Ski Mountaineering

Mt. Starr King
August 5, 2000

Reiner Stenzel (Private Trip)

Owen Maloy once reminded SMS leaders that our Section name includes a letter M and, besides Skiing in the winter, we should not forget Mountaineering in the summer. In earlier times there was also a strong connection between the RCS and SMS sections. So this August, SMSer Craig Connally and I took the ropes instead of the skis and climbed a fine peak in Yosemite, Mt Starr King. It's a cl 5 mountaineers peak on the SPS list, so we had to do it as a private trip since the SMS cannot yet sponsor restricted trips. We left on Fri, 8/4, picked up a reserved wilderness permit at Wawona, and started from the Mono Mdws trailhead by 5:45pm. Before 8pm we reached our intended campsite at a small creek on the Southwest side of Starr King at about 7,000'. More precisely, it was at UTM 41 74666N, 11 277282E, NAD27, on my Magellan Blazer. Luckily, we had water, rather few mosquitoes, no bears, but occasionally dead branches fell off the many burnt trees which made for a rude awakening at night.

Sat morning, we started leisurely at 7am. After fighting for an hour through nasty brush we reached the base of the mountain, contoured around its North side to the East side and climbed into the saddle between the main and the middle dome. In retrospect, there are better ascent routes such as a short but challenging climb up the gully between the main and middle dome or a traverse over the middle dome. By 9:30am, we changed our hiking boots for climbing shoes, filled our racks and started the two-pitch ascent on the SE face. I lead the first pitch which is rated about 5.6 or less. The climbing iinvolved a section of an open book, a traverse below a flake with good undercling holds, and some friction climbing to a pronounced ledge. At a hidden chock stone a belay was set up, then Craig followed and cleaned the first pitch. We switched leads and Craig did the second pitch which was largely friction climbing in high cl 4 terrain. Finally, we ascended over cl 3 slabs to the flat summit. My GPS read UTM 41 75640N, 11 278142E, NAD27, elevation 9,092'. The summit has a large cairn and a rectangular register box with 2 books.

At 11 am we happily signed in as the seventh party this year. It was my 200'th peak on the SPS list and a very fine peak for this occasion. The view was wonderful: The round side of Half Dome was very close, we could see Little Yosemite Valley beyond Starr King Lke, the Clark Range stood out in the East, and the long Buena Vista Ridge which we had skied a few years ago, was clearly visible to the South. Way North, on the horizon, the Sawtooth Ridge was even visible. It was a cloudless warm summer day, no smoke from forest fires, just a little haze over the San Joaquin Valley. We took many pictures, had an early lunch, and Craig tried out his cell phone but without luck.

By noon we descended. We set up a 50m double-rope rappel and, after improving the anchors with new slings, rapped down the two pitches to the saddle. There we had second thoughts about the long bush whacking ascent and decided to do a shortcut down the gully between the main and middle dome. It started out as a regular cl3 descent, but became progressively steeper and changed to slabs of polished granite. It was time to get out the ropes again. We found a piton for a rappel anchor, and decended safely down into a dry creekbed. From there, it was a shorter bushwhack back to basecamp which we reached by 3pm. After this workout on a hot summer day we had the urge for a swim, yet the creek carried only a trickle of water. So we packed up and hiked down to the Illouette Creek where we found a fine campsite. It was a pleasure to dive into the pools of cool water and to dry out on the warm rocks. We spent a peaceful night besides the river, just once awakened by a bear or deer visit.

Sun morning we hiked out, drove out of the Park, and stopped for a great Sunday breakfast at a cute country restaurant on Hwy 41, Bass Lke turn-off. Earlier, we had talked about a detour to do another peak, Three Sisters, but by the time we received our checks the plan had to be scrapped. Therefore, we were home by early afternoon instead of midnight. After all, this was not an SPS trip. Since we had such a good time we are planning to do it again, hopefully as a scheduled SMS trip with more participants.

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