At approximately 7:00am on Monday August 7th, Inyo County Sheriff’s Dispatch was notified by a satellite phone from an unrelated climbing guide of a stranded party on the face of Starlight Peak, on the climber’s right of a route called “The X”, in the North Palisade area above Big Pine. The party consisted of a female that was alive and not seriously injured, and a deceased male. Sequoia and Kings National Park (SEKI) also received a notification via a personal locator beacon of an emergency in the Palisades area.
SEKI launched their helicopter unit, and located the party on the Inyo County side of the peak. Inyo Sheriff’s Office requested CHP aerial support and began working with CHP Central Division Air Operations H-40 out of Fresno. One Inyo search and rescue (SAR) member went to recon the site with H-40; however, due to the lateness in the day, high altitude, and wind, they could not complete the rescue. Air National Guard was activated for a Chinook, but the steepness of area was not favorable for the size of the large helicopter.
After discussing the location of the mission in depth, Inyo SAR team members determined conditions were not safe for accessing the subjects via climbing or rappelling. The area of the peak is known as one of the most dangerous walls in the Palisades. The team decided to request aid from Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR), specifically for their high angle rescue team. YOSAR helicopter 551 responded and was able to rescue the female just before dark last night. They returned to the scene the following morning to extract the deceased male.
Further information revealed that the party of two from Durango, Colorado climbed Starlight Peak on Sunday August 6th via Starlight Buttress. Both were considered experienced mountaineers. The party reached the summit around 2:00pm, and shortly afterwards began their descent along the north-west ridge. After a few hours, they left the ridge and began rappelling down the face, no longer following their intended descent route. Partway down the face, an accident occurred while the female subject was descending; the system failed and became unattached from the wall. Though the rope was no longer attached to the wall, it became tangled on a rock feature and arrested the fall. The female in the party ended up tangled in the rope, and the male was hanging below. The female used a prusik loop (a friction hitch or knot used to attach a loop of cord around a rope to escape from a rope), and ascended to a small ledge where she then waited 26 hours for rescue.
Inyo SAR and Inyo Sheriff’s Office thank all of the assisting agencies: SEKI, CHP Central Division Air operations, Air National Guard, and YOSAR.