Peak(s):  North Star Mtn  -  13,614 feet
Wheeler Mtn  -  13,690 feet
Date Posted:  08/14/2018
Date Climbed:   08/11/2018
Author:  E_A_Marcus_949
Additional Members:   TwoMeterTrophy
 North Star to Wheeler Traverse  

North Star - Ascend via Southeast Shoulder (Class 2)
Traverse over to Wheeler (Class 3-4)
Wheeler - Descend via South Ridge (Class 3)

Mid-August appears to be the scramble time-frame - two years ago it was Fools Peak, last year the East ridge of Pacific, and this year the traverse between North Star Mountain and Wheeler Mountain. That's not to say I don't intersperse other harder routes in the mix, but this time period seems to be the spiciest of all.

The short version:
- 1:45am leave Denver to get to Montgomery Res TH
- 3:45am - Meet up with Trevor to set-up a shuttle for our cars - Leave mine at Montgomery Reservoir for the end of the day and drive in Trevor's to Hoosier Pass - up the 4WD road
- 4:00am - Enjoy the pitch-black to stargaze during the Perseid meteor shower - lots of shooting stars and view of the Milky Way
- 4:20am - Start up North Star Mountain - straight-forward, long ridge
- 6:30am - Summit North Star Mountain - We stopped to take numerous photos of the sunrise. This took additional time.
- 7:00am - Leave NSM and start traverse to Wheeler - not straight-forward. Took our safe, sweet time on this traverse.
- 9:45am - Summit Wheeler Mountain
- 10:30am - Start descent of Wheeler Mountain
- 12:10pm - Arrive at Wheeler Lakes (and see the first people of the day - all the Jeepers)
- 1:30pm - Make it back to my car and drive us back to Hoosier Pass to complete the shuttle loop

According to Gaia - ~9mi RT

And now for the long version:

When deciding between Mt. Arkansas and the North Star - Wheeler (NS-W) traverse, we decided why not just scramble. It's going to be a gorgeous day, and nobody will be out there. Plus, if we were feeling ambitious, we could start extra early for a double-whammy sunrise summit + meteor shower viewing. Totally worth the 1am wake-up call.... Only when my 5-Hour Energy kicks in.

We were right on schedule starting at 4:20 in the morning from near the top of the 4WD Hoosier Pass road - we parked about a mile below the mine lot and walked on up. We took longer on this route due to: (1) Meteor shower, (2) Sunrise colors, (3) All the photos! To me, all of this is worth taking the extra time.

18898_02
Sunrise from the ridge heading up to North Star
18898_01
Similar location to sunrise photo above - Looking towards North Star summit (Trevor's photo)

It was also a long ridge. Not challenging... Just long. If you've done the South Ridge of San Luis(Creede side), you understand long ridges. This is similar. Embrace the ridge. It'll most likely just be you out there - so you can see the headlamps of the folks on Lincoln, Democrat, and Quandary - while you're enjoying the peaceful bliss of solitude. Pretty soon you'll be on the summit - there are a lot of bumps to go over though. And I don't know if I downloaded the wrong GPX file from the .com or what, but it listed North Star Mountain far earlier than the actual summit was. Just keep heading towards the highest bump - there's a large cairn on the top. Can't be missed.

We didn't see a summit register, but we did see an ant train of folks on Quandary and specs on the De and Li parts of the DeCaLiBron loop. I thoroughly enjoyed my half of my PB&J sandwich and goldfish crackers in the silence of early morning - the sun was rising and the wind was nonexistent - what more could you want on a summit?

And then it was time to say good-bye to the peaceful summit, put on our helmets, and start the traverse.
Yes, the traverse is less than a mile. Yes, the traverse has class 3-4 moves. Yes, I am not as savvy on these routes as some of the other folks on this forum - but I'm learning. And this could be why it took us ~2.5 hours. We also took a lot of pictures (notice a theme?). It could also be that we were being extraordinarily careful because sometimes routes call for that. And that's ok. The skies were clear. The wind nonexistent. And we had no where to be but the summit. It's ok to take your time.

And when there's only a couple of trip reports and information about the route from the last 15 years, you gotta take your time to figure out where you're going. Seriously, the "newest" information I found on this route was from 2005, 2006, and 2011. Hopefully this report will provide some useful information!

And now for details and photos galore for the traverse!
From what we gathered, it's less than a mile between the two mountains. The few reports we read, people did it anywhere from 90 minutes to over two hours. We were in the "over two hours" group. And, like I said earlier, I'm a-ok with that. It was a new challenge with little beta to go off of.

It's fairly straightforward when you first drop off North Star.

18898_06
Starting the descent off North Star

Pretty soon after the drop, at the bottom of the saddle, you'll come to the first of two crux towers on the route. It looks intimidating on the approach, but theres a ledge that traverses underneath the south (left) side and provides class 3 access. See below two photos of me. Trevor ended up being the guinea pig the whole way - he went first, I followed a safe distance back.

