Though seldom climbed the Starlight Buttress is arguably the most attractive route used to gain the summit of Starlight Peak. Its said to be the original route soloed by Norman Clyde to first climb this peak in 1930. Although crossing the bergschrund can be daunting, the balance of the route is a mix of fun 5.easy climbing and scrambling.
Take the North Fork of Big Pine Creek trail about a half mile past Third Lake. Turn left onto the Glacier Trail toward Sam Mack Meadow. At the mouth of the meadow the trail turns left across the creek. The trail gains the ridge then meanders south/east toward the moraine and where it becomes harder to follow. Follow the cairns to skirt around the moraine and then up the slabs to Gayley Camp on the edge of the Palisade Glacier.
Cross the glacier to the base of the Clyde Couloir (north of the U-notch Couloir). Starlight Buttress is the buttress to the right of Clyde Couloir.
Permits are required year round for overnight trips and quotas apply May 1, through November 1. The daily entry quota for the North Fork of Big Pine Creek is 25. 15 permits are reserveable up to 6 months in advance. 10 are set aside for walk-in use. Walk-in permits must be requested in person and cannot be requested more than one day ahead of the trip.
The Glacier Pack Train (760-938-2538) has their own separate quota. If reservations are not available through the regular system, you may want to consider using there service to pack your gear in.
I suggest reserving permits as far in advance as possible as the trail is also very popular with fishermen.
Wilderness Office phone line (760-873-2483) is open 8:00 am to 4:30 pm
During the summer season open every day from May 15 to Oct. 15.
During the winter season (Oct. 16 to May 14) closed on weekends and holidays.
Mail: Wilderness Permit Reservation Office
Inyo National Forest
351 Pacu Lane, Suite 200
Bishop, CA 93514
Phone: (760) 873-2483
Fax: (760) 873-2484
Online permitting may be available in 2011.
– It’s said the crux of this route is quite frequently crossing the bergschrund to gain access to Clyde Couloir. This wasn’t really true for my ascent. On July 4, 2010 we climbed easy rock to the left side of the bergschrund to gain the couloir. I checked pictures from my 4 trips to the Palisade Glacier (all posted) and the schrund only looked bad in a picture I took in late September 2010. That said, having someone in your party with the ability to climb about 20' of vertical ice may be wise.
Once in the Clyde Couloir quickly cross to a fixed anchor on the right side. Since a fall while crossing the couloir would drop you directly into the bergschrund, placing a couple pickets to protect the traverse might be a good idea.
– Continue up the couloir a short distance to a fixed anchor high and right. Scramble right on ledges/benches to the base of the chimney.
– Climb the 5.4 chimney until it appears to become a more difficult headwall then move to the right side of the buttress where the chimney continues. We climbed this in two pitches, but I think it could be easily done as one long pitch.
– Scramble 300(?) to a ledge just below a steeper section of white rock.
– We zigzagged up this pitch in fairly poor form. It might be 4th’ish if you start to the left and move to the center higher up, but you’ll probably want to rope up for this pitch. Just above the obvious belay ledge you’ll find the rap anchor at the beginning of a fourth class chimney.
Pack up the rope and climb the chimney up to a large ledge. Move right on the ledge to the base of a ramp. Then scramble up and left for 300’ or so, on dirty shelves and ledges to the notch on the ridgeline.
It’s said that the original route goes up and right from this ledge to a gully that leads almost directly to the summit. We saw this route, but it didn’t look 5.easy to us. We didn’t check it out to closely, because the route to the left was obviously easier.
Take a break at the notch and survey the Northwest Chute on the other side of the ridge, which also ends there. You will most likely rap into the Northwest Chute to begin your descent, and then regain the notch to continue.
- From here you have a couple choices. My climbing partner (from my second ascent) suggested we climb directly up the steep ridgeline as he had done on his first ascent. This may be the more efficient route because it can be climbed in one pitch to the sub-summit platform, but is the more technical route.
I traversed to the right on a small and exposed
ledge and then climbed a fourth class ramp to the gully mentioned as the original route. I belayed my partners up from this point because the route takes a sharp left and I feared rope drag around the corner would have made a higher belay difficult.
From here the route turns left and goes a short distance up the gully (5.easy) to gain what I call the sub-summit platform.
From this platform you will see Starlight’s summit monolith, the Milk Bottle, through a gaping crack in the rock. The easiest way to make it to the platform surrounding the summit block is to take off your pack, shimmy down to the bottom of the crack, and then it’s just an easy walk over the summit platform.
– Despite what you may see printed in guide books, the easiest way to retreat is simply to descend the route. Getting back to the notch is a small challenge. First return to the sub-summit platform. From there the easiest descent was to do 2 single rope raps, from fixed anchors, into the Northwest Chute (west side), and then scramble up 50 to 75 feet to regain the notch.
From the notch you’ll be able to scramble most of the way down. We did 4 single rope raps and one double rope rap to cross the bergschrund. The bergschrund probably could be passed with a single rope rap had we been willing to leave gear or cross the couloir to build a rap station there. We had two ropes so it was just easier.
- You may descend into the Palisade Basin by using the Northwest Chute. From the sub-summit platform do 2 single rope raps into the Northwest Chute and scramble down to a waterfall where you will want to rap again. Do not descend this chute further.
From the base of the waterfall you will see a notch to the right. Traverse across a 4th class ledge/crack system to the notch and continue your descent from there.
– Traversing north to Thunderbolt may require 2 to 4 hours of scrambling. You may descend back to the Palisade Glacier by using the Underhill couloirs at the base of the notch.
- North Palisade is a short traverse away, maybe an hour or two. From North Pal. continue south on the ridgeline and descend the U-notch.
Rope, helmets (a must), crampons, ice ax, a alpine rock rack, slings, ice gear, including 3 - 4 ice screws and maybe a picket or two.
This page was original created by Craig Peer in 2002. In 2010 the description was updated by hyadventure (Brian Jennings) after my ascent of the route.
My ascent of the Starlight Buttress was not successful. My party of three reached the notch at 4:00 pm on July 4, 2010. Although we left camp before 6:00 am, for several reasons, we had moved pretty slowly all day. Not knowing how much further we had to climb we began to discuss bailing. The decision was made to climb the next pitch and reassess our situation. I lead P6 up to the gully and still could not see the Milk Bottle. At the time I didn’t know it, but I was only a short pitch away from the summit. By then it was 4:30. I decided that I didn’t have time belay up my two followers and climb another pitch, so I down climbed the pitch and we bailed.
In late August 2010 I climbed Starlight via Northwest Chute and completed the climb using the same route up from the notch. Boy.. was I surprised how close I had come.