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70 Years Later, an Epitaph

Courtesy Romain Waczairg

By Kevin Cool

For decades, climbers on Michael Minaret struggled up the vertiginous Sierra rock face without knowing about the man who pioneered several of the routes in the area and fell to his death attempting a new one. Future climbers will know.

On August 30, four mountaineers, including Stanford economics professor Romain Waczairg, ascended Michael Minaret and bolted a memorial plaque near where Peter Starr fell to his death 70 years ago.

Dave Daly, who learned about Starr while reading Missing in the Minarets, conceived the idea for the memorial and led the climb. Waczairg persuaded the Stanford Alumni Association to pay for the plaque. It is located about 300 feet below the summit, in direct view of the ledge where Norman Clyde discovered Starr’s body in 1933. Although the climbers visited Starr’s gravesite, Waczairg says they chose a different, more visible spot to place the plaque—at a junction partway up the mountain, where several routes to the top diverge. “Most people who climb the mountain will go directly past the plaque,” he explains.

Waczairg says the climbing was strenuous, dangerous and unthinkable without a safety rope. It gave him new respect for Starr’s ability. “I’ve done a lot of climbing—I’ve never seen a mountain that was so sheer on all four sides. If you fall, you die,” he says. “I would have rated it about a 5.7.” Anything over 5.0 is considered technical climbing, virtually always performed with a rope and another climber. Recalling that Starr had not only climbed with no rope but in tennis shoes, Waczairg says reverently, “The guy was out of his mind.

“He almost made it,” he adds. “It would have been an amazing climb—to this day, nobody has finished it.”

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