Traverse of Mt. Starr King

Mt. Starr King

This trip began in September 2003, and finished in October, 2004. A group of friends was sitting on top of Half Dome after having climbed the cables. We'd left Upper Pines Campground at dawn, and had a nice hike in past Vernal and Nevada Falls. While lounging on top I happened to turn my gaze to the east. "Hey, Kathy, what's that?" "Mt. Starr King", she said. She told me her story of climbing it many years ago. "You could lead that," she said.

It was a nice looking dome, far away from the crowds of the valley. Kathy said it was a long approach from Glacier Point Road. Sounded sweet!

When I told Mary Jo about it, she was just as intrigued. This would become our top goal for 2004! Checking our calendar, we saw that there was an SCMA trip scheduled for October 8-11. Perfect. The weather would be just right for the valley, and the club would pick up the camping fee. It just gets better and better. The only drawback was having to wait until October.

During the research for the trip, we ran across the trip report written by Bill Oliver on the Sierra Peak Section archived trip reports. He had written an excellent report, with detailed beta. After reading this report, and R.J. Secor's The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails we decided on the SE Saddle route. This seemed to be the easiest side to get off the peak from.

Back in May, we had teamed up with RJ on a Southern California Mountaineers Association trip to Tahquitz to climb Angel's Fright. While waiting our turn in line, we mentioned our plans for Starr King to R.J. He told us of his own plans for Starr King. He had in mind to do a traverse, climbing the NE side and descending to the SE Saddle. We all decided to join forces for October. Now it was just a matter of biding our time.

The night before we were to leave for Yosemite, R.J. called with bad news. He would not be able to make the trip. This changed our plans as well, as I was unwilling to go ahead with the traverse. I have the the old school prejudice against descending a route that you didn't ascend. So the SE route it would be.

After arriving in Upper Pines Campground, we set up camp, and went looking for club members. We ran into Judy Rittenhouse and Dave German and started yakking. When they heard of our plans to try Starr King, they became interested. Judy had never been up there, and Dave was intrigued by R.J.'s idea of a traverse. They were free Sunday, so it was decided to go for it. We'd leave early Sunday morning and drive to the Mono Meadows trailhead.

Mary Jo and I spent Saturday on a walking tour of the valley. Saturday evening we were in the bags early to be ready for our dawn start.

Sunday morning, we had a quick breakfast and walked to Dave and Judy's camp site. Dave and Judy had the same idea. Eventually we bumped into each other and were off. While driving by El Capitan in the early morning darkness we saw headlamps high on the rock.

At 7 Am we arrived at the trailhead parking, and set off for Starr King. We were armed with a small rack of protection: a set of wired stoppers, and a few cams. We had added two extra number 2 Camalots, heeding the warning in Oliver's trip report. We brought along a set of 60 m twin ropes, purchased earlier in the year just for this trip.

The day proved perfect for the hike in, as we hiked in through a landscape of forest and dome.

Nice country!

Mary Jo hiking above
Illiouette Creek

Mary Jo hiking cross country above Illilouette Creek

The terrain was easy going, thanks to the fire from July, 2004. Still, there were areas that were heavily forested yet.
Judy does her impression of a
wood-lands creature

Judy and the scorched forest

We were just in awe of the beautiful country and scenery we were traveling through. We caught another view of the small dome we had seen earlier.

Another view of the small

As we approached the NE side, it got brushier even as our route steepened.

Mary Jo and Judy fight the

As we climbed higher up to the NE side, Half Dome came into view.
The backside of Half dome

We soon reached the base of the climbing route. It seemed to fit Bill Oliver's description, and we were confident this was it.
 Gary and Dave rest at the base of the climb

Dave, at this point, took off to free solo the route. He would spend about an hour on the summit waiting for us.

The first pitch was around 75 feet long. It was a remarkably blank slab that offered no place to set protection. Fortunately it was low angle, and well featured. The climbing was quite easy actually. I got to the belay stance, and was able to place a couple of very good stoppers. I belayed Judy and Mary Jo up one at a time. They both jogged up this pitch, and just about wore my arm out.

The second pitch was around 50 meters long. It followed a crack that started thin, and soon widened out to a consistent 2" wide. The number 2 Camaolots worked great here. I also got purple and green Metolius Power Cams to work here. More number 2 Camalots would have been very welcome right about here. At places, vegetation filled the crack, at which point I stepped out onto the slab, which was quite easy. At an obvious belay stance, I stopped and brought up Mary Jo and Judy. Again, they showed no mercy on my poor arm.

The last pitch is easy fourth class, but we stayed roped up. I wondered up the slab a bit, and set a belay anchor right below the summit talus. After bringing up Judy, she belayed Mary Jo, while I scrambled up to the summit. Expecting to find Dave alone, instead I found that he had company. Mischa and Etsuko from the Bay Area had climbed the SE Saddle route.

We all enjoyed lunch and the terrific view,

Mary Jo, Gary, Judy and Dave on top

Mary Jo, Gary, Judy, and Dave on top.

Etsuko and Mischa on top

Etsuko and Mischa on the summit

After an enjoyable hour on the summit, it was time to finish the traverse and head for the SE Saddle. Since we had two ropes available for the rappel, it only made since for Mischa and Etsuko to join us. They showed us where the first rap station was located. A sling with a rap ring was slung around a boulder. It looked a little small to me, but was wedged in well. We started the raps as Dave soloed down. As we started to gather at the next rap station, Mischa's rope was already being set for the last rappel. This "anchor" seemed even less tenuous than the first one. It was a boulder on the ledge that marks the end of the first pitch on the SE route. We were soon at the saddle. We decided to head directly down the steep slabs at the saddle. At one point, I stopped to put my rock shoes back on. This was surely fourth class terrain. We all met at the base of the slabs.
At the base of the slabs

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the hike out.
Mary Jo on the hike out

Dave and Judy hiking

We arrived at the car at dusk, having spent a wonderful day, with good friends in the magnificent Sierra Nevada.

The old Sierra Club