After missing a year because of the pandemic, Betsy and I were happy to again spend five days backpacking and climbing in the Sierra in June 2021. Our primary objective was the summit of Mount Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park. The morning of the sixth day we kayaked on Mono Lake to the east. Here is my blog of our trip.
Day 1: Sunday, June 13. We started at the parking lot for the Dog Lake Trail east of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite and headed the opposite way (south) to the John Muir Trail; despite what the sign says, the JMT is almost a mile away; the elevation here is 8,700 ft. After nearly a mile we reached the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River and crossed it on a sturdy bridge with two spans; the JMT is just beyond and shares the path with the Pacific Crest Trail; we followed the combined trail south along the west side of the river the rest of the day. Much of the trail is in a pine forest, but occasionally we got to an opening with a nice view; here is our first glimpse of Donohue Peak, our climbing objective three days hence; we passed a steady stream of thru-hikers backpacking from Mexico to Canada on the PCT! we camped in the forest by the river after six miles of easy backpacking with very little climbing. Day 2: Monday, June 14. The valley became more open as we continued south along the river; we got a good view of Mount Lyell, our climbing objective for the next day; it is the high peak in the center above the glacier, which is the source of the river; Mount Maclure is the slightly lower peak to the right of Lyell. After crossing the river one more time on a bridge, we had to cross here on slippery rocks or take off our boots and wade; we opted for the latter; our feet were pretty cold when we reached the other side. When the trail came to the next and last river crossing, we left it and backpacked cross country until we reached a good campsite near water at 11,000 ft; this was our base camp for two nights; our backpack distance was six miles again. Day 3: Tuesday, June 15. We left camp before 6 am and soon began climbing with crampons, ice axes, and daypacks; the snow was firm with lots of sun cups, so we made good time; our tent is the tiny white spot above Betsy’s head between the pond and patch of snow. Betsy is on the Lyell Glacier below the face of Mount Lyell; the climbing route goes up the steep snow chute in the center of the picture and then proceeds up the broken rock face to the summit ridge; the summit is at the far left. Betsy nears the top of the snow chute, which is the steepest that I ever recall climbing; crampons with front points and ice axes were essential; the crux of the climb was just above, where we moved off the snow onto a rock ledge, removed our crampons, stowed them and our axes, and made our way up the rock face. On the rock face we found several piles of rocks called ducks like the one here by my foot; placed by previous climbers, the ducks reassured us that we were going the right way 🙂 my ghostly pallor is from the sun screen with high SPF that Betsy gave me to protect against the sun on the snow at high altitude; it worked: I did not burn! Climbing was easy along the summit ridge until the summit itself, where Betsy is dwarfed by the large rocks above. Nonetheless, we soon reached the summit of Mount Lyell at 13,114 ft where we ate lunch, took pictures, and savored the view. Here is the summit register and Betsy’s entry in the log documenting our climb; two other climbs the week before were noted elsewhere in the log. Day 4: Wednesday, June 16. We packed up camp and headed back down the valley to climb Donohue Peak; its twin summits are the two leftmost bumps in the center of the picture, while the rightmost bump is Mount Andrea Lawrence; of the two Donohue summits, the eastern one to the right is higher, as we learned later in the day. We went down the valley until we reached the river again; there we left our backpacks, put on daypacks, and rejoined the JMT/PCT, which crosses the river on easy rocks; we followed the trail toward Donohue Pass for a short distance and then headed cross country toward Donohue Peak. We went directly up the ridge to the western summit, not realizing that there are two summits; the talus blocks became larger and more tedious to climb the higher we went; I regretted wearing shorts as I scraped my bare legs against the rough granite. As we neared the western summit, we discovered the higher, eastern one shown here; it has smaller talus blocks separated by sand and would have been much easier to climb. Betsy stands on the eastern summit of Donohue Peak at 12,023 ft with a benchmark next to her left foot; Mounts Lyell and Maclure are to the right of her in the distance; we began the day at the bottom of the snow field below them. The benchmark confirms that we got to the right summit, even though it does not give the elevation; we did not find a register. This is the spectacular view south to Banner Peak and Mount Ritter; Betsy and I climbed Banner (on the left) in 2012, and Mary and I climbed it with two good friends in 1970! We descended by the easy north slope and then circled around the base of the peak to rejoin the JMT/PCT; there we saw this marmot, one of several that we encountered during our trip; after crossing the river on rocks, we put on our backpacks, descended a short distance, and waded the river to our last campsite in Yosemite. Day 5: Thursday, June 17. We retraced our route of the first two days and covered the 10 miles to the trailhead in seven hours; here I wade across Ireland Creek; Betsy crossed on an upstream log, but I did not trust my balance; Betsy drove us in her van from the trailhead to the Tuolumne Meadows Grill where we ate burgers and shared stories with PCT thru-hikers 🙂
Day 6: Friday, June 18. This is Mono Lake from the visitor center; the green strip in the center follows Lee Vining Creek to the lake; Betsy drove us in her van down a dirt road to the boat landing left of the creek. This plaque at the visitor center has information about the two large islands in the lake. Betsy begins pumping up her kayak; normally it is folded and stowed beneath the bed in the back of her van. After installing the seats, Betsy shows that the kayak is ready to go! We paddled along the shore to a group of limestone tufa towers, which formed underwater when the water level was higher; the lake is green from algae now but will become clear later in the summer when brine shrimp eat the algae; then lots of birds will come and eat the shrimp! Osprey nest on top of some of the towers; the lake is too salty for fish, so the osprey fly miles away to catch fish in freshwater lakes; the video below shows us cruising past an osprey on its nest; if you turn on the sound, you can hear the osprey call 🙂 ; after paddling for more than an hour, we washed off the kayak, packed it up, and deemed our trip another great adventure!