I've also updated our Buffalo Mountain TR with pictures: http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=5471(/url)
North Star Mountain: Elevation 13,614 State Rank 187
Improvised South Slopes Route
Mileage – Guessing around 10
Elevation Gain – Guessing around 3,500
Partners: Colin (Astrobassman), Craig (Cheeseburglar), Amanda, Kia the dog
Link to Craig's Pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/cheeseburgle/Dec672008#(/url)
The rest of the crowd played on Quandary the day before so they camped on Hoosier Pass Saturday night. We met at Montgomery Reservoir at 6 am on Sunday and were greeted with an amazing sunrise over Mount Silverheels. Our goal for the day was the CT Clipper route on Clinton, Traver, and McNamee.
Sunrise over Montgomery Reservoir
Sunrise over Silverheels
First View of Our Goal
Delayed by the inevitable sh!^break, we hit the trail around 6:45, looking back on the sunrise every 5 or so minutes and quickly making our way up past the mines and houses on the 4X4 road towards Wheeler Lake. We started with our snowshoes on and the trail was icy and packed snow for the first mile or so, and then held a pretty good crust up to treeline. Soon after treeline, the road starts to climb a little more steeply and the snow got soft and deep. Colin was doing a fine job breaking trail, but the slopes up to the right were pretty bare (I could see the top of the grass) so I made a detour up to the lake. I had an interesting time with the 5 foot "headwall" to escape the road – slick mud with no handles donning snowshoes probably was good for a few laughs from the on-lookers. I could see where I would rejoin the road, so I made quick time of it and had a good 5 or so minutes to rest before the others arrived. We were hoping that once we circled the lake, the approach into the basin beneath our peaks would be gentle and inviting… Not so much.
Look back towards Silverheels from near Wheeler Lake
Colin approaching Wheeler Lake, Mt. Lincoln in the background
An inspiring view of Mt. Democrat
The Group at Wheeler Lake
What we saw was a steep slope that was pretty loaded and we wanted no part of it. There were some rock outcroppings leading to a ridge that we attempted to scale to get a better look of the upper basins but none of us had any luck getting up those. Since we weren't going anywhere fast we sat back and soaked in the views. It had been 3 ½ years since I was last in the area (DeCalibron and Quandary) and I forgot how jagged some of the surrounding terrain was and I probably now have a new appreciation for the scenery since I was a noob by every sense of the word back then.
The south slopes of North Star looked far from inviting, but they did look safe. The route looked steep, loose, and icy but we could still see a lot of rock and grass protruding up through what little snow was present. Colin went ahead for another pit stop (is there no end to what that man stores in his intestines) and we followed after a few minutes.
Soon after crossing the vast meadow, we began side hilling below North Star's south slopes. I had a couple of gear malfunctions as my snowshoes no longer felt like staying on (I had snow built up around my boot from my rock climbing attempt). Tired of dealing with them – I strapped them to my pack and turned up. The going at first was pretty quick – steep, but fairly stable and I was making good progress. The others looked at me like I was nuts and debated their fate. They thought the rocks would be easier so they crossed another 100 yards or so before turning up. They didn't look like they were having the best of times on the icy rock and I was now a couple hundred vertical feet above them. A steep snow field lied between my line and theirs so I couldn't cross but I was getting close to the top of it so I could go around if I was to join back up with them. Near the top of the field, I heard a shout which I think was when they turned around. I looked up and I could see the ridgeline just a little further above my current position. However, my nice grassy slope now turned into scree covered in ice – I soon found out why the others were not making much progress.
Quandary from North Star's Summit Ridge
The jagged connecting ridge between Drift and Wheeler Peaks
I managed to gain the ridge about 100 yards beneath the highest point on the ridge which oddly wasn't the summit on topo maps – the summit, probably 300 feet below me held another group of people. I took the last of my roll of film standing on this flat point on the ridge and turned to head up to this high point. The ridge was upper class 2 and quite narrow, and as I was making my way up a very strong gust of wind sent me to my knees holding on for life and limb until it subsided. I hit this high point which is the beginning of the gnarly scramble over to Wheeler Mountain around 1 pm. I was making pretty good time on my ridge walk back to the actual summit and having a great time scrambling about. I still don't have a summit to my credit in calendar winter, but this was my first experience scrambling on snow and ice. I passed by the other group and made small talk on my way to the topo-summit – they were a little concerned since I seemed to be solo. When I hit a false summit down the ridge, I saw down the remainder of the route and the maze of mining roads which would lead me home. There are probably a half dozen false summits if you are coming from Hoosier Pass – it would be a disheartening approach, but a lot tamer than my way up.
I got to the road(s) just as the wind was really starting to tear into me and I was getting pretty hungry. My wife has often said chocolate solves all problems and after a couple of handfuls of M&Ms, I tend to agree with her. Refreshed from my snack, I hit a low point in the road about 200-300 feet above the reservoir – now it was time for some bushwacking. Instead of following the road all the way back to Hwy 9 and backtracking down CR4, I dropped into the pine trees. Luckily the snow wasn't more than knee deep since I was too lazy to put my shoes back on. I meandered through the forest and joined CR4 about 1/10 mile east of my car. I walked back to find Craig and Amanda waiting for me to make sure I got off of the mountain okay. Unfortunately, I couldn't join them for dinner since I was heading south for 285 to avoid the I-70 traffic, but it was awfully thoughtful for them to wait.
It was another great day improvising in the mountains with good company. Best of luck to Colin and Craig on their trip to Ecuador in a couple of weeks – I'll be thinking about you enjoying your cuy while I'm carving my Christmas turkey.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):