Page 1 of 1

TR Agnew,Maclure,Simmons, Lyell, Rodgers

Posted: Sun Sep 15, 2019 3:28 pm
by cgundersen
Hello All,
2019 is the decade anniversary of an annual Sierra backpack with a college roommate who grew up in the San Fernando Valley but now lives in Virginia. Our spouses are as happy to get rid of as we are to see the mountains, so that’s a prescription for success. This year’s trip was sensational as we missed the monsoonal storms that have become common in the Sierra the last decade, and the smoke from the Springs fire left us largely unscathed. I’ll post a crude map of our route, but here’s a synopsis:
Day 1: High trail out of Agnew Meadows to the Island Pass plateau above Thousand Island Lake; day 2: over Donohue Pass and leave the trail as it begins heading toward Tuolumne and camp in the basin below Mts. Maclure and Simmons. Day 3: Ascend to the cluster of small lakes below the ridge heading toward Ireland Lake and climb that ridge before heading west to the saddle leading to the descent into the upper reaches of the Lewis Creek basin below Mt. Simmons; Day 4: head south and a bit east to the ridge separating the Lewis creek basin from the western branch of Hutching creek; ascend that ridge and loop around into the main branch of Hutching creek and camp at lake 11139; Day 5: traverse to Sluggo pass and camp in the upper reaches of the Lyell Fork of the Merced; Day 6: Climb over Rodgers Pass and camp at the largest of the Marie Lakes. Day 7: out via the JMT and River trail.
map with route.jpg
Anyone who has hiked the High trail out of Agnew Meadows knows that it’s absolutely gorgeous. With the Minarets and Ritter/Banner as backdrops comes a steady stream of verdant flora and cold springs creasing the hillside. Then, when you reach 1000 Island Lake, well, it’s like a shortcut to heaven. For a guy on East coast time, we chose a spot on Island Pass plateau with views of the big lake and plenty of time to enjoy the approaching sunset as the dwindling rays turned Banner purple.

Day 1 was a good warmup for the next day’s jaunt through a brief bug jam around Rush Creek, but as we made our way up to Donohue Pass, the bugs subsided and were minimal for the rest of the trip. A trail crew had revamped Donohue since I last crossed it and the trail was in great shape. When we hit the creek in Lyell Canyon, we peeled off trail and circled around to an unnamed lake in the Maclure chain below Simmons peak. We had now transitioned into an area where snowmelt was omnipresent and plenty of snow for chilled libations. Rum had an amazing impact on the alpenglow!
Maclure lakes basin.jpg
Day 3 was when the fun really began. We wanted to get up to the little lakes on the plateau northeast of Simmons and then hop the ridge into the huge basin holding Ireland Lake. The one outstanding feature of this segment of the trip was a mini-cascade of water burbling out of a (nearly) solid granite slab. I’d never before seen a rock drinking fountain quite like this….
Getting to the ridge overlooking Ireland was no more problematic than it looks on topo maps and of course, that ridgeline affords huge distant views of most of Yosemite (at least, from Mt. Conness to the Matterhorn and to areas I know only from maps). The descent from that ridge (anchored by Amelia Earhart peak) and the traverse of the upper Ireland basin were straightforward all the way to the lip of the descent into the Lewis Creek drainage. This spot affords an off-kilter view of Halfdome which we admired whilst doing a bit of route scouting. The descent from this ridgeline looks iffy on the 7.5’ topo map, but having scrambled down it with my wife back in 2006, I was not too concerned. In fact, it turned out to be very similar to what one gets on Upper Basin Crossing (to reach Amphitheater basin), with a solid ramp leading into a long talus slog. As expected, the upper reaches of the Lewis Creek basin show meager signs of human visitation, and the glow on Simmons that evening was as good as we got all trip.
Ireland ridge to Lyell.jpg
Ireland to saddle.jpg
Lewis Creek drainage.jpg
Ireland Simmons ridge.jpg
Day 4 was going to raise the ante further as we aimed to head up to the amazing pothole lake at the end of the canyon northwest of Mt. Maclure, and then ascend the ridge leading into the western branch of Hutchings creek. The first segment of the day’s hike included plenty of talus hopping, but the huge snow year meant that we caught some breaks trundling over snowfields rather than rock. The unexpected disappointment is that the pothole lake that was an otherworldly turquoise back in 2006 was filled with un-melted snow this year. C’est la vie! However, negotiating the last several hundred feet of ridgeline to get into the Hutchings basin kicked our adrenal glands into high alert. The boulders stacked on this hillside are as loose and cantankerous as anywhere I’ve been in the Sierra, and with each step, the question kept arising: is this the behemoth that buries me? Well, my buddy and I ascended via completely separate routes, so that if one of us got crushed, the other one could report the outcome….. Fortunately, we reached the ridge unscathed with the bonus that the views of Halfdome’s rump are even better here. Yoo, hoo!
Lewis Hutchings ridge.jpg
Florence basin.jpg

