Mt. Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park, was named by William Brewer of the Whitney Survey. “As we had named the other mountain Mt. Dana, after the most eminent of American geologists, we named this Mt. Lyell, after the most eminent of English geologists.” Brewer, accompanied by Charles Hoffmann, attempted the peak in 1863, but soft snow on the ascent weakened them. “We toil on for hours; it seems at times as if our breath refuses to strengthen us, we puff and blow so in the thin air. After seven hours of hard climbing we struck the last pinnacle of rock that rises through the snow and forms the summit—only to find it inaccessible.” John B. Tileston eventually climbed the “inaccessible” peak in August of 1871. On his ascent, he did not appear to have experienced the same difficulties. “I was up early the next morning, toasted some bacon, boiled my tea, and was off at six. I climbed the mountain, and reached the top of the highest pinnacle before eight. I came down the mountain and reached camp before one, pretty tired.” Doug Robinson later penned a poetic description of an early morning ascent of Mt. Lyell. “The morning doesn’t dawn on me, I walk up into it. The sunlight coming through Donohue Pass spread out across the glacier and worked its way toward the lowland. I met it as I stepped onto the ice. I had an easy ascent, the suncups forming a fine stairway. An impending storm hurried my already fast pace on to the summit and back; the Merced River drainage was already filled with black and gray clouds. As I was running down the glacier, lightning struck the peak.” As an alternative, the elegant Mt. Maclure is usually climbed only as an after-thought to those mountaineers intent on the summit of Mt. Lyell. However, the east, north and northwest ridges all offer excellent routes on reasonably good rock.
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