Lyell and Maclure on the Rocks

27-29 Aug 2004 - by Greg Johnson

I crashed Bob Suzuki's party to climb Lyell and Maclure the weekend of August 27-29. This was a private trip and when I contacted Bob back in June he had already filled the trip. I really wanted Lyell and the weekend was perfect in terms of scheduling so I requested my own permit for two. When I mentioned this to my friend John Erwin at work he got really excited about joining me. I had been torturing him with my stories and pictures of my trips for the last two years while he has been adjusting to life with a kid. Then two weeks before the trip Bob contacted me because he had a spot open. So we combined our permits.

On Thursday night John and I drove up from L.A. and bivouacked at the Saddlebag Lake trailhead parking. It was fairly deserted. I guess the rumors of new camping restrictions were true but this didn't stop us. Nor was it an issue. It was after midnight when we arrived, we slept inside the vehicle, and we got an early start the next morning.

We met up with Bob's group at the Tuoulumne Meadows Wilderness Center. There were nine of us in all: myself, John , Bob, Bill Kirkpatrick, Scott Kreider, Landa Robillard, Linda Sun, Chris Prendergast, and Eddie Sudol. With the exception of Chris I've had the pleasure of climbing with everybody in the group on prior trips. Some, like Eddie I hadn't seen in 6 years!

The hike up Lyell Canyon along the John Muir Trail is beautiful. I really want to go back for a more relaxing trip to just hang out and fish. The hike in is about 11 miles and flat for the first 7 until you get to the upper end of the canyon. Then there is about 1800 feet of elevation gain over 4 miles to where we camped just below Donohue Pass.

On Saturday morning we hiked upper Lyell canyon to the base of Lyell glacier. The glacier was all ice and we weren't prepared to ice-climb the steep upper portion of the glacier so we traversed the glacier arriving a little above the Lyell-Maclure saddle. We immediately encountered some difficulty. The rock climbing seemed to be class 4. I watched Eddie climbed a section which he made look like class 4. Chris was climbing in plastic boots which he wore for the glacier since his crampons wouldn't work on of his other boots. So, Bob broke out the rope. I went ahead and took the belay for a section that was class 4 but then when we downclimbed later I realized that Eddie's route was really class 3. Although the rest of the route to the summit plateau was class 3 Bob provided a belay for one exposed section for people who weren't comfortable with the climbing. On the downclimb the rope was not used. This really is a class 3 rock climb from the saddle.

After Lyell our party split in two. Three people headed back to camp while the rest of us climbed Maclure. Maclure can be exciting or a disappointment depending on which route you take. Climbing from the saddle we ascended talus just below the edge of the ridge until it started getting really steep. We then traversed below a gendarme to easier climbing and headed up to the ridge. The ridge of Maclure is exhilirating. You can walk the ridge with solid hands and feet and the mountain dropping away from you on both sides. Chris had no problem with this section in his plastic boots. After enjoying the view, particularly of Lyell, we descended a chute almost directly from the summit. I think many people traverse to this chute on the way up instead of ascending early to the ridge. They probably think it is less exposed but it is loose and miserable. I read a trip report where the group was disappointed by Maclure after their climb of Lyell. However, as I found out, Maclure is a joy to climb and it made a memorable 50th SPS peak for myself.

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