Thursday, May 19, 2016

North Star Mountain 13,614 feet

Nick on the East Ridge
The weather has been cold, and windy…sounds like a great time to go climb a mountain. Even though the weather wasn’t ideal, I needed to get out and stretch my legs in a place other than the gym. I sent Cole a text around 7pm to see if he was able to get out in the next day. Lucky for me he said yes, and by 8pm we decided that North Star Mountain would be a good choice for a climb.
You may have all heard of me talk about North Star Mountain before. It is one of those mountains that is starting to become a nemesis. This isn’t because it’s a particularly hard mountain to climb; it just always seems to attract the worst weather. Well, this time is no different. North Star Mountain is part of the Ten Mile Range that is located near Breckenridge, Colorado. This is a relatively easy place to get to from Denver, so that’s probably why so many of my trip reports are from this range.
The Front Range
The TH is on the west side of Hoosier Pass. There are a couple ways to get there; we chose to take the interstate option. From Denver take I70 West turning south on HWY 9 following this road to Hoosier Pass. The other option is to take HWY 285 till it connects to HWY 9 in Fairplay. The drive was nice in particular today because I had the luxury of having Cole drive. I would plan on about an hour and a half from Denver to the TH.
The weather in Denver had been cold lately, so the high mountains weren’t going to be much better. We both knew we had a pretty crummy forecast, but sometimes you just deal with it. The drive in was pretty clear, with patches of fog here and there. By the time we arrived at the TH we were socked in the fog. This wasn’t the most ideal way to start the climb, but I’ve seen worse.
Once geared up we took off on the trail right about 7am. This was my third time on this trail, so I kind of feel like I have it engrained as part of my mental map by now. Well, not really, but this one doesn’t require advanced navigation. In the summertime the first few miles of this trail is an old road that some people drive part way. Today it was covered in snow, which lucky for us was pretty hard packed so we didn’t need our snowshoes quite yet.
Mount Lincoln
This is one of the higher THs in Colorado, starting you out at about 11,500 feet. The good thing about this is that tree line is about a 10 minute hike away. In this area tree line is 11,600 feet, so on a normal day you would have excellent views pretty much from the start of the hike. The first let’s say mile and a half, probably a little bit less, traverses on the south side of the continental divide till coming to a small saddle at the 12,100 foot elevation. This is the point you could drive your truck to in the summertime. After this point it’s kind of a free-for-all when the mountain is covered in snow. This is called the southeast shoulder, and following this shoulder up the mountain will connect you with the East Ridge. Not far from the saddle is an old gate that leads to a slew of mining roads. We made it to this point in about 45 minutes and decided to put on our snowshoes for the climb up the shoulder.
Quandary Peak
We didn’t need our snowshoes for floatation; we used them for the ascending heel lifts. This is one piece of technology I would upgrade to if you don’t have them yet. The ascenders ease the strain and stretch of your calf muscle and make it seem more like walking up stairs than on a slope. The snow conditions below our feet were great, the issues of visibility was an entirely different story. Once on the shoulder we were pretty much engulfed in a cloud of fog. We could barely see our feet, let alone each other at times. Luckily this route has no extreme drop offs and we were both familiar with the area. Once we reached the 13,000 foot level the fog finally dispersed and we could start to make out the rest of the route. Now that we could take in our surroundings a bit our pace picked up as we weren’t concerned about getting off route.
My history of this mountain has taught me a few things, and this one I will share with you. Looking at the mountain on Google Earth it has a label on the far east side, this is not the summit. The elevation at that point is around 13,400 feet. The true summit is on the other end of the ridge, a mile or so away at 13,614 feet. The point I want to make is don’t waste your time climbing this 13,400 foot point, traverse below it and save the energy…because you’re going to need it. If you download my gpx file you can load that on your GPS and see where we cut over. It’s pretty easy to figure out when you’re on the mountain. The traverse will eventually land you on the main East Ridge.
Cole gaining the East Ridge
