Starlight Buttress Attempt / Mt Sill - Swiss Arete

1-4 Jul 2006 - by Rick Booth

This trip was mostly focused on climbing Starlight via the Starlight Buttress. Mt Sill was secondary. It turned out the other way around.

July 1, Matt Laue, Linda Sun, Dee Booth and I headed up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek Trail headed for Gayley Camp. We made our way up into Sam Mack Meadow, which now was mostly clear of snow compared to two weeks previous, and then up the un maintained trail that leads up toward the glacier. This had the usual snow patches on it and at about 11,500 feet the area was pretty much blanketed with snow. This is convenient since hiking in the snow is easier than negotiating the rock shelves there. Unfortunately at about this elevation Matt started experiencing altitude sickness. At approximately 11,700 feet Matt ground to a halt. This was near a rocky section with flat spots here and there and a water trickle so we decided to stop here instead of forcing our way up to Gayley Camp. Matt opted to try and make it through the night and see how he felt in the morning.

At 4 AM Sunday morning, we checked on Matt. He wasn't going anywhere up. Linda graciously offered to take Matt down to a lower elevation while Dee and I would try and climb the Starlight Buttress. Dee and I packed up and off we went. When arriving at the bergshrund guarding the couloir to the left of the buttress it appeared to be all overhanging, like a cornice, and certainly without a snow bridge. We could see rap slings hanging all over here and there on the rock to the right so we decided to attempt a direct approach to the buttress. This we did. I lead up to a little shelf and was confronted with a fixed piton in a corner. Getting past this fixed pin was about 5.9. This brought us to a second shelf just below a flared slot. I headed up this thing and continued up the broken face to the right for about 100 feet to a shelf with yet another rappel station. This was maybe no more than 5.7 to 5.8 but was awful climbing with a pack. At this point we threw in the towel since we had a long ways to go and we had burned a good chunk of the morning thrashing on the direct approach.

I rappelled off the station and we dropped back down to the glacier. Dee and I then went around to the right and checked out the start of "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" which looked like it had a far easier bergschrund problem to solve, like no problem, since it had a snow bridge. After that we went around poking ice axe holes here and there in the glacier and checked out the U-Notch Couloir and environs and wandered back to our campsite on the rocky ridge. Palisades 1, Rick and Dee 0.

About an hour after arriving back at our camp we were joined by Linda. She had taken Matt down to Third Lake and set him up near the water and left him the keys to my 4Runner. It turns out Matt slept there for a while, pounded down some water, and then made it down the trail to the parking lot. He then drove into Big Pine where he treated himself to the worst dinner at the worst restaurant in the world. I always figured altitude sickness was bad for you but I never imagined this sort of consequence!

On Monday morning at about 5:15 AM, Dee, Linda and I headed up for the Swiss Arete on Mt Sill. We hiked up the snow and rock to Gayley Camp, which was astonishingly deserted on a July 4th weekend, and headed out on the glacier. Putt, putt, putt, across the glacier and up towards Glacier Notch. Scramble, scramble, scramble, up the loose dirt, scree, and talus to the notch. Putt, putt, putt up the L-Shaped snowfield. Oops, left turn onto the rock to the left to get on the saddle on the Swiss Arete. Climb, climb, climb, up one pitch. 5.6. Climb, climb, climb, some more to the start of the step over pitch. 5.6, maybe 50 feet. Climb, climb, climb, the step over and on up the hand crack just past the step over. Maybe 5.7 for the hand crack. The step over is maybe 5.6 but exposed. There is an escape further to the right on the shelf that avoids the hand crack but it had a pile of snow under it. This is supposedly easier. Climb, climb, climb, another pitch. Maybe fourth class. Climb, climb, climb, another pitch. Maybe 5.7? What's up with that weirdo finger crack thing that gets up a big block? And, just like the first time Dee and I climbed the Swiss Arete, the supposed squeeze chimney was nowhere in sight.

Now I was on the summit. Dee was up shortly, offered to sit on the summit to get out of the way, and was back in .5 seconds after confronting the icy gale blowing up the south side of Mt Sill. Linda was also up quickly. Eight hours from base camp. We signed the register, making note of Stephan's party which had summited the day before, and headed down to the rappel to get down to the shelf traversing under the west face. This was accomplished with the usual thrashing associated with long raps on relatively shallow terrain. Off across the ramp we went, and on down the L-Shaped Snowfield. Glissade, glissade, glissade, down the L-Shaped Snowfield. Scramble, scramble, scramble, down the junk on the west of the Glacier Notch. Putt, putt, putt, across the glacier, down through Gayley Camp, now occupied by two guys from Atlanta, and on to our bivy site.

On Tuesday morning, we hiked out, located Matt at the car, and drove home. Matt had recovered and was up to his usual tricks, running his mouth as usual. I felt sorry for the dudes from Atlanta. It was now raining.


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