Sunday, December 29, 2013

North Star Mountain - Sub Summit

North Star Mountain
Another round of snow is heading towards the mountains, so that means only one thing: it’s time to try and squeeze in another big climb.  I have wanted to climb North Star Mountain since my first ascent of its neighbor Quandary Peak a few years ago.  North Star makes a great winter objective for anyone, there is minimal avalanche danger and any car can make the drive to Hoosier Pass as long as the roads are open.  I sent out my regular Facebook request for a partner and Paul said he was in.
I had to work Friday night closing the store so I was on minimal sleep when I rose for the day.  I have now decided that I cannot do these long drives for climbs the morning after a closing shift.  The exhaustion took its toll, so I will stick to more local climbs for those days.  I was over to Paul’s place by 6:30am and we were off.
Getting to the TH of Hoosier Pass is pretty simple and there are a few ways of going about it.  We chose to take HWY 285 to avoid all of the ski traffic on I70, but by going either way simply turn off on State HWY 9.  Since we came by the way of HWY 285 we turned north on HWY 9 in Fairplay and followed the road past the “smallest incorporated town in the U.S.”  of Alma before arriving at Hoosier Pass.  Don’t worry you won’t miss the pass, there is a large parking area on the west side of the road and there will probably be a bunch of cars there already.
Mount Lincoln
As we arrived at Hoosier Pass, there was a good 12-15 vehicles already there.  We geared up and by 8:30 we were ready to start our climb.  I must add that it was frigid cold as any winter excursion should expect.  Normally I don’t keep my down vest on for climbing, it’s more of a warm driving vest, but today I decided to roll with it on.  After our first three minutes on the trail, we found the sledding hill of sledding hills for the locals.  I would rate this hill extreme, and I could hardly believe kids were up there at 8:30 in the morning hitting the hill hard already.  Maybe it is their warm-up for the ski hills that don’t open till 9am.
The trail was hard packed snow, so no snowshoes or microspikes were warranted.  The first 1.3 miles follows an old mining road to a small saddle of sorts after a bend in the road around a large mound to the south.  I think in the summer you can drive a 4WD vehicle to this point saving a little bit of a road walk.  But with only gaining 500ft and just over a mile, I’m not sure it’s necessary for this peak.
There are a few ways to go about this mountain now that you have arrived at this mini saddle.  There is a road that wraps around and the conditions went from hard pack to unconsolidated to sections of dirt.  It just depended on the drifting.  We chose to get off the main road and start on a direct approach of the southeast ridge.  In the distance, maybe a half hour ahead of us we saw a group of about 7 people and 2 dogs ahead.  I think they chose the road, but the best part about mountains is it’s a “to each their own” type of situation.
Quandary Peak
As we started up the ridge direct the snow conditions were quite variable.  One second the wind packed snow would be like glacier ice, the next second I would be knee deep in some crusted powder.  Yesterday somebody had posted a conditions report on for this route, so we trusted their report.  They said no need for snowshoes or microspikes.  After the fact I would agree, our route snowshoes would have been nice, but only for a short period of time.  Now, if you’re heading up in the future with the new snow, some 6inches or so, looks like you will need some flotation.
The wind was pretty unbearable the entirety of the ridge.  Although it was not snowing, we had plenty of snow blown in our faces, which makes moving upwards difficult.  A time or two we had some layering adjustments, but there really wasn’t a way to make ourselves comfortable with the wind.  We just kept a slow pace that ensured we didn’t need to stop; therefore we would not freeze like giant popsicles.  With a group ahead of us we were at least able to monitor our progress and I think both of us were satisfied.  I think Paul was very happy with his acclimation since he was up in Michigan for the last few weeks.  I’d say he was kicking the mountains butt for being at such low elevations for so long. 
Pano Lincoln in Center
The further we made it up the mountain the more bone chilling cold it got.  We made it to the sub-summit of 13,400ft which Garmin and Google Earth consider the summit.  But, deep down we knew we had a good mile long ridge walk and a few hundred feet to gain to and from the true summit.  We thought about it for about two seconds, but once on top of the sub-summit it felt as if the temp dropped about 30 degrees and the wind picked up about 10mph from what we were previously experiencing.  My fingers went to straight frozen almost instantly and I could not even feel my face anymore it was a frozen ice clad mess.  I spent about 30 seconds taking pictures and told Paul I was heading down.  The feeling of frozen fingers is never a good one, I kept shaking them as much as I could to keep the blood flowing.  Once off the sub-summit we found a bit of a wind block and I pulled out my mittens and grabbed some fuel for the way down.
Sub Summit
Winter climbing as we can see has its immense challenges.  This time it was the freezing wind, had it not been for that we would have kept on route to the proper summit.  Both of us have no desire to make ourselves totally uncomfortable and overextend our limits so we had no problem turning around.  In the summer, this hike would be a breeze, but what fun would it be without a worthy challenge such as a winter ascent?
After I got feeling back to my fingers we loaded up and started making our way down the mountain.  I swear that about a half hour after we started down the wind died.  I kept telling myself that it was still a frigid hurricane at the top to make myself feel a little better about turning back.  Either way I think the both of us had an excellent day on the mountain and were both running on emptied our tanks at that point.
This is an excellent climb for those wanting to get your winter snowflakes on any lists you may have.  There is no technical difficulty, just use good judgment with the weather.  I hope to be back this winter; the views alone are worth the trip. 
GPS Track
Date: 12/28/2013
Starting Elevation: 11,533ft
North Star Mountain Sub Summit: 13,442ft
Total Gained Elevation: 1,925ft
Class: 2
Distance:  5.43 miles
Time: 3:30 moving, 1:15 stopped. 
Climbing Partner: Paul

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