Once on the East Ridge stay to the crest and follow the roller coaster ride to the summit. Typically this wouldn’t be a bad section, but there was a fair amount of snow with some lovely cornices here and there we had to deal with. The exposure level was pretty high and if you’re not comfortable with it, this could be mentally taxing. We both elected to take off the snowshoes and put on our micro spikes. I don’t think the spikes really did much, but I brought them so I might as well wear them. We pulled out our ice axes too, just so we could look cool.
The snow was still firm for the most part, here and there in the little dips we would break through to maybe knee height, but nothing too bad. The visibility was pretty much crap. It was almost a sleet-snow-rain, I’m not sure what you would call it, but we sure couldn’t see much. This is what made this route time consuming. I lead and tried to keep a close real in on Cole. I wouldn’t call it a white out, but it was close. We followed all the endless ups and downs, and a couple times we looked at each other thinking- is this ever going to end. It always seems longer and harder than it was, but the conditions are what makes it that way. It took us and hour and fifteen minutes to make the summit from the start of the ridge. We were on top within 10 minutes of my goal of 10am, so I was pretty happy with that.
East Ridge to the Summit
On the summit the precipitation was much more of a rain than a snow. This definitely isn’t the ideal conditions for hanging out for summit beers or anything like that. We both ate some food and took one or two pictures and started back along the ridge. The best views we had up there were of each other. We didn’t want to be out in that crappy weather any longer than we had to be. The trek back along the ridge we had even worse visibility. I’m assuming that’s because we were going downhill rather than uphill. We took our time making sure of each step. I didn’t time it, but it felt like we got back across the ridge in better time on the descent than on the ascent.
We could tell once we made it back to where we first intersected the ridge on the ascent and started making the traverse to the shoulder. Now we couldn’t see a damn thing. We were back in that complete white-out fog. After a bit I checked my GPS, as both of us thought we were dropping elevation too fast. We both agreed to drop to an old mining road and then boot it out from there. I really wanted to glissade, but I was hesitant at first. The slope was pretty steep with only a couple inches of soft snow covering a hard pack. After another hundred feet I convinced myself it was safe. We could have screamed down the whole side of the mountain, which would have been fun till we had to make our way out. We both controlled our glissade with our trekking poles and after dropping some vertical we got off the slide at the mining road we were eyeing from above.
I took my spikes off and we started hoofing it down the road. We could see now, but the wind was starting to blow pretty hard from the south. I needed to fuel up, so we found a spot near some rocks and tried to make a mini wind block so we could rest for a few minutes. It wasn’t that bad sitting down, but once you stood up you could really feel the cool mountain air.
We weren’t far from the gate and it was about noon so we were thinking about real food. Empire Burgers in Breck was on my mind. Maybe that gave us a bit of a boost.
Nick and Cole on the Summit
It was a hike out on the road at this point. The snow had softened a bit and we started to posthole here and there. We knew it wasn’t far to the TH, so we just pushed through. I was pretty happy with the stats on my GPS when we got back. The whole trip was about 6hrs with almost 2,400ft of elevation gain. I was hurting a bit since I hit the gym the day before not knowing I was going to go on a real climb. But now I know I can do that I guess. Cole did great, finally someone that can keep up, even if it hurts. Hahaha. It was a fun mountaineering experience in crappy weather, but we finally got the summit in and it feels pretty good. I have a long list of mountains to climb this year, so It’s nice to have a few early season ones in already.
I forgot to mention that today way my nephews 13th birthday. It feels pretty cool climbing a 13er on his 13th birthday. Next year we will have to do a 14er on his 14th birthday. Happy Birthday Gabe!
Date: May 15, 2016
TH Elevation: 11,540 feet
North Star Mountain Summit: 13,614 feet
Total Ascent: 2,346 feet
Distance: 7.82 miles
Class: 2
Partner: Cole
Moving Time: 4 hours 28 minutes
Stopped Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

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