We were wearing sneakers but had boots and axes lashed to the largish day packs. The morning and the company were pleasant and walking at a brisk pace we were at the place where the large waterfall crashes down from the ridge parallel to the trail in about three hours. The trail then starts to climb gently and then a little more rapidly via switchbacks where we encountered patchy snow but we still kept sneakers on till the trail seemed to die out in the increasing snow on the left of a beautiful lake at about 10800 ft. Here the trail crossed over to the other side to climb a cliff. We crossed over snow bridges at the south end of the lake and then climbed steep snow to gain the first plateau above the lake. By then we were in our boots. Further climbing got us to the flattish region from where Lyell and Maclure were clearly visible, Lyell and it's many peaklets almost dead straight and Maclure with it's reddish hues to the right. Lunching at the top of a bench, about 400 ft below the Lyell-Maclure saddle, we decided to re-evaluate our options. We were slowing down and it was close to 2 pm. But despite the distant clouds, the sun was still shining on us and the days are long, so, with Rick encouraging us on, we decided to push for the summit. We got to the saddle at 4pm. Now for the tiring push towards the tantalisingly close summit, guarded by a rocky ridge with only a thin line of rock showing on the left and a huge gendarme plumb in front. We started on the snow at first, but it was steep and we were sinking in deep so I went as close as I could to the rock ridge that is actually a slightly overhanging lip over a steep drop-off. We made reasonable progress by sticking to where the snow met the rock and soon were at the bottom of the gendarme. It looked intimidating and we either had the choice of going over it or skirting to the right as the left side simply cliffed out. I went down a little on what looked like loose rock, but everything is quite stable here and I made good progress, but since I had gone down a little to skirt the gendarme, I discovered that we had to climb up to the ridge past a small but steep snow field. But that too was negotiated by all in good style and we were on the ridge and then a few steps of blocky class-3 stuff put us on the summit at 4 pm. We had come to this area on the 4th July weekend in 1998, but that was just after the El Nino storm year and at that time had summitted Lyell but had to pass up on Maclure due to the steep snow and possibility of reaching camp late. We all agreed that Maclure was just as fun and challenging as Lyell had been. We were only the second party to sign in this year.
We drank in the view, especially that of Lyell in the front with its bergschrund that now shows a clear fracture line and took summit photos and then headed down quickly as the clouds were really starting to gather. This time, Rick led the way down the ridge and we went straight almost to the top of the gendarme and dropped down slightly to the left (as opposed to our route on the way up where we had skirted the thing). The steep snow was not a bother as it was soft and we plunge-stepped down easily to the saddle and then to the bench and then Dee skillfully led the way down to the lake where we changed back to sneakers.
At that point, there was a lightening flash and sounds of thunder. This sent us scurrying down fast and by 7pm we were at the wooden bridge and then it started to hail a little, but mostly rain. We started walking down fast but the rain continued and we got back to the waterfall. Now it was a fairly flat but long stretch. The last rays of the sun, coming through the clouds and the rain created a huge rainbow in the sky and tinted the cliffs of Lyell behind us in unnatural shades of blue.
We plodded on the rain, squelching through the streams and puddles on the trail. 9pm. Time for head lamps. The rain bore down still and in the cold our head lamps cast a feeble light clouded by the steam from our breaths making me think that I was in a gloomy movie of unrequited love set in wartime London where it rained all the time except when it was not foggy. The rain finally seemed to subside a little at 10 pm when we came to the large stream crossing. It was hard to find the exact log to cross over but by this time we were past caring and simply waded through the shallowest part. The trail seemed endless and our light banter had given way to a focused determination to get through this monotonous section. Finally we were at the Vogelsang cutoff where the sign announced that Tuolumne was 5.6 miles away, and here we rested a little. Eventually, we hit the bridges that span the Lyell fork and the Dana Fork and some more stumbling brought us on to the road near the high Sierra camp and to the cars at 12.45 am. It had been almost 19 hrs, 26 miles and a 4300 ft gain day. I am sure that Rick, Dee and myself are now at least partially in shape for whatever mountianeering the rest of the summer may bring!
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