Mounting Lyell

29-31 Aug 2003 - by Brad Stark

Friday, August 29, 2003 - 30 degrees at 7am, brr. departure from Toulumne Meadows @10am with a lighter pack than the previous year's attempt. the weather was lovely, the deer and garter snakes out and about. heard there was a mama bear w/two cubs in the Valley but never encountered em. they would have had a swell time knocking my cannister into the river or something but they didn't get the chance. camped near the footbridge well under Donohue Pass, slathered Tiger Balm on me hurtin' shoulders, ate like a pig, asleep shortly after dark (@8pm).

Saturday August 30 - up at dawn. but a pleasant 50 degrees in the Upper Lyell Valley; all the cold air goes down-valley, yes it does. oatmeal, hot chocolate, hydration. grabbed the day pack and headed up. weather looking promising. ascended through talus-y chunks and aimed for the Lyell/McClure col. end of the summer, but there were still some sizable suncupped snow patches which were easier to ascend than the misc.-sized rocky jumble. stayed to the right on the way up, under the McClure north ridge and got to the glacier @11. didn't have crampons, didn't feel like traversing to the (easier) NE arete, so i decided to hit the NW arete right above me. easy going up the suncup steps, til near the top. the visible 'schrund ended @50 feet to the left, i stayed right-ish, and found hard ice. out came the axe, in cut the steps. the angle steepened, and @15 steps up i realized that i was getting myself into a bit of a situation. cat/tree/no fire department...R.J.'s book said there was only a 10-foot section of class 4 on the NW arete, but he's a climber and i am merely a fool. the righthand rocks seemed safer than the ice chute - which didn't reach the summit ridge anyway - so i crept onto them quite gingerly and, as i was alone, began climbing for what increasingly felt like more and more of the marbles. certainly, the rock offered better traction, so i leaned in, picked holds carefully, moved slow & avoided over-exertion, looked 3-4 moves ahead, etc. looking down had ceased its attractions many minutes ago. 40 feet into this 4 section now, no turning around...and passing others' discarded slings and 'biners along the way pretty much confirmed my suspicions. look ma, i'm free soloing alone and the rangers don't know i'm up here! whee! (yeah i'm laughing now, but at the time i was nearly shitting purple Twinkies)

so i finally flopped onto the summit ridge and had a smoke and a nice rest. wanted to snap a pic of that spot but wanted even more to get far far away from that section. an easy 15 minute scramble up the rocky ridge and there was that silly little silver box of my dreams. and that VIEW!

sunny, cloudless, windless, warm, amazing. i couldn't sign the summit log for 10 minutes because i was laughing so hard at my own stupidity/daring/continued existence. i finally managed. spent a perfect hour up there, snacking, hydrating, documenting, doing a ritual or two of deep personal significance, etc. the usual summit stuff. but, boy howdy, that's a helluva special place. :)

traverse time. thought it would be easier, i wasn't very accurate in that one, either. gosh, that's a long way down to the right...the left drop ain't exactly a McDonald's Play Place, either. narrow ridge, too, hmmm...took it slow on the way down, finally found a spot where i could downclimb facing in to reach the glacier. goodness, that bergschrund goes down down down. why, if i slipped, i could join the 1,000 year old frozen mountain goats and not be seen for i went right until it petered out. then there was a foot-wide crevasse to step over, but nothing difficult. down the suncup stairs, a little standing glissading, but i still had to be wary; there were numerous small streams running down the face, and they tended to eventually disappear into Pirates-Of-The-Caribbean-like person-sized sinkholes that appeared to lead to the basement. yeesh, was i glad to be finally off that thing!

@ 3pm , i met a wonderful 60-ish couple on the way up, Bob and Anne from Mammoth Lakes, who were heading up to try it the next day (he'd done it in '71). my aching right knee thanked them for the ibuporofen, and we hung out comfortably and talked route/weather/misc.climbing stuff for 40 minutes. they were really good folks (as an aside: i've noticed that i just don't meet many Republicans in the mountains, unless they're doing extraction surveys). i gave them the route map which had served me so well and cruised down to hit the hanging meadows below, where i skinny-dipped my stinking badges in the extremely refreshing waters. whoo-hoo! lounged around in the warm afternoon for a while, then zipped down for a grotesque exhibition of calorie intake washed down with some cool Jack Daniel's as the sun set in a magificently gradual splendor. zonked right out not long after dark.

Sunday August 31 - up before dawn. sick of oatmeal. the weather had broke: rain, hail, eased up an hour or two into the hike back, and i arrived somewhat soggy at my car at 1pm, threw down a cold beer, changed into the warm dry things, and basked like a motherf*****. big risks = big rewards! okay, sometimes big funerals, but damn, that was all in all perhaps more rewarding than the solo i did of Shasta in May '02. but don't try this at home - go to Lyell with a friend or two (and maybe crampons and rope), cause it's ridiculously beautiful up there.

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