Ascent of Mount Lyell on 2017-09-08

Climber: Andrew Kirmse

Others in Party:Daryn Dodge
Dean Gaudet -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Marcus Sierra -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Corinne Livingston
Jim Ramaker
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, September 8, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Lyell
    Elevation:13114 ft / 3997 m

Ascent Trip Report

This was a four day backpacking trip to climb Mount Lyell and Parsons Peak (NW Ridge) and get two California county high points.

Day 0: I climbed Hawkins Peak to acclimatize a little bit, and met Dean in Bridgeport.

Day 1: After a big breakfast at the Whoa Nellie Deli, we drove up to the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness permit office and were first in line when they opened at 8am. We still had to endure a tedious litany of instructions about bear canisters, campfire regulations, etc. By about 9 we were ready to go. Our party of 6 included Daryn and Corinne, SPS list finishers who are working on their second lap through the list, Jim, another very experienced climber, and the relative amateurs Dean, Kerry, and myself. This was Dean's first backpacking trip, and Kerry's second.

We hefted our heavy packs and went 12 miles up Lyell Canyon and up 2000 feet to a pretty lake at about 10600 feet, just shy of Donohue Pass. We encountered many people hiking the John Muir Trail, in all kinds of gear from monster packs to sandals. Later someone recognized the brand logo on my 15-year-old shirt: a fellow Ultimate player.

Day 2: We were ready to go at about 7:15 am. The morning was cool and perfectly clear. We made our way up along glacier-polished slabs of granite that I found somewhat slippery. At about 11600 feet the snow started, and we got out our axes and crampons. With lots of sun cups, the snow was a little tedious to walk on. It got steeper as we approached the center of the rocky summit area, to the point where we had to haul ourselves up with the picks of our axes for the last little stretch. We were then standing on a flat section of snow perhaps 5 feet wide, with the bergschrund dropping 20 feet down to our right. Daryn and Jim scouted out a possible entry onto the rock involving a big step up and then a narrow passage between two tongues of snow. Jim chopped at the snow with his ax to widen the passage, and with a push, half of the lower tongue crashed down into the bergschrund.

We left our snow gear and most of our packs on the flat area, and clambered onto the rock. Ascending in single file through the loose and steep rock at the bottom got me thinking about helmets, which none of us had brought. Fortunately the angle soon relented, and we faced only 400 feet of talus to the summit. There we found a Sierra Club register box from 1935 bolted to the rock, though the register itself is much more recent, and the letters "USGS" carved into the highest point. This is an actual USGS benchmark named "Lyell 2" (I think a previous climber mistook it for a fraternity's initials). Views were excellent out to Conness, Ritter, Dana, and dozens of other peaks, which our experienced climbers were able to point out.

We found a slightly better way down to our gear and we were extra careful not to knock down rocks. Descending the big steps was significantly easier than coming up. Again using our picks, we lowered ourselves down to where the snow angle lessened. Dean and I returned down the glacier while the other four traversed left over to climb Mcclure from the saddle, which they did successfully. Dean and I took a detour to the left of our ascent path to avoid the slipperiest of the slabs, which proved somewhat tedious. Back at camp, we packed up and departed just as the others were arriving. We returned 6 miles up Lyell Canyon to where it intersects the trail to Ireland Lake, where Kathy met us and had scouted out some camp sites. Kerry, undaunted by the miles, hiked out that evening and returned home.

Day 3: Corinne and Jim hiked out in the morning, leaving Daryn, Kathy, Dean and me to attempt Parsons Peak (which Kerry had previously climbed on an ambitious day hike). We took the trail up 4.3 miles to Ireland Lake, a pretty setting that reminded me of a somewhat less rugged version of Devil's Punchbowl below Bear Mountain in Del Norte County. We went cross-country to the left around the lake, easily crossing its outlet, then rising through grass, grippy slabs, and occasional low-angle snow patches to the base of the peak proper. It was a 700 foot talus slog straight to the summit. Views here were also excellent, including Half Dome, which faded into the smoke from a nearby fire as we watched. The county high point was marked by a small cairn a little way down the ridge, without a register. We returned the way we came, which Kathy and Daryn taking a detour to climb Amelia Earhart Peak. We noted how few peaks in the Sierras are named for women. Clouds threatened in the afternoon but delivered only a handful of hail pellets.

Day 4: After the coldest morning of the trip, we hiked out 6 miles back to Tuolumne Meadows.

This trip gave both Daryn and myself 57 out of 58 California county high points. But while he needs only Bear Mountain to finish, I have yet to climb North Palisade.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5014 ft / 1528 m
    Total Elevation Loss:500 ft / 152 m
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Scramble, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Tent Camp
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:5014 ft / 1528 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 4514 ft / 1376 m; Extra: 500 ft / 152m
    Loss on way in:500 ft / 152 m
    Distance:29 mi / 46.7 km
    Route:Lyell Glacier
    Start Trailhead:Tuoloumne Meadows  8600 ft / 2621 m
Descent Statistics
Ascent Part of Trip: Lyell (3 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Mount Lyell2017-09-085014 ft / 1528 m
2Parsons Peak2017-09-09 a 
3Parsons Peak-Northwest Ridge2017-09-09 b3540 ft / 1079 m
Total Trip Gain: 8554 ft / 2607 m    Total Trip Loss: 900 ft / 274 m

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