400 feet. The clouds mostly cleared before evening and we had nice views, including that of the very top of Lyell. Joe treated us all to a fresh salad he made with iceberg lettuce, peppers and an excellent Italian dressing.

On Saturday, Joe woke us up at 5 a.m. We lingered a bit in our bags but by 5:30 we started getting ready. Dennis opted not to climb since he had broken a rib a few weeks before and was afraid of falling (he had already climbed Mt. Lyell). Joe led the way. Instead of crossing the stream and staying on the JMT, he opted to go left onto the snow and around the south part of the lake. The medium-sized snowcups were hard and slippery enough to convince me to put on my crampons, which I wore until I reached the summit. On the other hand, Joe didn't use his until the upper slope of Lyell.

We climbed to a nearby snowy plateau with several small lakes. Joe and most of the others got there on rock while Barbara and I stayed on snow. After performing surgery on his one of his dilapidated boots, which was cutting into his Achilles tendon, Pat announced it could no longer hold a crampon and that he was abandoning his attempt of Lyell. I thought (incorrectly) that Pat was headed back to camp. Rich said he had broken a strap on one of his crampons and that he was going back. I suggested that he return to camp and borrow Dennis' crampons. Forgetting about Pat and Rich I looked ahead to Joe, who disappeared beyond the next rise and to Barbara, who had flashed by me in her attempt to catch Joe.

The three of us hiked past frozen lakes and snowbridged streams, toward the Lyell Glacier. Joe proceeded swiftly up the glacier to the summit ridge. Long before I got to that ridge, Joe was already down and booting toward nearby Mount Maclure. Just below the steep upper slope, I met Barbara on her way down. We stopped to chat about Gran Paradiso in Italy. She said that it was about the same height and difficulty as Lyell, though somewhat steeper. Barbara opted to go back to camp without doing Maclure. She was still going strong but didn't want to hike alone. I think that if Joe had waited or her or if I had been faster, she would have attempted Maclure.

Following Joe and Barbara's footprints, I hiked on a narrow snow chute for a couple hundred feet and between some rocks until I reached the more gently sloped summit ridge. By then Joe was on top of Maclure and Barbara was barely visible on the plateau below, near the frozen lakes. I hiked off the snow, dropped my crampons and ax and scrambled to a false summit. A few minutes later I was next to the register. It was nearly 1 p.m. I thumbed through the book and found the names of the members of a PCS team that had summited a few weeks before us. There was also an entry of a climbing buddy of mine who did it last summer. The wind completely died down and it was actually warm on the Top of Yosemite, 13,114 feet. Sitting on the rocks, I snacked and drank water. I yelled a greeting to Joe, who had begun his descent but was still high on Maclure. He heard me and yelled back. I took several photos with my disposable panoramic camera. The lakes to the south were still completely frozen and it looked like winter in all directions (except north toward Tuolomne Meadows). I was not disappointed by the view of nearby Mts. Ritter and Banner, but I could barely make out Half Dome, which was mostly hidden by nearby peaks.

I took a panoramic piss while Joe slowly glissaded off Maclure. After packing my crampons, I took a few steps and started glissading myself, which allowed me to avoid the steep (40 degree or so) down climb that Joe and Barbara had done. The snow was ideal for walking and glissading. I was able to slide for many hundreds of feet. Joe continued his quick pace so I could not catch him. He had not even seen the Sierras this year until this climb but he's an SPS list finisher who had done both peaks before and he proved that he's still the same old Joe.

I was slightly tempted to do Maclure myself, since the perfect, clear day was still young and the mountain, although more challenging than Lyell, was nearby and not difficult. But I decided to take it easy on myself and get back to camp at a decent hour for a change. On the way back I passed a group of several young climbers who had camped next to us the night before and had just moved onto the plateau. I didn't use my crampons and the snow remained perfect-no post holing!

I got back to camp around 4 p.m. Barbara rewarded me with some chocolate mousse. According to Dennis, who had not strayed too far from camp, upon returning Rich claimed to have done Maclure and had quickly left for the trailhead around noon. In fact, Rich had done something else and at no time was he anywhere near Maclure (we would easily have spotted him). The four of us lounged at camp, enjoying the warm afternoon, snacking and wondering where the hell Pat had gone. I was worried about him but there was plenty of daylight left and I knew that Pat tends to climb anything in sight if he has the time. We joked about "picking his bones," i.e., taking his gear. Dennis and I both wanted his tent.

About an hour and a half after I returned, Barbara spotted Pat hiking down the JMT. He waded across the stream (soaking his boots), approached us and said he had hiked to Donohue Pass and bagged Donohue Peak. He mentioned that he had seen us high on Lyell. We met a lady soloing north on the JMT who claimed that her son and husband had climbed Lyell earlier this year on skis during winter.

Sunday the clouds returned, making the temperature pleasant. But there were thunderstorms to the north and I understand that a PCS team attempting Matterhorn Peak in northern Yosemite was hailed out. After soaking our sore bare feet in the river, Pat, Dennis and I got back to the van, retrieved our extra food from the bear box and drove to the grocery store at Tuolomne Meadows. I bought a beer and a "Go Climb a Rock T-shirt" that I plan to wear on my flight to Paris next weekend. I managed to talk Pat out of climbing Lembert and Dog Domes by agreeing to climb Alta Peak with him next Friday.

Thanks to the members of the team for a perfect weekend. It was especially nice to meet Barbara, who is relatively new to the PCS. She is a strong and experienced mountaineer who blew us all away (except Joe) and she is great company. And a special thanks to Superman, a.k.a. Joe Stephens, for another fine lead.

Rich Calliger adds:

> upon returning Rich claimed to have done Maclure and
> had quickly left for the trailhead around noon.  In fact, Rich had
> done something else and at no time was he anywhere near Maclure (we
> would easily have spotted him).

It looks like the peak I climbed was either Peak 12,358 which is 0.75 miles SW of Maclure or Peak 12,720 at ..8 SW of Lyell. Either way Tony please clean up your damn language in the trip report. It offends the crap out of me ... ...

However- it was by far the **absolute best** trip I have been on all year. It is good to be back with some real mountaineers!!!

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