18898_05
Traversing across (Trevor's photo)


18898_07
Still going (Trevor's photo)


18898_13
Finding rock ledges and heading towards the loose dirt "mini gully" into the middle to then head back up to the notch (where the sun/shade meet)

You'll know that you're on the right track when you see a notch with a hole in the rocks at the top. Trevor is quite a bit taller than me, and he went up and to the right of this rock hole. There may have been a way for me to get up there, and I certainly tried, but going through the rock hole seemed preferable - it was clear on the other side with no cliffing-out, so i went for it. This section is easy to find - we could even see it from the down-climb of Wheeler - there's a square rock perched precariously up there that's easy to spot right next to the hole - no worries of it toppling over! So maybe not precariously but certainly perched.

18898_14
Trevor up-climbing this section. No issues getting to this point, but up to the right of his head (to the right of the rock window), it was a larger step/climb than I was comfortable with - hence why i opted to go through the window instead.


18898_15
On the other side of the rock window I came through.

After this, you'll head to the other side of the ridge (climber's right) - Quandary/Fletcher side if you will. The entire route was on the south side of the ridge except for this one section. You'll go around a corner (first pic below) and then need to go up a gully (second pic). This area was the loosest rock we came across - and most of it was sturdy. Test your hand and footholds well here, though, as I almost used a foothold that moved and almost gave way - I immediately stepped off and found more solid rock.

18898_17
Up and around - you can see the rock gully off to the top right of the photo above the yellow flowers.
18898_18
Looking up at the rock gully section. With the loose-ness of this section, it may have been one of the longer ones for me time-wise. Luckily I have a patient climbing partner that sat at the top of it and waited for me.

After this you'll come to your next obstacle, the second crux tower - We think this starts the class 4 section. If this doesn't seem class 4 or you've been on this traverse and think otherwise or have words of wisdom for what this next section is, feel free to let me know. I am by no means an expert and don't pretend to be! However, my reasoning for class 4 on these next two sections: more serious climbing, the vertical aspect, exposure, drop-offs, and danger potential if a fall occurs.

Ok back to it - once you top out of this rock gully, you'll be facing Lincoln and Democrat - turn right. You'll see a fun rock wall with lots of solid foot and hand-holds. This section was actually pretty fun!

18898_21
Trevor near the top of this "rock wall" section - it's not a 90-degree vertical wall but it's only slightly angled. I'm waiting at the bottom trying to play photographer while TwoMeterTrophy makes his way up.
18898_10
Trevor looking down at the top of the class 4 section while I start my way up. You can see to the left with the small rocks/dirt where we came up. (Trevor's photo)

I'll take a break right here to clarify that we are not trying to skew these photos or make them look more exposed, steep, or rigid than it was. If I'm taking a picture looking up, I am holding the camera in front of me - I am not on the ground angling up, trying to make it look steeper. Trevor, from above, is not trying to make the angle look more severe than it is.

We did our research. We studied the few photos we could find. We reviewed any write-ups we could find. The next section someone described as (paraphrasing here): You can keep going up and then do some easy class 5 down-climb with less exposure on the back side of the tower, or you can go to climber's left (Democrat/Lincoln side) and do a class 4 slab down-climb with more exposure. We opted for the latter.

The slab is easy to find - a drop to the left will force you in the right direction. Looking down from above it doesn't appear that there's any way off of the slab, but once you climb down to the edge you will find a class 4 chimney (3-4 moves) that gets you down.

18898_12
There were some ledges on the slab for hand and footholds, but it still required some concentration. And yes, butt scootin'. (Trevor's photo)

Whether it would've been smarter to have faced the slab and backed down or continued butt-scooting down, I don't know. My way worked out ok. If you can see the notch in the slab bottom left corner here (angle left down from me) you'll see an inlet in the slab (chimney mentioned above). You'll need to aim for this and then make your way down. I dropped my pack so I could more easily get down this section without my pack pushing me forward out to thin air. Take your time here, it's not too bad, but if, like me, you're not used to this, just take an extra minute.

Next, you'll have to go around climber's left (Dem/Lincoln side) of another obstacle - and it's the last major obstacle before an easy jaunt over to the summit! Score! But before you get too excited, my short legs caused some need for creativity on this section. Mostly I had to look like I was holding on for dear-life when trying to reach a solid rock with my left foot rather than relying on loose dirt.

18898_19
Climbing on some solid rock to get around a bend. (Trevor's photo)


18898_20
The next move from the previous picture. I had just moved onto the small solid rock from where the previous photo was taken. As you can see from my arms, I still look like I'm holding on for dear life - short legs = longer reach for the foothold. (Trevor's photo)

You're just about there! Keep going. The Wheeler summit is finally closer! You're so close! Just a quick jaunt over and around. Quick class 3 section on the standard route of Wheeler (similar to photo 17 of the route description). I'm not sure if we followed that route exactly, but we made it up. There are a few "summits". My preference was for one with a big ol' flat rock to perch on. I could put my feet up, rest, eat some gold-fish, an orange and a pink starburst (thanks Trevor!), and take lots and lots of photos. The sky was still perfectly blue with only whisps of clouds far away, so we took a nice long break on the summit. The Gores, Front Range, Mosquito, and Elks were all visible.


