| James via Shooting Star
James Pk (13294’)
Via Shooting Star Couloir
8 miles RT, 3500’ gain
From Kingston Pk Rd (10900’)
June 2, 2012
Participants: Dominic & Sarah Meiser, Dwight Sunwall, Kevin Baker
Spring is fading quick, and a dry winter has left the snow climbs with less than desirable conditions. Despite the conditions, I somehow had some decent snow climbs this spring. Sarah is interested in taking a shot at Shooting Star on James and I bite. Dwight joins us and it’s the first time us four have hiked together since Byers Peak in Dec! We all drive out separately to the “trailhead”, which is the highest we can drive on the Kingston Peak Road on the northeast side of James. This approach works out very well if you hit it late in the spring, but typically you would come nearly as close to the trailhead as we did. We were able to make it all the way up to 10900’, just 1.5 miles from the trailhead. A typical snow year would mean a much longer approach, so St Mary’s Glacier is usually the shortest approach.
This would be the at least the 2nd visit on James for all of us except for Dominic. James was one of the first 13ers I climbed with my cousin Jeremy way back in 2003 in a snowstorm. Now I get to see what it’s like via a sweet snow climb on a bluebird morning! We all arrived fairly late and got just a few hours of sleep under a full moon and set off at 4am. Blasted east facing snow makes for little time to sleep! We find it rather odd that there are some folks out 4 wheeling past 10pm! One guys rams his way up the big snow drift that stops us.
The morning is very warm and we are worried the snow hasn’t setup well. They call this snow climb Shooting Star because rockfall is very common on it since it gets sunhit right around sunrise. Roach claims one section of it can be icy and up to 60 degrees, so we bring pickets and harnesses in case it’s hard snow. The road walk to the trail just below Kingston Peak goes quick as it’s mostly dry beyond the drift that stopped us.
We leave the road at 11500’ and drop down the James Peak Lake trail to the lake. We’re treated with some nice sunrise views.
Shooting Star is mostly hidden from view until you get above the lower apron. The snow is firm enough to put our crampons on just above the lake. A couple old wetslides are evidence that this is no climb to be on late!
Alpenglow on James east face
The lower apron:
We have to cross a couple of annoying sections of talus with our crampons on, but we make good time and are at the upper apron before 7am. The sun has already lit up the entire couloir and Sarah is the first to kick steps and is the “starting pitcher”. She probably labors the most out of all of us as the snow is very soft. We skirt around a small bergschrund at the beginning of the couloir and are hopeful conditions improve higher up when the couloir constricts.
She breaks until the couloir makes a dogleg to the left and I take over for awhile. Here it steepens to probably upper 40’s, but the snow is soft enough to kick good steps that I still feel comfortable without the second tool.
Photo by Sarah Meiser
We do see evidence of a lot of rockfall in the snow and decide to hug the walls on the right side. We do see a few small ones come down, one of which hits Dwight in the shin, but most of them are moving pretty slow. It’s best to get off this line very early!
Avy debris on the apron:
I make it up to about 13K, and Dominic is the “closer” and makes the final pitch to the top.
The lack of snow this year has probably made this climb not as steep as normal as I’m not even sure it got to 50 degrees until the very top (we didn’t measure), although soft snow makes things seem mellower.
Husband and wife taking care of business:
Yours truly about to top out. Photo by Sarah Meiser
Dwight tops out
The good thing about this climb is it tops out not very far from the summit and we’re on top by 8:20am. We take a long summit break and enjoy the bluebird weather, which doesn’t last long as clouds build pretty quickly on the descent. We descend the northeast ridge and circle back to James Peak Lake on snowfields and talus.
Shooting Star at upper right:
You could also just descend the standard route to Kingston Peak and connect to the road there. We climb back up the trail for 400’ or so to the road and it starts to rain lightly on the way out. We’re down by 11:20 and here there’s a lot of nasty weather in the afternoon, so glad we got an early start on a classic snow climb!
James on the way out:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):