Silver Star Mountain (Silver Star Glacier)

June 22, 2007 / Grade II, 30° snow, glacier travel, 4th class scrambling

The clock wakes us up at 3:00AM (ouch). Perfect clear skies when we first get up. We have breakfast and drive to the trailhead, 4 miles away. Nobody is here (the AAI group that was parked yesterday has left). As we get ready to go, low clouds start to move in, remarkably fast, enveloping the summit of Silver Star from time to time… moments of doubt. Hell, we should at least hike to the camping benches (2,000 feet up), then decide whether we should go further. Off we go.

We first go steeply down to the creek (we're carrying sandals in case we have to ford) for 300 ft. The sandals won't be necessary. There is a perfect, huge, double tree log jam right at the trail (50ft to the left of it to be exact). Super easy. We leave the sandals under one of the logs on the far side and find the trail through the woods: the initial ½ mile or so is a bit thin, with many downed trees forcing small detours. Not bad really. Then, once the trail hits the steeps (as in: VERY steep), it is extremely obvious. UNRELENTING, almost straight-up climbing follows. It seems like we'll never reach that bench! This is probably the steepest trail we've ever been on. It keeps going like this for a solid 2,000ft gain. I thought we'd never make it! At least it's cool (even a bit cold) this morning. I cannot imagine doing to do this in the afternoon sun (it's west facing), and with a heavy pack. Finally, we reach the bench. Really inviting camp indeed, but we cannot find any flowing water. Thin patches of snow left. From here, the trail is a bit less steep for a while, as it winds up toward the couloir. The trail we followed actually climbs the smaller couloir to the left (south) of the obvious one that leads to the col. It gets super steep again. Some scree and a couple of patches of snow, but for the most part, you can find a way on solid ground. About 2/3 of the way up, we crest over a minor rib (snow covered), and can hear a faint gurgle. Water! We were starting to talk about bailing if we couldn't find any soon (we knew from scoping the route from the road that the upper half of the main couloir would be completely dry). We stop, eat, drink, and refill our 4 quarts. And on. Here, we make one minor route-finding mistake when we continue a couple hundred feet too far up the secondary couloir before traversing right into the main one. No big deal. We end up doing a bit of scrambling, traversing higher up on rock. It's now only a couple hundred more vertical feet to the col.

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Silver Star as seen from the road.
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Great views of the Liberty Bell spires at sunrise.
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Hiking up the steep trail early morning.
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More views of the Bells...
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...and ?.

There are three or four bivy sites at the col. The views are amazing, but no sign of flowing water (snow on the east side), and an obvious sanitation dilemna (sure hope people use blue bags here). We rope up and go down the east side of the col. It's steep but good plunge-stepping; the snow has been in the morning sun for a few hours. We then traverse around Burgundy and Chianti, to a shoulder. From there the route in quite obvious: up the fairly gentle, rolling glacier to a col just right (south) of the summit, followed by a 3rd/4th class scramble to the summit. The weather is now looking quite good. Most of the clouds are breaking up some distance to the west of us, leaving only minor clouds above our heads. Mostly sunny. The glacier is totally covered, with only minor evidence of underlying crevasses (thin surface cracks). The slope is probably 30 degrees in average, but steepens to maybe 40/45 near the top. We follow existing steps part of the way (probably from that AAI group from yesterday).

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Views from Burgundy col.
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Traversing the snow slopes below the col toward, heading South toward Silver Star Glacier.
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Taking a break on the shoulder between Burgundy and Chianti.
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The amazing Chianti Spire (we'll be back!).
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Going up the Silver Star glacier

Once at the col below the craggy summit, we leave the gear and rope and scramble to the top. There is one 5th class move, at the very end, to get on top of the summit boulder (a 5.5ish mantle). The views all along have been outstanding. We don't spend much time at the top. Scramble back down to the col, re-rope, and plunge our way down the glacier. The snow conditions are perfect.

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Scrambling to the summit.
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Ditto.
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Eric on the pointy summit boulder.
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Summit views.
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More views of the Liberty Bell group from the summit.

A short climb back to the col and we unrope again. Two climbers have been looking for a route of the lower apron of Burgundy all morning. We saw them on our way off the col, and they are still here… they never found the route. They end up deciding to go up the regular NF route as we leave (it's 1:15PM; they should have plenty of time). We retrace our steps down, only this time traversing lower into the secondary couloir. We stop again for water (and saucisson and bread!), then continue down to the benches (looked for water to the south of the benches but did not find any - the ground here is granite dust; very porous, so melt water tends to disappear into it quickly). Then the last, most unpleasant part: down the steep slopes from the bench to the creek: absolute knee buster. Painful! At the creek, we meet two climbers who are on their way up to the benches for an overnighter. They tell us about a perennial stream to the north of the obvious campsites at the bench; good to know for future visits. Short climb to the road and we're back at the car, about 12 hours after leaving. A beautiful day. The views were the highlight of the day. The route is pleasant and mellow. The east face of Chianti looks awesome! We'll be back...once our knees forgive us.

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More summit views.
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Climbing the short steep slope back to Burgundy Col.
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Back at the col, watching climbers on the NF of Burgundy.
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Scree surfing on the steep way down.
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Back at the car - my knees will hate me for a while!