Mt Starr King and Mt Clark

25-28 Aug 1995 - by David Underwood

I scheduled this with Randall Danta as a four day trip but did not get any signups. I do not know if it was the $40 insurance fee, the wrong week end, or that several trips to Starr King had already been scheduled this year. Whatever the case this turned out to be a solo of both peaks. Both peaks are fun climbs but I found Mt. Clark to be the greater challenge. Not for the technical difficulty but because of the approach and route finding.

I left for Yosemite on thursday morning in order to be able to pick up my permit a day early. I got the permit at Wawona about noon and then spent the rest of the day in the valley watching the climbers on the walls and having lunch at the village. Late in the afternoon I headed for Glacier point where I cooked a meal on the tailgate of my truck in the parking area, and looked at stars through the telescopes of some amateur astronomers. When it looked like the crowd had cleared out for the night I crawled into my camper shell and went to sleep for the night. I had the windows covered and no one bothered me. Camping is not allowed but I hoped that anyone seeing my truck would think that I was already on the trail.

Started off down the Panorama Trail about 7:30 a.m. it is a mile longer than from Mono Meadow but the view is great. You can see the waterfalls and the face of Half Dome as you descend to Illiloette creek. Took about two hours to the crossing on the big logs. From there I took the trail toward Clark Fork of Illilouette creek. As I walked below Starr King I kept looking for an opening to get closer to the peak. About 400 yards past the junction of the trail going back toward the falls that is just south of the peak labeled 7669 I found a break in the trees and headed for the south east side of the peak. I found a granite slab that is free of the manzanita that is so prevalent and climbed that to the small creek that shows on the map as starting just behind the east dome.

There I found a nice camp site with good water and a terrific view of the Clark Range. It only took an hour to get to the face of Starr King from here in the morning by continuing up the slope and walking over the south dome to the notch at the face of the peak. I was to meet another climber there but when he did not show up by 9:00 I decided to solo the route. I had been studying the route for an hour and had a pretty good feeling as to how I would attack it.

I had a 50 meter 9mm rope and several pieces of iron for pro. From the top of the big crack I headed directly up to the first crack where I placed a camelot. I roped in and by using a figure eight belay ring I self belayed to the left to the prominent dihedral. There I placed a large hex and then swung back to retrieve my cam. Then I climbed to the top of the dihedral where I could place a sling around a large horn. That was the steepest part of the climb and probably could rate a 5.3. From this point the climbing is much easier as there are cups in the rock and it is almost a walk to the big ledge that is off to the right of the dihedral. From this ledge there is a small boulder move onto the upper face and a walkup from there. Getting down is quite easy. There is a large chock stone on the ledge and someone had left a big hex there. They also left a couple of rap rings so I used one of the rings and a piece of sling to get to the top of the dihedral where I used the other ring with the sling that I had placed there to get off the face.

Went back to camp picked up my gear and headed back down to the trail. About a quarter mile up the trail I spotted a group of large rocks that looked like a good place to hide my climbing gear. This relieved me of at least 15 pounds of gear as the rope is about seven pounds by itself. I kept a long sling for emergencies and continued to the crossing at Clark Fork of Illilouette Creek. I left the trail here and started through the trees keeping the creek on my left.

The forest here is primeval and presents some real challenges. The trees are thick and there are section where fallen trees block the way at every turn. I elected to try and pack as high as I could get in order to try and get the peak early the next morning. It was hard to judge distance and I could not see any peaks for orientation. I had to rely on my altimeter to judge my location. About 6:00 p.m. I reached the marsh that show on the map at 8200 feet. It is larger than it looks on the map and swarms with mosquitos. I crossed the creek here and finally found a campsite at 8400 feet. Just enough room for one tent but good water and of course lots of mosquitos.

The next morning I looked around and I decided that I might have a hard time finding this site again. I packed up and carried my pack following the ridge until the timber thinned out and I started to get glimpses of the Clark Range. Left the pack at about 9800 feet. Continued up the ridge and made some prominent duc's along the way. This turned out to be a wise move as I would find out later. Finally reached the tree line where there is a large sandy plateau. The walk to the south east ridge of Mt. Clark is straight forward but the route up the peak is not. the Guide books say that one of the approaches is from the south east ridge but what they do not say is that you go through the notch that is closest to the gendarmes and traverse to the east side of the peak. Then climb almost direct to a ledge system on the peak. If you go right to the north west side you can squeeze through a small chimney. If you go left you get to do the famous open traverse. Just reach around and you will find a good hand hold, swing across and a short third class route takes you to the top. Certainly one of the best views in the Sierra from here. Also one of the more challenging but rewarding routes that I have done.

Heading back down I thought that I was going down the same ridge that I had climbed on the way up, but the ridges converge just below the tree line. When I did not see one of my markers after a few minutes I Stopped and took a bearing. Turned out I was on ridge to the north of where I needed to be. I was Able to crossover here as the gully between them is broad and shallow at this point. Found my markers and retrieved my pack. As I headed down the ridge toward the trail I looked for my previous nights camp. I passed a couple of better camp sites but never saw the camp that I had used. I camped just above the creek junction with the hope that any bears in the area would patrol the obvious camps and not bother me. No bears bothered me at any of the camps. I credit this to staying away from the normal sites. Picked up my climbing gear on the way out the next morning and was at Glacier Point before eleven the next a.m.

Seven years later, Damon Vincent asks:

can someone recommend a rack for the standard route on Mt. Starr King and indicate where the best place to leave the trail is on the 7.5 minute map?

And David Underwood replies:

If you look on the map you will see a small stream above the trail that leads toward the Clark Fork of Illilouette Creek.

After you have crossed the stream below Mono meadows, (I started from Glacier point where I slept in the parking lot in my camper shell) you take the trail that heads toward Fernandes Pass. you will come to a small side stream that is on the Starr King side of the trail. There should be some fairly dense forest there. You can wend your way through the trees to the base of a slope that has quite a bit of manzanita on it.

If you look carefully you will see that the slope has several spots that are free of the manzanita and can work you way up the slope to the small stream that is just south of the south dome.

There is a good spot to camp there, good water and it is bear free. If this is a day hike climb of Starr king then of course it does not matter. I camped there when I did Starr King and Clark. I went over the south dome and the middle dome (easy walking) to the base of the north dome. There is a crack that leads up about 20'. Placed a #4 cam as I remember then traversed to the dihedral on the left. I placed another cam there and did a short lay back to the top of this. From there is was basically a walk up to the summit. Coming down I found a large hex on the big ledge that is about half way up.

i used this to rap down to the top of the dihedral then used some sling to rap the rest of the way. I had a 50M 9mm rope, a bout 20' of sling and four cams as I remember.

Memory fades as i did this on 8/26/95

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