Classic Adventures in the National Parks: Mt. Lyell

Yosemite National Park
Mt. Lyell

Views of Mt. Lyell in Yosemite National Park. Photo by: Russell Toris

Given Yosemite’s reputation as a rock climber’s paradise, you’d think reaching the park’s high point would require serious technical chops. But no. Summiting 13,114-foot Mt. Lyell is a challenge, to be sure, but determined hikers comfortable with exposure can bag this backcountry peak. The easiest way up is the nontechnical southeast slope, but, for a true Yosemite experience, we recommend the sportier East Arête.

Follow the glacier-fed Tuolumne River nearly 12 miles through subalpine meadows to the Lyell cirque at 10,850 feet and set up a basecamp. Next morning, traverse less than a mile across Lyell Glacier, the largest remaining glacier on the western slope of the Sierra. (Crevasses aren’t a problem, but crampons make for easier travel.) Continue to the East Arête for a class 4 climb covering some 50 feet to the top, where a 360-degree view of glacier-carved peaks awaits. For the downclimb, either scramble down the southeast slope (which bypasses the glacier) or boost your Yosemite cred even more by glissading down the north slope to the glacier (ice axe and self-arrest skills required).

Trailhead Dog Lake Season May to July for easy climbing Permit $5 plus $5 per person