Mount Lyell, Mount Maclure

19-Sep-97

By: Henry Arnebold, Steve Thaw


A great climb on a beautiful weekend, with views from the Dardanelles to the Kaweahs. A Sierra Classic to climb both peaks on the same day. I don't remember much about my first climb of Mt. Lyell; it was quite a while ago. That was a Park Service Ranger led trip and we crossed the 'shrund, with neither ice axe nor crampon--my Dad pointed me in the right direction and said: 'Go, Boy,' and I went. My mother recalls a rope. As I reached the summit for the second time, I wondered out loud why, with her vertigo she ever allowed me to climb such a peak. Actually, the whole thing was an enthusiastic triumvirate idea.

The 1997 climb was an SPS trip led by Henry Arnebold and Steve Thaw, accompanied by Scott Jamison and me.

Steve and I met Henry and Scott at the Tuolumne Meadows Store at 0730 Friday morning as directed and found we had six cancellations and two no-shows. We then proceeded to the Ranger's Permit Kiosk. The Ranger asked (ominously as we later discovered):'how will you store your food?' We chanted in unison: 'we'll hang it at night and carry it with us on the climb.' The Ranger replied in monotone voice: 'Bear'll get your food.'

One climber proved that education is expensive. He had hung his food away from our tents, too low, and on a too weak branch. We arose Saturday morning to find a bear had broken off the branch, shredded his stuff sack and made off with all his food. None of us had heard a sound. Three of us had hung our food about 15 feet up and almost directly over one climber's tent. I don't think a bear ever approached our food. I had packed my food really light so that I could carry it on the climb, but we had enough so that with donations from three of us, the fourth was able to complete the climb with adequate although not sumptuous repast.

The permit process absorbed a little time and we were moving south on the John Muir Trail Friday at about 0840. We camped at the first bridge across the Lyell Fork having completed the ten miles plus by around 400. It was cold and overcast and snowing by 600. It cleared off almost as soon as the snow started and stayed clear for the rest of the trip.

Saturday morning we were moving for the peaks at 0745. It was an uneventful, but an exhilarating climb: JMT, alpine meadows, slabs and boulders. I instantly recognized the Upper Lyell Base Camp and blurted out: 'we camped here in 1958.' We unlimbered our ice axes and donned our crampons about 1,000 feet below the peaks. We went well to the left of Lyell's bergshrund and the hardened snow gave way to a final pitch up about 100 feet of excellent class three plus rock. We stopped at an ice wall which created a little alcove between the rock and the wall that was just big enough for two of us at a time to stow crampons and ice axes for the final climb. Ours was a shallow chute to the left of an obvious central chute and almost on the east arete. Henry, Scott and I alternated leading the pitch. The view from the summit was fantastic: we could see peaks near Sonora Pass, Boundary and Montgomery Peaks and the Kaweahs. Banner and Ritter seemed close enough to reach out and touch. Smoke from a forest fire obscured the view beyond the Clark Range and Glacier Point to the west.

Our down-climb was a little hairy. We stayed between the glacier and the arete as we down-climbed to the Lyell/Maclure saddle. Henry led this section; it was certainly class four and we went slower than molasses. We did it without rope and without mishap as the hand holds and foot holds were numerous and absolutely bomber. Great Job, Henry

Mt. Maclure was a little anticlimactic after climbing Mt. Lyell. The view was tremendous: no fewer than seven emblem peaks--Kaweah, Goddard, Darwin, Humphreys, Ritter, Matterhorn, and of course Lyell. We could see El Capitan but Yosemite Valley was obscured by Half Dome's massiveness.

I slept like a cat Saturday night after another encounter with our friend the Bear, and then out to the cars by noon on Sunday, exhausted but thrilled by yet another great climb.

...and I am once more in the glory of the Yosemite. John Muir


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