A buddy and I chose to go up Lyell on August 7th. It was a long day so I decided to share my experiences over here.
We started at around 3:15 am at the trailhead right next to Lembert Dome. We started on the JMT which was long but straightforward. I think it was around 10 miles with practically no elevation gain. The only time you actually feel the vert is towards the end near some switchbacks as you hike out of Lyell Canyon.
We reached this fork which was where we stepped off trail and our backcountry adventure began. Getting off the trail to this valley area to take you up Lyell involved some Boulder hopping. This picture was taken at 7:30 am:
Below the Lyell glacier was a really pretty meadow area with easy walking.
We should have stuck a little more to climber's right. We ended up doing some class 3 up some slabs since we were aiming for this saddle to the right of the big round hill:
My buddy and I getting closer to that round hill:
We approached Lyell "glacier" and there were two routes up here. Either you could stick to climber's right and completely avoid the ice or you could have some fun on the glacier (which a study declared dead since 2013). Since we hauled our crampons and ice axe up here to be safe, we figured we might as well put them to some good use. There was no snow here and just crunchy ice with some trickling water. Lyell can be seen in the background.
As we ascended up the glacier, it basically made the highlight of my day. You could see some crevasses, but they didn't go more than a few feet down. I'm guessing that since the glacier stopped moving, the past winter seasons have filled them up to the brim.
We were off the glacier and at the summit block at around 10:30 am. We would be on the summit in about 1.5 hours, at ~12 pm, making for a roughly < 8 hr ascent to the summit. Now, this final summit block part wasn't exactly trivial since we didn't have a clue on where to go or what to do. We ended up dealing with much more exposure which probably made it much spicier than anticipated. Probably dealt with some class 4? To put things in perspective, while the scramble for Midpal was longer and harder, this felt more exposed and technical. But that was probably just because we went up the wrong way. I ended up taking a video through my gopro during the more interesting part:https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KKGlze8JMlz4alZYgG-NKCsocNaMqV1e/view
So the mistake we made here was that we stayed too much near the top of the ridge. Don't aim for the top of the ridge right from the Lyell-Maclure saddle. You'll be making more difficult and exposed moves, and the downclimb will be more difficult. Instead, aim lower and more towards climber’s left on the summit block. (Pictures shown below). On the way down I told my friend that I would scout the area for an alterative route, and I found the correct route based on a long trip report video I saw on Youtube. This simplified the scramble greatly, with the crux being a short chimney section where you have to really look for good footholds or smear your foot. On the way up I had around half a liter of water for the entire day while my friend had 4. I had enough water in my pack, but I just forgot to drink and ended up being really dehydrated. This proved to be one of the dumbest mistakes I made this summer, because I felt much more tired and uneasy on the downclimb. I probably really increased my chances of making a mistake, which could've resulted in a catastrophe. Luckily, my buddy was there to offer reassurance and spot me on how to downclimb, and I figured out what my issue was. I drank plenty of water and had enough energy to continue the journey.
Don't go up here:
Go up Here:
From the summit, you could see the original glacial termination lake and the leftover talus. I'm almost certain that this marks the boundary of where the Lyell glacier originally was. Maybe someone who knows more about the geology can correct me/back me up:
It took us less than about 8 hours to get to the summit, but we took around 10 hours going down. We spent a lot of time goofing off at the glacier, taking pictures, enjoying the last few views of the Sierras before my friend and I went back to Indiana for college. The trail back was long and uneventful. It was also ridiculously boring and brutal because I just wanted it to end. The last few miles of the trail was probably the most mentally challenging thing for me in a while. We were back at the trailhead by around 9 pm. Based on my buddy's phone and my GPS track, it was somewhere around 26-30 mi for the total trip. Dayhiking Lyell somehow took me longer than Midpal even though it had a little over half the elevation gain, but it was a little closer to twice the roundtrip distance. So while we're not setting any FKTs, I thought it was a really productive and fun adventure.