Mount Starr King
By: Gary Schenk
Back in May of 2004, whilst biding some time at the base of Tahquitz Rock, Mary Jo Dungfelder and I mentioned to R.J. Secor that our main goal for the year was to climb Mt. Starr King. R.J.'s ears perked up at this. He had an idea to do a traverse, ascending the NE side and descending to the SE saddle. That sounded quite interesting to us. We agreed to try it the weekend of a SCMA trip to Yosemite Valley, shamelessly abusing their camping policy!
The night before we were to leave, R.J. phoned with bad news. He would have to miss the trip. Bummer. That killed the idea of the traverse. I would not be comfortable descending a route we had not ascended. R.J. emailed us some detailed data on the SE Saddle route. Armed with that and Bill Oliver's archived report, we felt good about our chances of success.
Friday, October 8, we arrived in the valley. The weather forecasts were ambivalent, with a slight chance of storms, and even snow around 8,000'. We chanced to chat with Dave German and Judy Rittenhouse in camp. When we mentioned our plans for Saturday, Judy and Dave became quite interested. Judy had never been up Starr King, and Dave was intrigued by R.J.'s idea of the traverse. They would be free on Sunday, so we agreed to combine forces.
We started the drive to the Mono Meadows trailhead before dawn. We grabbed our gear; a set of twin ropes and a small rack (one set of stoppers and a half set of cams, including an extra number 1 and 2 Camalot), and left the car at 7:00 AM and started the approach. As we hiked the trail, we saw much evidence of the fire from last July. That fire had forced John Cheslick to change his Clark Range trip to Northern Yosemite at the last moment. Some spots were light bums, in other areas trees had burned completely to ash.
The weather was fantastic, and would remain so the entire day. We had a delightful hike through the park. After crossing Illilouette Creek, we cut off the trail straight to Starr King. We arrived at the start of the NE route at around 11:00 AM, taking a little longer than we anticipated. The route starts at the highest point reached by trees on the NE side off Starr King. After making sure we were really at the start of the route, Dave headed up. It took him 20 minutes to reach the summit, where he would wait almost two hours for our arrival.
Bill Oliver's route description is right on, and made our climb easier than it otherwise might have been. We third classed up to the big ledge to start the roped pitches. We set a belay anchor, as you definitely would need it in case of a leader fall.
I tied in and took off up the first pitch. Judy, on the belay, plaintively kept asking if! could get a piece in somewhere. I was wondering the same thing, not wanting to take a fall onto the anchor, for sure. The angle is moderate, however, and the rock is well textured and just about perfect. The rock shoes did their job well, and I found myself at the obvious belay, complete with piton, described by Bill. Here! found two good stopper placements for a belay anchor. It was hard to keep up with Mary Jo and Judy, they about wore out my arm.
The second pitch was the beginning of the crack. This started thin, but quickly widened to an almost parallel 2 inches for its entire length. I walked straight up the crack. In places it was clogged with grass, in these spots I merely stepped out onto the slab, which had great friction. The rack for this climb should contain at least a half dozen number 2 Camalots. This is a long pitch and I was able to only place four pieces, two number 2 Camalots, and a green and a purple Metolius Power Cams. At the end of this pitch, two cams made up the anchor. Extra number twos would have worked here well, and made for a more secure setup.
The angle slacks off on the third pitch, and is really fourth class. We stayed roped however.! followed some small flakes, wandering around some and extending the slings as much as possible. Upon reaching the summit talus blocks,! set an anchor and brought up Judy. Again my arm was put to the test, as Judy jogged up this easy pitch. She took mercy on me and belayed Mary Jo up.
We scrambled to the top to meet up with Dave, and to our surprise, a couple from the Bay Area who had climbed the SE Saddle route.
We spent an hour eating lunch and enjoying the stupendous view: the Clark Range, Lyell, McClure, Cloud's Rest, Hoffmann, and Half Dome were just some of the sights.
We scrambled down to the first rappel station, where we joined forces with our new friends Mischa and Etsuko. Our twin ropes came in handy here. The anchor consisted of a somewhat smallish boulder. The second rap station was another boulder on the large ledge that marks the beginning of the second pitch on the SE route. A couple of solid raps with the palm of my hand produced the sound of a ripe watermelon. Hardly confidence inspiring. While we rapped off, Dave downclimbed to the saddle. Utilizing all of our ropes, the raps went quickly, and we all congregated at the saddle.
We descended directly from the saddle down the steep slabs. I paused to put my rock shoes back on, my friends patiently waiting at the bottom.
We hiked out glowing in our success. Not just in reaching the summit, but in the success of a wonderful day with great comrades spent in the beautiful Sierra Nevada. Our only regret was that R.J. could not have been there. After all, it was his idea.
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