Mount Lyell

17 Jul 1998 - by Alex Keith

On the morning of July 17, Charles Schafer, Nancy Fitzsimmons, Ahmad Zandi and I, Alex Keith, started down Lyell canyon. The day was perfect, warm & sunny, and the trail was flat, we gained maybe six feet over six miles. Lyell canyon is one of the most enjoyable walks you can take. Our excitement came from stream crossings in the afternoon. Upper Lyell canyon was flooded from all the snow melt and many of the crossings became a game of find the hidden bridge. At one point, I jumped across and offered to catch Charles' pack when he threw it across. Unfortunately, after heaving the pack his momentum continued. He ended up jumping at the last instant, only soaking a foot. Ahmad and Nancy walked around and found a log to cross.

The trail was easy to follow up to the footbridge at the end of Lyell canyon. However, when we reached 10,000 feet the snow coverage began a game of hide and seek with the trail. Whereas Arun's party had gone off to the right, we remained determined to stick to the trail. This kept us left of the main stream and lead us up the left drainage. The last reasonable place to camp was at about 10,500 feet, after which the snow coverage was nearly continuous.

The next morning we got off early and stepped onto the never ending field of snow cups. The snow was a bit soft and at one point a warm breeze crossed us, in spite of our being on snow. We followed the drainage up and around to the right to a large flat area below the Lyell glacier and moraine, where one would normally camp to climb Lyell, but which was now all snow cups. The rock below the glacier was a simple snow trudge. Hiking up the glacier, the snow was soft and the sun was hot. We figured we had reached the bergschrund when the angle of the snow changed to about 45 degrees. With the snow soft and the run out good, we plunged our ice axes into the side of the hill and kicked two steps, then repeated the process. 100 feet later, we could see the rock pile at the top.

At high noon we were on top, the second party to summit that year after Arun's party. The third party to summit was 10 minutes behind us. A couple had raced up from the end of Lyell canyon, starting a half hour after us. We had lunch and took pictures of each other. The view was fantastic.

On the way back to camp, Ahmad and Charles decided to try for Maclure, even though they weren't enthused by the prospect of climbing the steep snow slope up to the exposed rock band that was the top of the ridge leading from Lyell. The snow slope turned out to be less steep than it looked, as was the case on Lyell, and the rock band was reached in a straightforward fashion. Hopes of being the first summiteers of 1998 were dashed when they saw footprints in the snow just below the ridge. The ridge itself looked to be 4th or 5th class once they got onto it, but they could see 3rd class stuff leading part way so they started climbing and hoped for the best. By staying close to the top of the ridge, sometimes right on top and sometimes on the north side, they were able to wend their way up to the summit without any real problems, and it turned out to be 3rd class after all. They arrived at about 3:45, and after hasty pictures and a quick sign in (they were the first summiteers in 1998 after all, at least based on the register), they were off. The return to camp was unexceptional except that at about 6:30 they met a Russian climber was just starting to head up Lyell's slopes. He made a comment about hoping to be back at camp by midnight, then continued along his way.

The next day we had a beautiful hike out. Stream crossings were not a problem in the early morning excep for Charles who lost his balance on a wet log and had to step in.

Tony Cruz adds:

I read your and Arun's trip reports about being the first to do Lyell this year. When I did it last month I ran into a lady doing the JMT that told me that her husband and son had bagged it very early in the year on skiis.


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