Yosemite National Park High Point Trip Report

Mount Lyell

Date: September 2002
Author: Andy Martin

Lyell was tougher than anticipated. The glacier down low was no trouble - I used ski poles to hike across it, Guy just hiked right over it. Neither had crampons, and kept axes in packs. Up high the glacier got steep, and so we stayed off it there.

Things get interesting after gaining the Lyell/Maclure saddle. Edward Earl's write up is good. The goal is to stay on rock, and avoid snow. From the saddle you scramble up talus till a big broken "cliff" is reached. You will want to traverse left, and use ledges to climb to the top of the cliff, and reach the summit talus field. Edward mentions a "flake", I would call this a big (5 feet) tilting rock. In any case, it is perhaps 10 to 20 feet off the snow, and is your first goal. You need to climb the big cracks near it to get on top of it. You can get there on a low route, just over the snow, or a high route, starting up by some green lichen on the solid rock. The low route is easier.

After getting to the top of the flake, proceed roughly level and left to a narrow ledge. This is the crux of the route. There are plenty of hand and foot holds for the roughly 20 feet of ledge traversing, including one near the start that is about 3 feet over the ledge, and noticeably darker than the main rock mass. After crossing the ledge, double back and climb above it. We set up a rope here, looped over a big handy rock horn. The ledge climbing is not bad, but exposure is scary, as first you would drop 20 feet to the steep snow, and then start sliding down it. In any case, after crossing the ledge and scrambling on rock perhaps 20 feet above it, you reach a much nicer and wider ledge angling up and left. Follow this for about 30 feet to its top, and then continue almost directly up on solid rock, zigzagging as needed, until the main ridge crest is reached. From here it should be easy to reach summit talus field, and then the top.

We left many small 3 rock cairns on our route past the narrow ledge. However, we saw almost no cairns on the way up, and our cairns may get removed by others in the future. Bottom line - the rock work should be pretty easy. I don't think crampons and ice axe are worth bring late in season (August). Forty feet of light rope is useful if you have climbers not comfortable with exposure. Hikers that "freeze up" badly on exposure, should not try this one, and they are faced with a very long hike before they reach the crux.

Another note in the crux ledge. When you first reach solid rock heading uphill from the saddle, the green lichen area will be directly above you in your path (don't go this way). Look left, and you will see a half circle of fairly clean rock, perhaps 30 feet tall and 60 feet wide, with circle diameter at snow line. This circle is just right of a noticeable ridge line that you can't see around. The crux ledge crosses this circle, about 20 feet above the snow. Finally, the rock work will get a lot nastier after rain or snow.

We enjoyed great weather.