| Democrat North Ridge *Classic*
This route was given the *classic* status according to Gerry Roach. The north ridge of Mt. Democrat has been on my to-do list for quite awhile and it's a fun class 3 ridge scramble that puts you in total isolation on this popular 14er (until you reach the summit) even on a Saturday in early August.
The drive back to the Montgomery Reservoir TH is quick and easy. Check out the 14ers.com route description for the Mt. Lincoln Amphitheater for directions to the trail head. The Montgomery Reservoir is currently a construction site but you can still take the upper road and go around and behind the reservoir to the TH.
After parking, hike the very rough 4WD road 2.4 miles west towards Mt. Democrat and Traver Peak. You will pass through an old mining structure soon after starting your hike. There is also a ton of running and pooled water in the road that will force you into the willows if you want to bypass it. You will eventually arrive at a trail split after crossing or bypassing a segment of the road that is turned into a creek by a waterfall descending from Wheeler Lake. Look and find a way to cross or bypass this creek. There are various options but it will take some work to stay dry.
The view from the other side of the creek and waterfall. This photo was taken at the trail split and looks back on the main 4WD road.
From the trail split, follow the fainter 4WD road southwest through the willows and wildflowers. Mt. Democrat's north face towers over this valley. The top of Pt. 13,460 is barely visible as you can see just the top of it peering above the ridge.
The road ends at this point. You will see a small creek running down the hill. Cross the creek and make your own route up and across this grassy slope. Pt. 13,460 is now hidden by the ridge.
As you continue southwest up this grassy slope, you will quickly find a bigger creek/drainage, which is seen in the photo below. At this point, I decided to find a way to cross this creek and continued straight towards the start of a subsidiary ridge running northeast from Pt. 13,460. This was a different route alternative from the Roach guidance to continue climbing up into the small basin southeast of Traver Peak. The climb up to the top of the ridge was easy on the grassy ledges.
The view looking back from the start of Pt. 13,460's northeast ridge.
Keep climbing up and you will eventually get a good view of Pt. 13,460. Staying on the ridge offers great views of the north face of Mt. Democrat, the valley below and Traver Peak. You will have to drop below the ridge a few times to avoid some notches. The terrain is grassy and talus filled but it's easy to traverse. The final push near the top of 13,460 gets steeper but it's still class 2 climbing.
Goats on the ridge.
Looking north at Traver Peak and the small basin below it.
Looking back down the northeast ridge of Pt. 13,460
You get a great view of the remaining ridge scramble from the top of Pt. 13,460. The initial north ridge traverse is easy but it starts to narrow as it approaches a difficult set of notches.
Pick a way to scramble down into the first notch. The easiest route down would be to drop off the ridge early on its west side. The ridge gets narrower, the exposure gets bigger and the down climb options get tougher, as you traverse further out to where the ridge drops off into the first notch. The photo below shows the first two notches which are separated by a "shark fin" tower.
Looking back at where the ridge drops off into the first notch.
From the base of the first notch, climb up towards and to the west (right) of the "shark fin" tower. I took what felt to be a class 4 route to the top of the "shark fin" tower. There is an easier class 3 alternative just a few feet to the right (west). You also do not need to climb to the top of the "shark fin" tower but it was rewarding to get on top of this ridge point.
The view of the remaining north ridge scramble from the top of the "shark fin" tower.
The climb down into the next notch is short and steep but the rock is stable. You can also see the "bridge stone" that is used to cross over the base of the second notch.
From the base of the second notch, you will see another rock tower and chockstone blocking the ridge. Skirt around these ridge obstacles to the southwest (right).
At this point you need to decide if you want to climb back up to the ridge or traverse just below the north ridge and eventually climb back up via a gully. The ridge proper is a fun way to go, so I definitely recommend scrambling back up to the top of the ridge after bypassing the chockstone. The photo below shows the 2 options.
Looking back across the notches after regaining the north ridge.
The scrambling after the notches is fun as you continue on the ridge proper up to the summit of Mt. Democrat.
The ridge gets narrow with exposure in a few spots but the scrambling is still fun and easy and the rock is solid.
Looking back down the north ridge. Highway 91 / Fremont Pass can be seen on the left side of the photo. There is another TH and Mt. Democrat route alternative from Fremont Pass.
The ridge scrambling continues as you near the top of the north couloir where you will also see the remnants of an old mine.
The top of the north couloir and the old mine at elevation 13,700 feet. The *classic* ridge scramble ends at this point and the rock is rotten and loose as you hike past this area.
A trail appears once you're above the mine and it stays below the north ridge to the west. However, you have the fun option to climb back up the ridge where you will find better rock again and some more scrambling all the way to the summit. It's mostly class 2 hiking punctuated with some class 3 climbing sections. The rock is not as solid as the ridge below the mine but it is still fun to hike/scramble.
Continue up the north ridge as you near the summit. You can see the crowds are building on the summit of Mt. Democrat in the photo below. Scramble straight up and over all of the rock obstacles and stay on the ridge proper.
Getting closer to the summit. Again, scramble straight up and over all of the rock obstacles and stay on the ridge proper.
The last bit of ridge scrambling before the summit. A rock wall blocks the ridge but it was not difficult to find a way to climb up and stay on the ridge. The summit is just a short distance after climbing above this rock wall.
Here they come. The isolation is over. Welcome to the DeCaLiBron 14er circuit.
A parting view of Democrat's north ridge from the saddle of Cameron and Democrat. That's Mt. of the Holy Cross in the background.
There are multiple options for your descent:
(1) Take the Democrat north ridge back down.
(2) Descend the north scree slope down from the saddle of Mt. Democrat and Cameron and make your way across the valley and back to the 4WD road.
(3) Take the Lincoln amphitheater route back down to Montgomery Reservoir. The Lincoln Amphitheater route was a challenging descent. It was by far the toughest class 2 descent I've done on a 14er. It starts with an easy exit from the crowds by making an eastern descent off the summit of Mt. Lincoln, then you encounter tons of loose rock on steep terrain near a waterfall, then you make your way through rivers of talus (think Pyramid Amphitheater), and then it finally makes a dramatic finish as the route takes a steep plunge down the side of a beautiful waterfall. I really enjoyed the route finding challenge on this descent and the lower part on the waterfall was fun, scenic and challenging. Be careful and do some research if you chose to descend via the Lincoln Amphitheater because the class 2 rating is deceiving.
According to Roach, the north ridge route is 10.2 miles RT and 3,228 feet of total gain based on a return descent of the north ridge. These stats do not include any variation of adding the CaLiBron.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):