Colorado man dies on face of Starlight Peak

Inyo County Sheriff’s Office press release

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.

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18 Responses to Colorado man dies on face of Starlight Peak

  1. Amy McClintock August 14, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

    I know and have climbed with both Tom and Laura, and they are not only experienced but competent climbers who are safety conscious. I have climbed with Laura many, many times in both mountaineering and technical rock, multi-pitch environments and would, without a doubt, climb with her again. This sounds like a case of either system or rock failure. I’ve had rocks blow on me twice while climbing. . . it just happens. Even so, I will continue to climb because of the fulfillment and joy it brings to me, and I will not have anyone judge my decision to do so. Fat asses who eat potato chips and sit on the couch can die way before me. . . or not. . . so it’s all a crap-shoot anyway. It’s about how we choose to experience living, and Tom chose to live a life filled with joy and vitality where he tested his mental, physical and spiritual self. He lived more in his 67 years then most do in half that time. Tom’s death is a tragedy that leaves many heartbroken, but I am also deeply thankful that Laura survived this horrible tragedy. I will welcome my friend home with open arms and will encourage her to climb again. Carpe diem!

  2. Greg August 10, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

    Mono person. Please get the facts straight before criticizing someone. What are you, a Trump Acolyte? Tom was an experienced climber and we don’t know all the details regarding what happened.

    Lighten up.

  3. Charles O. Jones August 10, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

    What a tragedy. Thoughts go out to family and friends.

  4. Derek Tse August 10, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    Mono Person, your ignorance and presumption are astounding. I spoke with the man the night before the accident. He is not 20-40 years old and he has been climbing throughout his life. Show some respect and stop being so judgmental.

  5. Kerry August 10, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    Tom was not a novice climber. He was very experienced. Please do not question his ability. Rocks fail, accidents happen. It is the inherent risk we take.

    • Buzz Killington August 11, 2017 at 12:15 am #

      @Kerry- thats exactly what many here do. Rick o brien doubled down on his first comment on here because he just knows…

      This was an Accident… Accidents happen

  6. Mono Person August 9, 2017 at 10:30 pm #

    I kind of have to agree with you….I think, too many 20-40 year olds think that they can do anything, without training!!! You use to work toward your goal, not just go out and think, well I can do that too.

    You train for a marathon, you train for a rock climb, you train to go over 12,000 elevation. You just don’t out in our mountains, and think, “Oh, I can do that…”. But at the same time, let them learn.

    But sometimes they die…

    • carolyn August 10, 2017 at 5:21 pm #

      You know nothing. These two were experienced mountaineers.

    • Greg Rossell August 12, 2017 at 3:09 pm #

      The two climbers had over 70 years of combined experience. Get your facts before making foolish comments that may upset family or friends.

      • Low-Inyo August 12, 2017 at 7:53 pm #

        Before you jump anyones crap here,you get the facts straight….this year,a whole different thing as far as anything goes mid-summer in the Sierras…..record snowfall this past winter,dangerous conditions for anyone venturing into the mountains,whether it be climbing,camping,hiking,etc….”experience” means little when the conditions are totally different than in the past “70 years”…..sad that this man lost his life,but this shouldn’t be a forum to insult anyone that happens to post a comment you don’t agree with them saying.

        • Derek Tse August 14, 2017 at 7:24 am #

          There is nothing wrong with what Carolyn and Greg said. They were correcting an error by pointing out that the two climbers were, in fact, experienced. That said, the record snow conditions in the Sierra has no bearing on this particular accident. The climbers had an anchor failure on rock and there was no snow or ice on their route. I know this because I was part of a party climbing an adjacent route on Sunday, tracked the party’s progress throughout the day, was the first to respond to the accident on Monday and called SAR.

  7. Buzz Killington August 9, 2017 at 7:14 pm #



  8. sugarmags August 9, 2017 at 3:57 pm #

    this leaves me confused as to how the male became deceased.

    • erik simpson August 10, 2017 at 10:06 am #

      The article isn’t explicit, but it sounds like their rappel anchor failed and they fell. If the rope hadn’t tangled on something there would probably have been two fatalities. Even so, the survivor was lucky. They couldn’t have gotten to where they were without being pretty aware of the dangers of their situation. Accidents happen.

  9. Rick O'Brien August 8, 2017 at 6:47 pm #

    Just because “It’s there” doesn’t make much sense anymore , does it ?

    • Rick O'Brien August 10, 2017 at 7:06 pm #

      I have heard it spoke at many funerals, “At least he died doing something he loved “. That may provide some temporary solace to those they leave behind, but think of the void they create that sometimes will take forever to fill. The family and friends…

      • Tinner August 11, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

        Dying is a part of living, Rick. Were all going to go sooner or later, whether we like it or not.

        • Rick O'Brien August 11, 2017 at 10:33 pm #

          Point taken, but I’d like to put it off as long as possible.


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