Day 51: The Happiest Place On Earth

Mile reached: 948.3 (+22.4 + 5.7 bonus)

High: Standing on the summit of Mount Lyell

Low: Taking on significantly more risk climbing Lyell than I had planned

I woke up early, only hit snooze once, and then passed numerous other hikers just starting to stir in their tents. The big objective for the day was Mount Lyell, the highest point in Yosemite. Years ago I had tried to climb it with my father, but a fluke rainstorm and exhaustion aborted that attempt. It’s far enough back in the park that it’s a grueling day hike or a huge pain in the ass to get the necessary backpacking permit. Anyway, I knew there would be plenty of snow, so I wanted to get over Donahue Pass and into Lyell canyon while conditions were still good.

Hiking through the morning was beautiful. Donahue was mostly melted out and the snow was still quite firm. From the pass I could see Lyell a fair ways away, and its northern slopes still looked absolutely entombed with snow. Arriving at the base of the climbing route, I ditched all of my overnight gear and set of on a 2,500′ snow climb.

The Upper Lyell Canyon and beginning of the climbing route. The top of Lyell can be seen up on the right.

The climb was easy until I reached the top of the glacier. There is supposed to be an arete with easy class 3 climbing to the summit. Instead I found it partially melted out with patches of snow and ice clinging to it. Now this wouldn’t have been a problem with rigid boots, but I was in trail runners with some disconcertingly floppy crampons. By the time I decided that I really didn’t like what I was on, I was well committed. Thankfully, I could drive my ice axe in and scampered to the summit block.

Yay, no snow on the summit block!

The descent was even more exciting as I couldn’t even see the arete until I was on to of it. But, I did find it along with a much safer route back down to the glacier. The snow has softened considerably making the descent back to my stashed gear enjoyable. As I arrived, I found an intrepid marmot going through my things. Even after chasing him off, I needed to remain vigilant, because he’d slowly try to sneak back.

There stands Maclure. Not pictured is the 100′ cliff immediately in front of me.
Dramatic marmot?

The afternoon consisted of a leisurely descent to Toulomne Meadows and the first road crossing the trail in over 200 miles. It was easy to tell that I was getting close, because it felt like Disneyland, people and strollers everywhere.

Into Lyell Canyon
Meadows! Oh, there were so many meadows.
Yep, this is Yosemite. Lines of cars.

I did a quick resupply at the store and was ready to move on and away from the crowds. However, I did run into “Breaker”, “Gently Used”, and “Shades”, who were reunited once again. Apparently, they had been river rafting on the Lyell Fork using sleeping pads and called out to me as I was passing, but I had not recognized them. They were going to try their luck at the backpacker campground. So, we said goodbyes, and I took off.

Evening hiking is beautiful, especially while watching the sun set down the Toulomne River. Due to park regulations, I had to go at least four miles from the highest. I ended up making it all the way to Glen Aulin, where I made camp. Amazingly, my campsite had no mosquitoes!

Looking back over the Toulomne River
If I had camped anywhere near that, I would have been drenched in there morning.

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