18898_25
Trevor traversing over to the "true" summit of Wheeler on some more class 3 terrain. Trevor did say the register has a pen but no paper - if you're going up to Wheeler anytime soon, please bring some paper for the log!


18898_23
Summit view - Quandary West ridge and summit to the left with North Star and traverse right of center.

After a relaxing 45-minutes on the summit, we decided it was time to head down. By this point we had been above 13k feet for a few hours, and I could tell. I took the route down slow and easy. You have no idea how much I was looking forward to flat ground though. And in this instance flat ground = class 2 or lower.

18898_24
Leaving the summit of Wheeler (Trevor's photo)


18898_28
Some more of the class 3 standard-route down Wheeler.

And just like that we were at the saddle and able to start going down the face of the route. We were just going about our standard "it's a 13er, pick your own adventure" route but then we saw a trail! Woohoo! This was a fantastic surprise. We then looked up to the left to see where we came from. I remember hiking up to Wheeler Lake to climb Traver in the past and seeing this ridge thinking "now way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks will I ever climb that"... and here we are - successful traverse: check! I guess never say never...

18898_26
Partway down Wheeler and looking at the ridge connecting NS-W. The first crux tower can be seen on the far left.

Make sure you have perfect weather if you're going for this. We knew we wanted a perfect weather day, and it cooperated. Once you start, you are committed. There is no way to drop off this ridge safely if weather moves in. Just look at those cliffs!

18898_27
Close-up of Tower 1 (Trevor's photo)

If you're anything like us, you'll be tired by this point. And just want to get back to the car. And very grateful for the early morning (middle of the night) shuttle set-up you did. Because who wants to bushwhack up back to Hoosier Pass to get to your car? Nobody. That's who. But you still have to make it to upper Wheeler Lake. Then Wheeler Lake. Then to the mine. Then to the reservoir to your car.

18898_30
Upper lake looking back up at the day's adventure.

And if you're still thinking you're anything like us, you enjoyed the complete and utter solitude on this route - nobody on North Star. Nobody on the traverse. Nobody on Wheeler. Probably hundreds on Quandary and the DeCaLiBron loop. I liked this. That's not to take a jab at those mountains - I've climbed them, I love them. It's just a different experience entirely. However, we could see the jeeps making their way up to Wheeler lake, setting up fishing spots, the smell of gasoline, and more. And this is what you have to look forward to!

And even better - now you have the most miserable 3+ mile trek down the "road" to Montgomery mine/reservoir. What an awful time. We were so beat. I could only move so fast. If I stopped, it would've been rough to try to start again. My feet hurt; my legs hurt; my back hurt; my head was even hurting. And it was hot. Did I put enough sunscreen on? (Answer: yes - apart from forgetting about the 30 SPF lipbalm in my pocket - burned lips = no fun). We left Wheeler lake a little after noon. Maybe some Jeeper would take pity on us and give us a ride. Nope. Onward we walk. This is not a road - this is a pile of rocks. This has a lot of water and streams running through it. This has no sun cover. It's getting hotter. Keep moving! Make it to the trees. Make it to the mine. Make it to the car! You've done it!

Ok almost finished - time for the quick drive back to Hoosier Pass, up the 4WD road, complete the shuttle service and end up back where you started at 4:20am. Whew! What a day. While I wasn't looking forward to the drive home to Denver, at least I remembered to pack an ice-pack and Lime LaCroix in the car at 1:45am. Between that, the AC, sitting down - and mostly feeling quite accomplished for what we had done that day - I was ready to go home, get a big bowl of veggie Illegal Pete's, and crash.

From starting out on North Star, which most people would only use for a winter climb, to pushing ourselves in some new terrain, and to scrambling for a few hours - it was an incredible day. For anyone wanting to do this traverse/ridge connecting these two mountains, hopefully this report provided some useful information.


My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 5 6 7 10 12 13 14 15 17 18 19 20 21 23 24 25 26 27 28 30


 Comments or Questions
djkest

Great
08/14/2018 08:47
Great Trip report! This looks fun and challenging!


Matt

This is a Great Traverse
08/14/2018 09:03
That doesn't get much hype. Cooper even took it out of his book. That's a shame.
We went Wheeler-N Star and I don't remember or care how long it took. It was a blast!
If you have two cars, the bonus for that direction is stashing a vehicle up the road from Hoosier Pass so there isn't a long walk back to the car.
Either way, it's a solid day. Nice work!


glenmiz

Might have to try this...
08/15/2018 08:13
Thanks for the report and photos.


quaternion
A picture is worth a thousand words...
08/20/2018 18:06
Nice trip report. Interesting to see the difference between a 2018 trip report and a 2003 trip report:
http://www.climber.org/reports/2003/1132.html


guangxiren

GPX file
09/18/2018 14:17
Hi, there

Do you still have the GPX file available? If yes, could you please send a copy to my email: guangxiren@gmail.com.

Thanks,

-Z


E_A_Marcus_949

GPX File
09/18/2018 14:41
Hi guangxiren - You should be able to download it from the trip report itself once you view the google map. If this doesn't work, happy to email.


ltlFish99
Excellent report
09/13/2020 23:50
That was a great report, with wonderful photographs. Looks like a beautiful day, in a great place.



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