Mount Starr King - Southeast face

Morgan Brown

Canadian Rockies
Sequoia/Kings Canyon
1998 Trips
1999 trips
2000 trips
2001 Trips
2002 Trips
Mount Conness
Mount Starr King
Tresidder Peak

Books that Morgan

The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails

By R.J. Secor. Perfectly succint description of SE face route on MSK. Has descriptions of other routes, and good approach information.

Selected Photos...

Clark Range from route

Kim and a good
view of the route

Summit Panorama

Summary Image Gallery Trip Map
  • Date: August 5, 2002
  • Route: Southeast Face of Mount Starr King
  • Approach: 10 miles round trip, 2000 ft. elevation gain. Climb: 2 pitches, 3 rappels. Max difficulty: 5.4

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Other Trip Reports...

The end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?

Mount Starr King (MSK) was to be our first multipitch climb, and five miles into the backcountry to boot. Either the trip would end in a miserable failure and thus cure us of this silly (and expensive) hobby before it got too far out of hand, or we'd have so much fun that we'd become climbing nuts. The southeast face of this near-perfect granite exfoliation dome consists of two pitches of easy, low-angle slab climbing on excellent rock.

Our plan was to approach MSK from the Mono Meadows trailhead, at 7400 feet elevation. The trail drops into the valley of Illilouette Creek, to a minimum elevation of 6400 feet. From there, we planned to climb 2000 feet to the wide shoulder between MSK's middle and south summits, where we'd set up camp.

We set out at noon on Friday, August 2, 2002. If we reached camp before 16:00, we planned to climb MSK the same day, then go on to climb Mount Clark on the following day. We didn't really have a plan if we were unable to get up MSK on friday. Our packs were obscenely heavy, as usual, but we had somewhat of an excuse, since we were carrying perhaps 25 pounds of climbing gear. The downhill section of the hike proceeded easily enough, but the challenges begun immediately thereafter. The crossing of Illilouette Creek proved easy enough; expected given the three successive light snow years. Unfortunately, we knew that we'd have to fill our water bottles at a relatively low elevation, and worse, that we'd be unable to refill, unless we wanted to descend and climb 1500 feet.

After refilling from a small stream, we carried over two gallons of water in addition to our other gear. The cross-country travel began immediately, and we made a couple route-finding errors, as we see in the tripmap. Where old forest fires burned, only Manzanita and thorn bushes now grow. To avoid the bushwhacking, we traveled roughly east, ascending the easy granite slab slopes of Dome 7669'. After crossing a small streambed at the 7000-foot level, we ascended steep granite slabs on the southwest face of MSK's south dome. Although strenuous, the travel here was mentally pretty simple; after an hour or so, we found ourselves at our campsite.

The time was 16:15; fifteen minutes past our "failsafe" point. We thought about climbing MSK that day, but frankly we were so tired that the thought soon seemed ridiculous. Instead we lounged around, set up our camp, and had a leisurely dinner. Someone built a small fire pit near the campsite, which we utilized.

Climb Day

After a quick breakfast Saturday morning, we set off over the improbably steep middle summit. If it were a few degrees steeper, this 400-foot climb would be a nice technical climb in and of itself. In any case, we were glad to have our rock shoes on for this section. Within fifteen minutes we stood at the base of the climb.

We climbed up an obvious foot-wide crack to its termination, which made an excellent belay anchor. I started up the first pitch and headed left, to the "right-facing corner" mentioned in Secor's book. Like every crack on this route, this one tightly sucks up nearly any medium-sized nut. The climbing above here is the toughest on the entire route, probably 5.4. I climbed to a welcome flake and placed a small Alien. From the flake, the climbing is runout but easy. The first belay ledge is obvious and fairly roomy. Only after setting up a 3-point anchor did I see the red rappel sling to the right.

The second pitch is much easier. After protecting the area just above the belay anchor, I ran it out to a small ledge on the left. The crack would only take a micronut, but I didn't really mind, since the climbing is class 4. After surmounting the ledge, a class 4 walk leads you to a 4-sling rappel anchor. Like the first pitch, the second is 120-150 feet in length.

After the second pitch, we walked over class 2/3 terrain to the summit, where we leisurely enjoyed the classic panoramic views. The summit registers dated back to 1985 and 1990, respectively. That's what happens when the easiest route is fifth class.

The challenging part of this route turned out to be the descent. This wasn't unexpected, but we weren't exactly sure how it would turn out. From the topmost rappel anchor, I rapped down to an overhanging, right-facing corner, where I placed an anchor while hanging. Kim rapped down to me. I could see a couple slings about 30 feet below, so I downclimbed on belay, placing a few pieces on the way. Kim saved the day with a gutsy downlead to the anchor. For some reason, I moved very slowly in the narrow confines of the "cave" we were in. The slings here were dodgily-placed. Luckily we only had to rappel another 40 feet or so to a better rappel anchor of two slings tied to pitons. The two slings were of different length and tied together in such a way that failure of one piton would lead to failure of the entire rig. I shortened the yellow sling with a couple overhand knots to equalize the anchor and we rappeled without incident. We had to downclimb the lower 30-40 feet after the rappel, but the terrain was easy.


The MSK climb took us around 4 hours. 1 for the climb, another half hour on the summit, and probably 2 hours on the descent. Much longer for the descent than we thought. By the time we got back to camp, it was already quite hot, oppressively sunny, and we were almost out of water. I remember saying to Kim, "I think I've had enough adventure for this weekend. I vote for skipping Clark." Replied Kim, "YES!" So we had a short lunch, packed up our gear, and headed off the backside (east) of the shoulder.

I figured that our approach route up to the shoulder might be a little hazardous to walk down with heavy packs. Also, I thought it'd be nice to explore a little different region. In hindsight, the backside was kind of a drag; certainly no better than the normal approach. The initial descent dives hazardously down a steep gully. A couple tweaked knees and several curses resulted from the terrain here. From there, the idea is to follow the "stream" on the USGS map (now dry) to the south-southwest, then cross a "hump" to the saddle northeast of dome 7669'.

The forest in the region southeast of MSK may be the ugliest section of alpine forest I've ever seen. The amount of deadwood was staggering, though burned trees were nowhere to be found. I surmised that the park service had recently thinned the forest, to prevent the runaway fires that have turned so much of this section of Yosemite into a brush-covered moonscape. We came out of the forest a bit to the east, and had to cross a particularly thick section of brush, marked "ack" on the trip map. From there, some tedious scree hopping/sliding, interspersed with granite slabs, led down to the trail, and hence, to smooth sailing.

Since we had a wilderness permit for another night, we opted to camp near Illiloutte Creek. Dreams of cool, clear water danced through our heads. Note "camp 2" on the trip map. Many parties are always camped on the other side of the creek, but we had great solitude in our camp, as well as flat, sandy ground and great views of MSK and surroundings. A full-immersion bath in the surprisingly-warm creek made us feel human again.

After a comfortable night camping, we headed back to the car. On the way back we met Mark Fincher, the (in)famous Yosemite Climbing Ranger. He warmed up to us a bit once we told him we'd just climbed MSK. He told us how he'd recently soloed it, but brought a 50-meter rope to rappel. He termed the rappels "terrifying", which made us feel a bit better. Soon we were enjoying ice cream at Glacier Point, amid the throngs. How satisfying it was to look at the imposing form of MSK with the knowledge that we had "conquered" it! That night, we camped in the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, with plans to climb the North Ridge of Mount Conness the following day.

© 2005 , Stanford Exploration Project
Department of Geophysics
Stanford University

Modified: 11/18/05, 13:53:04 PST , by morgan
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