Starlight Buttress

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 37.09390°N / 118.5219°W
Additional Information Route Type: Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Additional Information Time Required: Half a day
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.5 (YDS)
Additional Information Difficulty: 5.5
Additional Information Number of Pitches: 5
Additional Information Grade: II
Sign the Climber's Log

Same as Starlight Peak route

Craig Peer currently maintains a description of this route linked to Starlight Peak. Since this route can also be used to ascend North Pal, and there doesn't seem to be a way to link one route to two peaks, I'll leave this here unless there is a hue and cry about duplicate routes... Craig's description provides more route detail (not to mention pictures!), while mine provides more approach detail.


Drive east out of Big Pine to the end of Glacier Lodge Road (about 15 miles). The hiker parking is about 0.6 miles from the end of the road and the site of the former Glacier Lodge (alas, the historic old Lodge burned to the ground a few years back. After a bizarre episode with the Forest Service selecting a moonbase-like design for its replacement, the owner opted to reconstruct a new lodge in a style similar to the old one). For those who would rather cut a mile or so from their round trip, and bypass the sweltering traverse from the hiker parking to the entrance to the NF canyon, parking is available at the Glacier Lodge Store for $3 a night.

There was a female bear lurking in the vicinity of the store in August 2004, attracted by the sloppy food storage habits of the denizens of the nearby campground. Please do your part and store food responsibly so both the humans and the bears will experience a minimum of friction.

From wherever you park, follow the trail up the north fork of Big Pine Creek. Depending on how much work you want to do on summit day, camp anywhere from Third Lake (~10,260’, and about 5.5 miles from the road) or higher. About a half mile past Third Lake a trail leads west through a meadow (it used to be marked, I’m not sure if this is still the case) and up slabs, talus and willows to Sam Mack Meadow.

From here you have at least three options. The most straightforward is to find the obvious climbers trail on the east side of the meadow and take this all the way to campsites at the terminus of the Palisade Glacier.

At the head of the meadow there are two steep gully systems. The left hand one can be followed all the way to the Thunderbolt Glacier. Deviations from this route can be found on the left that lead to camp sites on the top of the rocky ridge/moraine on the west side of the Palisade Glacier.

Camping can also be found at or near Sam Mack Lake, which can be reached by either following the right-hand gully, or wandering up rough terrain above the west side of Sam Mack Meadow. I haven’t gone that way personally, so I can’t vouch for it’s reasonableness.

From wherever you camp, find your way to the Palisade Glacier, and head up towards the Clyde Couloir (the obvious gully to the right of the U-Notch, descending from the notch between North Pal and Starlight Peak). The route follows the buttress on the right of Clyde Couloir.

Route Description

All in all, I’d say this is a pretty nifty climb. If the U-Notch is overcrowded, or too icy/soft for your taste, this could be your ticket to a good day’s climbing. It has great views and good position all the way, and you’re likely to be the only party on the route.

It is described in both R.J. Secor’s The High Sierra Peaks, Passes, and Trails, and Steve Roper’s The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra. Secor provides an indecent amount of information, given the easy nature of this climb. I prefer Roper’s description, which basically says “climb the buttress”, and “many variations are possible”.

Cross the bergschrund on the right side of Clyde Couloir, and head on up! This climb is a mixture of easy fifth, fourth, and even third class climbing. You can go pretty much wherever you please. Depending on the exact route taken near the top, you can wind up as close to the summit of Starlight as you want. From there it’s a short fourth class scramble over to North Pal. Descend either the way you came up, via the U-Notch, or whatever tickles your fancy.

Essential Gear

A light weight alpine rock rack, with a few nuts and cams. Bring several slings, including at least two or three long ones to help keep rope drag to a minimum. Depending on the season, ice axe and crampons may be needed for either the approach, descent, or both. Later in the season when the schrund is open, ice tools and a few screws may be needed as well. Oh, and don’t forget the helmet. There is loose rock on this route.

Miscellaneous Info

If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.



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