The rest of day 4 entailed rounding the bend into the main drainage of Hutching Creek before ascending to Lake 11139. It’s a bit quirky getting up to this lake (lots of cliffs that are looking for more-skilled climbers than we are/were), but with some persistence, we reached lake level and then scouted for a campsite. As I was scrambling on the ridge above the lake, I had a sense we were in luck when I spotted a teaspoon resting on a granite mound. And, yes, there were a couple of sandy “couchettes” (neither big enough for a tent, but plenty big for one guy), a snow-melt pond and remnant snow. Oh, and spectacular views both up and down canyon. Ignoring the folk who left the teaspoon, this is not a heavily transited area. And, the echoes were fantastic, almost amplified. We were pretty certain we were not disturbing anyone besides the local marmots.

On day 5, we were curious whether we could traverse into the main chute of Sluggo pass without dropping elevation. As fortune would have it, the traverse worked well, and also afforded us gorgeous splashes of late-season columbine. The minor surprise as we continued ascending Sluggo was the set of relatively fresh footprints (heading up). Belated apologies if our echoing was annoying! Anyway, Sluggo turned out to be relatively benign, given that we had to climb less than half the vertical ascent, and the Lyell Fork side is appreciably easier to descend. Thus, we got to the upper reaches of the Lyell Fork basin with plenty of time to chill out in a lakelet (complete with icebergs) and spend time wandering the area. Given the impending search that Maverick was organizing, I was keeping an eye out for any signs that Matt Greene might have made it this far, but saw nothing unusual. And, anyone who has been in the Lyell Fork basin knows that it is a remarkable area populated by stunning lakes and jagged peaks in the best tradition of the Sierra.
The next morning we faced the final crucible: Rodgers Pass. Rogue’s description in the cross country passes section of HST does a great job of describing this route and readers are encouraged to peruse his post. The wrinkle we added is that the ascent of Rodgers from the Lyell fork side was made easier by following a path to the west of the chute which avoided a lot of the horribly loose rock in the main chute. As we reached the Rodgers ridge, we found ourselves in a mass migration of butterflies, the identity of which I’m still seeking (we stupidly did not get a photo). Still, it was inspiring to see thousands of butterflies flitting about a ridgeline that we’d spent half the morning struggling to reach. The Marie Lakes side of the pass was a relative breeze, especially since there were snowfields with perfect conditions for glissading. We decided to park for the night near the outlet of the lowermost Marie Lake and celebrate my buddy’s birthday. While I was collecting “snow-ice” for the evening’s libations, I heard a voice I did not quite recognize: it turned out to be Ranger Jake and his dog, Sierra. I forced Jake to come check out our wilderness permit (in the 10 years of these trips, we’ve not once run into a backcountry ranger who wanted to see our permit). And, then we got down to the serious business of intoxicating a few neurons. With Rodgers Pass in the rearview mirror, it was easy to get a bit goofy.
In an ongoing theme of these trips, we passed on a last night at Nydiver and hiked out the next morning: part of the rationale is that my buddy had brought an old Thermarest pad (to replace the Neoair pad that he’d struggled with the last several years), but it was defective too. A bed, beer and tacos did not sound too bad to me…………and that’s the 2019 version of a high loop around Lyell.

Re: TR Agnew,Maclure,Simmons, Lyell, Rodgers

Posted: Sun Sep 15, 2019 3:43 pm
by cgundersen
Here are the rest of the photos for this report:
Hutchings basin and Clark range.jpg
Hutchings basin.jpg
Rodgers col from LFM plus route.jpg
rodgers col.jpg
Upper Marie from Rodgers.jpg

Re: TR Agnew,Maclure,Simmons, Lyell, Rodgers

Posted: Sun Sep 15, 2019 5:30 pm
by grampy
Thank you, Cameron, for the awesome report! I need to look at your route on a bigger map when I get a chance. All the photos were great, but especially liked the “water fountain” photo.