| North Star Mountain
North Star Mountain
13,614 Feet (187th Highest in Colorado)
Southeast Shoulder/East Ridge from Hoosier Pass
Trailhead Elevation 11,539 Feet
8.4 Miles Roundtrip
2,700 Feet Elevation Gained
April 10th, 2010
Greenhouseguy (Brian) and Derek
North Star Mountain
North Star Mountain is a bicentennial thirteener that lies on the Continental Divide about one mile south of Quandary Peak. Its steep slopes are pockmarked with mine shafts; a road accesses the Magnolia Mine and the Ling Mine on the south slopes. The Senator Mine was on the north side, as was the profitable Arctic Mine. The Arctic Mine had five shafts, an aerial tramway, and a stamping mill; it operated until 1936. A significant portion of the mountain is tied up with mining claims, but the Magnolia Mine is believed to be the only active claim at this time. There are no reports of anybody preventing hikers from crossing their claims, but it could always be possible in the future.
North Star Mountain (the long ridge in the foreground) with (left to right) Mt. Bross, Mt. Lincoln, Mt. Cameron, and Mt. Democrat in the background. Image taken from Quandary Peak on 11/1/09.
There are three distinct strategies for hiking North Star Mountain; the first route (Ling Rd. to southeast shoulder) is the shortest, but it passes under a slope that can potentially slide. The second route (Continental Divide from Hoosier Pass to the southeast shoulder) is virtually free from avalanche danger, but it crosses the Magnolia Mine's claim. The third (northeast shoulder) route is incorrectly believed to avoid private property issues, but is longer and steeper. Since the snowpack has not consolidated yet, Derek and I opted to go with the safest route on the Continental Divide.
Derek starting out on the snow-covered 4WD road. Our goal was to quickly gain the ridge in the background
North Star Mountain has a reputation for finicky weather, but it was relatively warm and calm when we started out. We started out with snowshoes, because we had no idea how firm the snow would be on the initial part of the route. The snow on the 4WD road was not very deep, but the flotation and the crampons proved to be useful when we reached the sledding/skiing hill after about 0.2 miles.
Derek at the base of the sledding/skiing hill
We took off our snowshoes when we gained the top of the wind-scoured ridge; they would be of little use for the next mile. We traveled on bare ground and patchy snow, and followed the Divide towards Pt. 12,214. Beyond Pt. 12,214, we could see the first false summit. Quandary Peak loomed large to the north, and North Star Mountain's true summit was visible in the impossibly-far distance.
Following the Divide towards Pt. 12,214. The northeast shoulder can be seen in the right of the image, and the southeast shoulder is on the left side. The first false summit is in the center of the image.
As we descended the west side of Pt. 12,214, we met a skier named Tim who was headed up to ski from the false summit. We crossed a mining road, and put on our snowshoes to start our ascent on the southeast shoulder. The snowshoes gave us a good grip on the solid snow, and we made surprisingly good progress on the steep slope.
Descending the north side of Pt. 12,214 towards the southeast shoulder
There appears to be a trail on the extreme left side of the southeast shoulder, but the lower part was almost entirely covered with snow. We gained about a thousand feet of elevation in slightly less than a mile on this shoulder.
Staying to the left on the southeast shoulder
Somewhere near the debris from the Centennial Tunnel Mine (12,690 feet), I stopped to take in the view of centennial thirteener Clinton Peak, McNamee Peak, and Traver Peak. The scenery in this part of the Mosquito Range is incredible. I could see the ridge of North Star Mountain stretching into the distance, but the true summit was not visible.
(left to right) Traver Peak, McNamee Peak, and Clinton Peak
The upper part of the southeast shoulder was much drier than the lower part. We kept our snowshoes on, but had to cross patches of bare ground. We could see that the trail bypassed the first false summit, so we made no effort to hit this high spot. The snow on the west side of the false summit was steeply angled, which put an uncomfortable amount of stress on our ankles as we traversed the slope. This false summit is shown as the true summit on USGS maps, but the highest point on the ridge is actually 1.3 miles to the north.
Following the trail on the nearly-dry upper southeast shoulder
Sidehilling around the first false summit
The true nature of the remainder of the hike became apparent when we gained the ridge on the far side of the first false summit. There were numerous bumps on the ridge, though none of them were very big. It was extremely narrow in some places, and there was breathtaking exposure on both sides. Derek took out his ice axe and wore his microspikes; I felt safe enough with snowshoes for traction and trekking poles for balance. The most interesting and challenging part of the hike was about to begin.
