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Mt. Lyell previously climbed Sun, Aug 5, 2001|
Mt. Maclure previously climbed Fri, Aug 7, 1998
It was just before 4a in Tuolumne Meadows, and aside from the starlight it was very dark. While the rest of the visitors and employees alike were asleep, the JMT parking lot was abuzz with activity, 8 Challenge participants getting their packs ready by headlamp. Of the ten days of this year's Challenge, this was the one I was least looking forward to. I'd already dayhiked Lyell during the first Challenge in 2001, and I'd climbed Maclure as well, though not as a dayhike. Matthew, having climbed neither, was far more interested in the venture, and some months earlier had known how to appeal to me to get it included in the 2004 Challenge - "But you haven't climbed both as a dayhike, have you?" And that was the sole argument. It would be on par with the Ritter-Banner dayhike, and that was enough to get me going. And as it turned out, it was a much better experience than I had been expecting. But at 4a, it sure didn't seem so.
At least I would have plenty of company to suffer with. I knew most of the participants from the previous day - Michael, Matthew, Mark, Joel, Joe and Michelle. Scott and Dmitry were new faces to me. Dmitry had climbed Conness the previous day by himself, well ahead of the East Ridge group, and no one had seen him after he summited. He was a pretty quick hiker to be sure. A few minutes after 4a I sounded the call to head out, and once again Matthew was unleashed in the front to head off at his usual pace. I waited an additional minute for Joel to finish his preparations, then we took off after the other seven. Two additional participants, John and an unidentified person showed up some five minutes later and started out together. But neither of them made it to upper parts of the route and none of us saw them the rest of the day.
Matthew started off with a fast pace and I expected him to take off ahead without us - we'd probably catch up on the cross-country portion. To my surprise, everyone except Joel and myself took off after Matthew and were soon out of sight. Joel and I were no laggards, keeping up a 3.5mph pace ourselves, but we soon fell behind and lost their headlamps from view in front of us. Those guys up ahead were moving! We used headlamps until 5:20a. Sometime around 5a we were startled in the inky blackness by a lone coyote howl that floated eerily above the forest from the east side of the Lyell Fork. Following this was a cachophony of the most god-awful yapping and barking I'd ever heard, carrying on for a full minute or so. There were probably only four or five coyotes in the fray, but it sure gave us pause and new respect for these creatures of the night. What got them started or how it all ended, we never knew.
The sun came up around 6a and we were treated to a fine view of Lyell & Maclure shortly afterwards as we marched along Lyell Canyon. We did the first nine miles (all flat) in about 2 1/2 hours, then climbed the headwall at the end of the canyon. We crossed the bridge at the 3hr mark, and soon afterwards came across Joe, Michelle, and Scott, having finally broken off from Matthew's pace. Joe was surprised to see us - he thought we were ahead with the others and now assumed we'd gotten off-route somewhere to fall behind them. We assured them that we'd been behind the whole time and had been doing our best to catch up. Another ten minutes passed and we caught up with Mark shortly before crossing back to the west side of the Lyell Fork. At this point Mark was ready for a rest break and took off his pack expecting (half hoping?) the rest of us would do the same, after all we'd been at it 3hr20m. Joel stopped to rest with him, but I kept going, still hoping to catch the front runners.
Where I left the trail to start the cross-country portion, I caught sight of first Dmitry, then the others some 5-10 minutes ahead still. Up till now we'd been hiking in the cool shade, the sun blocked by the Mammoth and Kuna crests which rise on the east side of Lyell Canyon. Matthew was the first to reach the sun out ahead as we approached the Slabs O' Plenty section east of the Lyell Glacier. This section has a lot of elevation gain over endless slabs (thus my christening them with the name), all exposed to the sun. Before I could catch up with him, Matthew pulled up for a rest shortly after 8a where Michael, Dmitry, and I all joined him. Mark and Joel caught up in another 10 minutes or so, and we had six of us back together again. We climbed in a group up to the base of the Lyell Glacier, and paused here to put on crampons.
