Summit Elevation (m): 2950
Trip Date: Friday, September 7, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 2150
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 24
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your wrist
Difficulty Notes: No technical difficulties but some routefinding is involved. NOTE: The trip I describe includes three peaks as part of a two day effort involving over 3100m of height gain. We ascended Beehive Mountain before Lyall, which is why the meters gained is so much for it.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (3rd)
After our ascent of Beehive Mountain, Wietse, Phil and I started a delightful traverse across brightly colored alpine meadows leading under towering cliffs to the west towards the NE shoulder of Mount Lyall. Beehive Mountain had gone much quicker and easier than we expected and despite thick smoke interfering somewhat with our views, we were feeling pretty pumped about our day so far. The temperatures were more mid-summer than late, and the fall colors on the vegetation in the meadows was absolutely stunning. The terrain was easy and open as we worked our way north towards a distant ridge that gives access to an easy scramble route up Lyall’s NE face.
Interesting Facts on Lyall Mountain:
Mount Lyall (9683′), near Elkford was also known primarily as Mount Feuz in the first edition of the guidebook; for some reason lost in the archives of the Geographical Nomenclature Committee, the name of famous family of Swiss guides was replaced in the second edition (Green version) by that of the British surgeon and naturalist, David Lyall, who helped explore the Rockies from 1858 to 1862. (from bivouac.com)
In general the route was easy to discern, we followed our noses and the most open terrain down and across several dry stream beds before finally arriving at some very refreshing and welcome running water in Lyall Creek. Despite both Beehive Mountain and Mount Lyall being fairly easy scrambles, combining them into a day trip is a fairly ambitious project involving over 2100 meters of height gain and almost 25km of distance. Wietse and I had the added challenge of carrying overnight gear up and along a good portion of the route including the steep, hot grunt up the NE shoulder of Lyall to its crest.
From the NE shoulder of Lyall, we could spot Lyall Tarn – our destination for a really promising looking bivy for the night. Once again, Wietse and I dropped our overnight gear on the shoulder of Lyall and followed Phil up towards the intimidating face looming above with only our light day packs. One advantage of dropping 3/4 of your pack weight halfway up a mountain is that you feel completely unencumbered once the day pack is on your back! We felt extremely light on our feet despite all the height gain and distance we’d already come under a hot, smoky sky so far. At this point we were around 6 hours into our day.
The east face of Mount Lyall isn’t nearly as hard as it first looks from the shoulder. While Phil and I enjoyed some nice moderate scrambling right in the gully splitting the face, Wietse ascended straight up rubbly slopes on the north side. Eventually Phil and I deviated out of the gully and onto a ridge to climber’s left which we easily ascended on firm(ish) rubble to the summit. It was a huge relief to realize that Mount Lyall’s slopes are MUCH firmer and therefore pleasant to ascend than Beehive’s nasty scree slope! Roughly 7 hours after leaving the Oldman River Road we were standing on our second summit of the day – very relieved to note that the smoke had cleared off substantially during our traverse from Beehive Mountain.
While Phil hurried back down the face to the shoulder and his planned exit via the GDT and Soda Creek Trail, Wietse and I lingered on the summit of Mount Lyall for a while longer. We were in no hurry as our planned bivy was pretty much right under the NE shoulder of Lyall and we were left with plenty of daylight to get there. I traversed a bit along the summit ridge, trying to get photos of lesser known peaks along the High Rock Range including our planned peak for the next day, Mount Gass, which was immediately north of our summit.
Eventually we decided to start a slow descent back down the east face to the shoulder below, following Wietse’s line of ascent. The descent was easy even in my approach shoes, my ankles only taking a few sharp rocks. We could spot Phil descending the shoulder far below before disappearing into the trees. The late afternoon lighting was gorgeous across the huge NE shoulder as we worked our way down to our packs and from there to the shimmering tarn below. Despite appearances to the contrary on some maps, our bivy tarn is about 3x bigger than the named, “Memory Lake” to the north which is why I’m calling it, “Lyall Tarn”.
We arrived at the lake after a short bushwhack off the NE shoulder, just as it was plunged into early evening shadows. The weather remained warm and windless as we set up camp and explored the area around the tarn, noting much evidence of previous camps and even a great trail leading north from the lake towards the Great Divide Trail. We even managed a small, warm fire which was a delightful way to end a long, tiring day of hiking and scrambling. I read my e-book beneath the looming face of Lyall which looked to hold a very small glacier – a semi-permanent source of water for this area but one that won’t last much longer. By 21:30 we were in the tent under a very still, dark sky and both of us enjoyed a deep sleep beneath the stars until the next morning.