Derek getting ready to break out the ice axe and microspikes
Below the second false summit, we passed above the ruins of what I believe was the Ling Mine. A road once reached this mine, but sliding rocks are gradually healing this scar on the hillside.
Shaft houses, probably from the Ling Mine
The first quarter-mile of the ridge north of the second false summit was the most intimidating. The snow on the ridge was almost like a knife edge, and Derek noted that snow was rolling off of both sides of the mountain with each step. It would have been most unpleasant to fall in either direction.
Derek on a narrow part of the ridge
Looking back at Brian on the ridge (image by Derek)
Trudging 1.3 miles on this ridge was exhausting. The loss and gain of elevation was minimal, but it started to grind on us. We were fortunate that the weather was cooperating; high winds or poor visibility would have made this a miserable and potentially dangerous trek.
Derek starting to feel the burn
Derek topping out on one of the bumps on the ridge
I took the lead on the last part of the ridge; I was extremely motivated, because this peak has been on my to-do list for two or three years. We chugged over a seemingly endless series of bumps, but the summit never seemed to get much closer. It was living up to its billing as a strenuous excursion.
Brian hoping that this is the last bump before reaching the summit (image by Derek)
Fortunately, the finish was not dramatic. It was relatively level with minimal exposure. Derek was bonking, but he was still close enough that I could hear his boots crunching the ice behind me.
Heading for the finish line
A cairn marked the summit at 13,614 feet, but I didn't see a benchmark or a summit register. Actually, I was so tired that I didn't even look. Clouds moved in, and a few snowflakes fell. It was obviously snowing on all of the surrounding fourteeners, but the flurry only lasted for a few minutes.
An exuberant Greenhouseguy on the summit
Derek taking five on the summit
We could see at least five fourteeners (Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, Bross, and Quandary) and five centennial thirteeners (Clinton, Fletcher, Atlantic, Pacific, and Crystal) from the summit. Visibility was limited when the clouds moved in, but this was inconsequential because we had enjoyed outstanding scenery all day.
(left to right) Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Cameron
This was not a good day to lounge around on the summit. With increasing wind, cold, and snow, we took the requisite pictures and hightailed it back towards the car. I'm not sure that "hightailing it" describes our speed very well, but we did our level best to get back to lower ground. There was still plenty of elevation to gain and lose on the return trip.
Derek attacking one of the steeper bumps on the ridge
Brian topping out on the same bump, with the summit in the background
The route passes perilously close to a cornice…
Tracks getting uncomfortably close to a cornice on the ridge
…that could potentially dump a hiker in a couloir that leads all the way down to Blue Lakes. Fortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of rocks in the couloir to break one's fall.
Couloir that leads directly down to Blue Lakes
The narrow sections of the ridge seemed pretty trivial on the way back; it doesn't take long to get used to the exposure. Topics such as sore feet, anoxia, and hunger dominated the conversation on the way back.
Derek heading back down the southeast shoulder. The large mountain in the background is Mt. Silverheels.
Other than a few skiers, the only wild animal that we saw was a rock ptarmigan. It was nearly invisible in its winter plumage.
Rock ptarmigan in winter plumage
Derek caught one decent glissade on the way back, but his glissade on the sledding hill fizzled due to soft snow that had been trampled by numerous skiers and snowshoers. Back at the trailhead, several out-of-state tourists were posing for pictures by the Hoosier Pass sign. We stowed our gear, got into more comfortable shoes, and collapsed from the exertion. This was a challenging route with exceptional scenery; I highly recommend it as a spring snow hike.
Derek's Garmin GPS track superimposed on a Google Earth image. The blue line in the upper right side of the image shows the route that we took on Quandary Peak on 11/1/09.
After the hike, we made the short trip into Fairplay to attend the 14ers.com Spring Gathering; pizza had never tasted that good. At one point, I counted more than 25 14ers.com members inside the Pizza Hut. Most of the people seemed pretty pleased with their efforts at the gathering on Mt. Sherman, Mt. Sheridan, and Horseshoe Mountain. I can't think of a better way to finish a great day in the mountains.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):