Mt. Starr King

19 Oct 1997 - by Pat Callery

"Mount Starr King is the most symmetrical and beautiful of all the dome shaped masses around the Yosemite. Its summit is absolutely inaccessible. It will never be trodden by human foot."

Josiah Dwight Whitney

The crew for this hike consisted of the honorable David Harris, Rich Leiker, Pat Callery, and Kyle MacDonald. The trip began as David, Pat, and Kyle gathered in Palo Alto on a glorious Saturday afternoon for the commute. Things got off to a fortuitous start when the three members of this PCS "youth group", who had not met before, discovered they had all been separated at birth, as evidenced by their common roots (or quasi-roots) in Boston, MA and the University of Michigan.

After a pleasant drive up through smoldering forest burns and under an orange moon, we pulled off the side of the Glacier Point road to crash for the night. Although the mosquitos had long since called it quits for the season, a few random flies took pleasure in making fly-bys throughout the night, much to the chagrin of eardrums everywhere. Despite both Pat & Kyle setting their watch alarms for 6 am, the rigors of swatting at flies in the dark took its toll on the hearty campers, and we overslept until about 6:30. We paid the ultimate price for our mistake, having no time to prepare that vital repast of steaming oatmeal, hitting the trail instead on a breakfast of cold bagels.

At 7am, the three met up with Rich Leiker, who had spent Saturday hiking up around the Tioga Road. Using Steve Eckert's trip report, Rich did an easy day hike and climbed Mt Warren from camp 9 off the Tioga road. We started out at 7:30 from the Mono Meadow trailhead near Glacier Point, down a well worn trail through conifer forest. Kyle, a recent East Coast transplant, marvelled at the trees and their intriguing, fluorescent green moss. After a few miles, the crew turned off trail and bushed it through the thorny brush towards Starr King. From a short distance, the huge, polished granite dome and its smaller neighbors dominated the skyline. By about 10am, we had reached the base of the dome and chose to climb straight up the low angle slab to the saddle between Starr King and a southern partner.

Three of the four took advantage of this break to change into their climbing shoes, and we ascended the slab. This class 3 scramble was a terrific friction climb over beautiful SE-facing rock, at a nearly constant slope with occasional handholds. As Pat & David reached the saddle, they began to set up gear for the pair of 5th class pitches that extended up towards the Summit. Whereas Secor rates this climb at 5.0, other sources had told David it was probably closer to a 5.6. David led the climb, finding great cam placements in short undercling and lieback cracks all the way up. After climbing, David estimated the route at something like a 5.3; where I can't make much distinction between anything less than 5.6, and call it just "5.easy".

The whole party made it up the two pitches on two ropes, and finished the short 3rd class scramble to the Summit around 12 noon. While signing the register, we enjoyed grand views of the Clark Range peaks to the east, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls (dry) to the north, not to mention the multitudes of other nearby domes. Since we were doing OK on time, we dropped over the NE face to investigate top-rope climbing opportunities over there. After lowering one rope length into the mid-afternoon shadows, David & Kyle faced HIDEOUS EXPOSURE in the nipply winds: waiting, shivering in T-shirts while Pat rapped down and climbed back up, Rich belaying from above. The last climb of the day was another 5.easy or possibly 4th class, notable in that David & Kyle ran the rope out near the top and had to attempt the hideous simul-climb to get back into the warming sunshine!

After rappelling back down the SE face, we had to execute the dreaded "rope tug" as the last rap rings were tucked conveniently behind a small-crack flake. Marching down through talus slopes, we got in some downhill skiing technique practice on foot. After navigating through burned out forest, we found the trail and were back at the trailhead by 6 pm, just as Pat polished off his diverse stash of various energy bars. A great day was wrapped up with a drive through Yosemite Valley at dusk. Hazy smoke from all the burns hung in the valley, offering a spectacular orange sunset as we turned towards home.

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