"The bears have had a long hibernation and they're very active in the upper Lyell Canyon area," so said Ranger Jane, and, with that warning, we got a late start on the trail as we then rented bear cannisters (three for six people). Participants: Larry Baugher, Debbie Benham, Judith Dean (Yarborough), Steve Eckert, Mike Faden and Dwight Goehring. The trail and the weather were just great, and, as we got further up the canyon, the stream crossings became more numerous and we made several circuitous routes to avoid the rushing waters. At about 9500 feet we ran into patches of snow and gradually lost the trail. From about 10,500 feet, there was solid snow. The first night we camped at 10,800 feet. We didn't have to boil snow because there were pockets of ice water from the nearby lake. We VERY carefully walked over to fill our buckets and water bottles. There were lots of sun cups that were quite deep. They made for nice steps if you were hiking up a gentle slope.
The next morning, at 7AM, five of us headed for the summit of Lyell. We attained the ridge close to camp, then proceeded to climbed the "Regular Route" as described in Roper's Guide. On the ridge we saw bear tracks and scat. Uh-oh. Snow levels, of course, were high and there was continuous snow from the Lyell-McClure saddle to Lyell along the ridge line. We traversed across the glacier (peeking into a bergschrund under the north side) and headed up the eastern-most chute. While Mike and I put our crampons on to assure purchase in the hardened snow, the others forcefully used their bootheels. The snow was fairly soft in the chute, but very hard in the shadow. We all breathed a little easier as we put our feet on the rock and scrambled to the summit. Spectacular day and we stayed a while on top enjoying the views and the moment.
Steve suggested an alternate descent route - down the 38 degree slope (we measured it folks!) toward the saddle. Steve very graciously and expertly offered to boot-axe belay all who wanted a little roped-protection. Mike, Dwight and I opted for the belay, while Larry Baugher, front facing, plunged stepped down the slope. We all followed in his footsteps with the exception of Steve who used a standing glissade. An exciting and thrilling ride. At the Lyell-McClure saddle, Dwight, Mike and I decided to head back to camp, and, Larry and Steve went for McClure.
Steve's comments on McClure: the ridge is fairly broad for about half the route, then it narrows. The rock was not as solid as on Lyell and came loose at times. Looking at the summit register for familiar names, he found this entry dated early July '92: Bob Suzuki, Jim Curl, Dave Eldrich. Then, two weeks later: Paul and Cecil Magliocco, Jim Ramaker. (PCS gets around!)
When we all were back at camp, we decided to pack up and move to lower ground without snow. We found a lovely campsite at about 10,200 feet with a warm breeze and flowing water. That evening, at about 9:15pm, a bear visited Steve! Several people heard Steve shout, and, with that shout (HEY!), the bear went away. We all speculated that the bear was very new at all of this ( a first foray out?) and hadn't quite learned that you can ignore the shouting of humans. Before breaking camp the next morning, we dispersed a large fire ring and picked up trash that had been left by previous campers.
In the morning, the stream crossings were easy with less water. Larry Baugher took a swim in the inviting waters of the north fork. The rest of us declined!! We enjoyed the walk out and reached our cars around 2pm. A great trip!! We all want to thank Steve Eckert for his mountaineering expertise and experience that helped make this tour a safe one.