Here, everyone had a slightly different agenda. Michael and Matthew wanted to climb Maclure first and were without crampons to save weight. Matthew had an axe, but Michael had brought none, counting on being able to climb from the col without going on the snow. I wanted to take the direct route up the middle of the glacier to Lyell's summit, Dmitry planned to approach from the Lyell-Maclure Col, and Joel & Mark were unsure which way they were going to go. Matthew headed out first, Michael a short ways behind him, and I started up for Lyell while the others were still putting get their gear in order. I was feeling pretty strong and forged my way up the glacier with few rests. I reached the loose central chute in about 30 minutes, where I paused to take off my crampons. Joel and Mark were almost halfway up the glacier heading in my direction, the others were out of view. I scrambled up the chute in 20 minutes or so, reaching the summit at 9:30a - 5hr30m from the trailhead. This was a good deal faster than I expected and I was beginning to think this would be an easier day than I had anticipated. I signed into the register, took a picture of Maclure (a lone climber was at the summit, most likely Matthew), and scanned the glacier below for signs of the others (Mark and Joel were about 2/3 of the way up the glacier).
A few minutes after leaving the summit and heading for the col, I came across Dmitry. He didn't expect to climb both Maclure and Lyell which is why he'd headed for the more prestigeous Mt. Lyell. He hadn't liked the exit off the glacier on the route he took, and asked me about the one I'd taken up. I gave him my opinion (loose, steep, but no moat) and wished him well as I continued down (it wasn't until the next day that I learned Dmitry did in fact climb Maclure afterwards). I scrambled down the boulders on the NW Ridge intending to climb the rock and avoid the glacier altogether. But as I got lower I grew tired of the boulder hopping, and a nice glissade seemed like it would be faster, even accounting for the time spent putting on the crampons. Down below I spotted two parties on the glacier heading for Maclure, a group of three and another group of two behind them. Combined they equalled more than the remaining part of our party, so I wasn't just sure which group was with us. From the marks higher on the glacier below me, I could see where most parties had been transitioning between snow and rock on the way to and from Lyell. I headed for this loose section, put on my crampons and started down. I faced towards the hill for the initial icy part, but after 20 steps or so I turned around and plunged myself down in pretty fast time. I reached the col ahead of the other groups, out of shouting range, so I started up towards Maclure without waiting.
A few minutes after starting up I came across Michael on his way down, and Matthew a few minutes behind him (both were now heading for Lyell). I found the rock on Maclure loose and just short of yucky on the face, but better and more exposed on the ridge. So I stuck to the ridge as much as possible, reaching Maclure's summit at 10:30a. I spent about 5 minutes at the summit, taking a series of photos (W - NW - N - NE - E - SE S) of the views (unlike I did on Lyell) and signing the register before heading back down. Halfway down Maclure I came across Joe, Michelle, and Scott. They were in fine spirits and joking, and happy to be nearly done with the climbing (they weren't heading to Lyell afterwards). Descending further, I decided to take a more easterly tack down the mountain to avoid the col and the glacier altogether. Heading north after reaching the base, I skirted the snow but didn't really save any time. I got to visit a few fine, unnamed alpine lakes, but eventually had to head back east to pick up our route from earlier in the morning. I never did come across the other party of two that was behind Joe and the others, but I saw a solo climber heading down the Slabs O' Plenty while I was descending further to the north. I figured I was far ahead of the other participants by this time so I guessed the climber was not with our group, maybe one of the unknown pair returning (turns out this was Michael).
I found my way back to the trail, and was on my way down to the canyon floor when Michael suddenly appeared behind me. He had made up considerable time since I last saw him and I was quite surprised. We hiked together for some time, then I lost him again when he stopped unannounced for some reason or other. I had been almost dreading the hike back out of this canyon but was happy to find I was rather enjoying it. I had been much more tired three days earlier after descending Simmons Peak, but not so much today, and it made all the difference in my perspective. I took pictures of flowers along the creek, downed trees in the meadow, and other hikers as amusements and excuses to take short breaks. Several groups of sun bathers were enjoying the sun and water by the main bridge, marking my impending return to civilization. I made it back to the TH at 3:40p, for an 11hr40m effort, Michael a few minutes behind. We had expected it to take about 2hrs longer, so this was really good news. We were less tired and would get more rest than planned - a good combination.
After summiting Lyell and Maclure, Joel jogged much of the way back once he was back on the trail, returning at the 12hr mark (he was to meet John to get a ride back to the Bay Area). Matthew returned after 12h30m, Dmitry after 13h10m. Mark had also summited both, but slowed his pace and returned with the others (Joe, Michelle, Scott) after 15h30m (7:30p). Michael and I drove down to Bishop where we got a room, refreshments, and a hot shower. We were expecting Matthew to show up to join us, but he never did (reminiscent of our losing him on the Ritter-Banner hike the previous year). W e had dinner without him, figuring he'd show up later or in the morning. It had been a very long day, and a good sleep was in order...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Lyell - Mt. Maclure
This page last updated: Wed Dec 30 16:52:12 2009
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