July 21, 2012
Lyell and Maclure are two peaks sitting along the Sierra Crest in southern Yosemite, with Lyell being the third northernmost 13er in the Sierra. Climbing both peaks requires 27 miles of hiking and scrambling, but most of this is simple trail walking along a nearly flat John Muir Trail in Lyell Canyon. Tommey and I decided to dayhike them from Tuolumne Meadows.
|Peak||Elevation||Topographic Prominence||Summit Coordinates (lat/lon)|
|Mt. Lyell||13,114 ft||1,927 ft||37.7395, -119.2717|
|Mt. Maclure||12,900 ft||480 ft||37.7437, -119.2804|
Getting to the trailhead: From the eastern entrance to Yosemite, head southwest for a few miles to a turnoff for Tuolumne Meadows Lodge on the south side of the road. Immediately after turning onto Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Rd, there is a large parking lot. Either this or the next parking lot (Lyell Canyon TH) can be used.
Trailhead coordinates (lat/lon): 37.8769, -119.3462 (first parking lot) / 37.8781, -119.3388 (second parking lot)
Sometime around 3am, the two of us pulled into the parking lot, then located the John Muir Trail (following signs for Donohue Pass) and hit the dusty trail which was sandy and somewhat destroyed by countless pack animals which pass through this popular part of the park. For 11 miles, we remained on the JMT. which weaved through trees and the occasional meadow. For the first 8 miles, the trail felt completely flat even though we were ever so slowly gaining elevation. As the sun slowly rose over the Lyell Canyon walls, a low mist materialized over the frosty grasses of meadows.
first view of Mt. Lyell
Around mile 8.5, the trail finally began switchbacking and gaining elevation. Above these first set of switchbacks were several different groups of sleeping backpackers. This seemed to be a perfect camp spot with shade from trees and running water.
Shortly above this popular camp, we hiked above treeline to a meadow which was partly occupied by a shallow lake.
above the shallow lake
Above the shallow lake was another meadow. Here, the trail made a sharp turn northeast, away from the Lyell Fork. It was here where we finally left the trail, continuing south up gently sloped meadows and slabs of Lyell Fork.
looking towards Kuna Crest
Eventually we were presented with a a large bulge of slabs. Here we noticed the top of a further buttress sticking above the slabs. We changed our course slightly, picking our way up these class 2 slabs and veering towards the west (right) side of the buttress.
(buttress roughly in top center of photo)
As we passed the buttress, the remaining route up Lyell and Maclure became visible. We chose to climb Lyell first since it was closer.
After donning crampons, we walked over to the Lyell-Maclure Saddle, and followed the path of least resistance off the glacier and onto the northwest ridge of Lyell. Later in the season, this may become slightly trickier as the bergschrund separating this transition point gradually opens up. A short class 3 section after getting off the glacier (there are several options to choose from) brought us up to the gently sloping plateau of the northwest ridge. From there, it was a simple rock hop and walk to the top.
Lyell's northwest ridge (and our entry point) seen from Lyell-Maclure Saddle
on Lyell's summit plateau
The views from Lyell were spectacular, with good vantages southeast towards the Ritter Range, southwest towards the "Isberg Divide," and west towards the Clark Range.
Now the big heap of Maclure beckoned us towards it. We descended Lyell via our exact ascent route, heading back towards the Lyell-Maclure Saddle.
views from descent
transitioning back onto the Lyell Glacier
Maclure's southeast ridge was pretty easy to follow. The ridge started off with easy rock hopping, soon turning to class 3 once the rocks turned red. I stayed more or less on the crest of the ridge, going slightly right if the crest rocks seemed a little precarious.
starting up Maclure
class 3 bits
Maclure summit views
descending back to Lyell-Maclure Saddle
Back at the saddle, we walked/glissaded back down the glacier, aiming for the west side of the buttress we had used to navigate to Lyell, and retraced our steps back to the trail. Since there were still several hours of daylight to spare, we stopped by one of several creeks, with me munching on snacks while Tommey massaged a sore foot.
awesome views from our break spot
Back on the trail, I greatly enjoyed the scenery as we gradually descended below treeline. After that, the steady hike back was mostly through trees, with occasional appearances of large meadows with vivid amplified colors due to afternoon light,
main Lyell Fork creek
5,300 ft gain/loss
Mt. Lyell vicinity
Mt. Lyell summit