Peak(s):  North Star Mountain  -  13,614 feet
Wheeler Mountain  -  13,690 feet
"Drift Peak"  -  13,900 feet
Fletcher Mountain  -  13,951 feet
Date Posted:  09/15/2022
Date Climbed:   09/11/2022
Author:  pgres
 Blue Lakes Traverse   

Blue Lakes Basin Linkup

Featuring:
Sleepy, Gimpy, and Pathologically Optimistic (@altitoots)

Prelude:
The first time I tried this route, I freely admit I was in over my head. I'd completed something to the tune 25 14ers, including some more off-trail 13er ridge traverses (10-Mile traverse the week before) and realized just how much I enjoyed the more secluded ridgelines. The minimal beta just added to the adventure and feeling of independence in the mountains. Feeling confident when I didn't really have a reason to be, I ended up inviting two strong climbers to join me on the endeavor. Ultimately, this ridge provided a humbling experience. Thankfully nothing bad happened and we completed the ridge, but I was way over my head when it came to having the appropriate route finding and scrambling skills for the more technical sections, which ultimately put my partners in a bad spot as well. We ended up traversing under the majority of the ridge on the West side, which, while less technically difficult, put us in some steep, loose terrain that was far from ideal. I thought about writing a trip report at the time, but ultimately didn't want anyone following our line because it was that bad of an experience.

Fast forward a few years and I've been slowly and more sustainably taking on progressively harder ridgelines (both in duration and technical rating) and felt like it was time to give the Wheeler-Drift ridge another go. Beta is still minimal, but I'd heard that there was a more solid line near the top of the ridge in the towers that would make the ridge both safer and significantly more fun. That turned out to be true. The ridge crest consistently delivers challenging, but fun 4th and (infrequently) 5.low climbing opportunities. Staying ridge proper the entire time would require a rope for rappelling and mid-5th class climbs, but those areas are typically on small towers that are easy to bypass (as a general rule) by descending down and to the left. The rock quality is generally great, though anyone attempting this ridge should still be mindful of the occasional loose hand/foot hold. Another thing to be mindful of is that this is NOT a ridge to do when wet. Due to the lack of traffic, the rocks have a fairly thick coating of lichen. When wet, this ridge feels like a slip-n-slide. We actually bailed during our second attempt down the first gully we encountered a few weeks prior because the rock was wet from rain the night before. In the right conditions though, this ridge is an exciting, challenging romp on quality rock. To quote gimpy, this ridge is on-par with the classic 14er traverses. We ran out of time on this outing, but we will back to complete the cirque in a single outing by finishing with an ascent of Quandary's West Ridge.

Part of the challenge of writing a trip reports on routes like this is finding the balance between too little and too much beta. I've tried my best to walk that line by identifying the major cruxes, but leaving some mystery to the rest of the ridge. Happy scrambling!

Route Overview:
We set up a car shuttle between Hoosier Pass and Blue Lakes. From Hoosier pass, take the standard route to the summit of (Class 2) North Star and follow the ridge to Wheeler, Drift, Fletcher, and on to Quandary! The ridge to wheeler from the saddle (Class 4) contains some of the more convoluted route finding. It may not be the main event, but don't underestimate it! Wheeler to Drift contains the most sustained scrambling (Class 4 / Low 5th) of the route. Drift to Fletcher has a Class 5.5 climb out of a notch (technical crux), but the remaining ridge to Fletcher is pretty chill Class 2/3.

Route Information (Less Quandary):
Mileage: Approximately 11.5 miles
Elevation: Approximately 6000'
Class: Class 5.5 (Mostly Class 4)
Time to Complete: 13 Hours, 24 Minutes - Ridge from Wheeler to Drift took 4 Hours and 40 Minutes

Exposure: Extreme
Rockfall: High
Route-Finding: Extreme
Commitment: Very High

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Route Summary with Major Obstacles from North Star Summit (or shortly thereafter)

Hoosier Pass to North Star
Chill class 2... the crux is not falling in the occasional partially-filled mine shaft on the way. Most of the trail up is on an old mining road, but look out for a cairn that marks a split onto the ridge while the road continues traversing the South slope.

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Nice Sunrise
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Some cool morning light on Quandary's East Ridge

North Star to Wheeler

This section of the ridge contains what I would consider to be the most convoluted route finding of the day. I've tried to take a more direct route to the summit 3 times now, and each time I've had to back off the ridge due to consequential 5th class terrain or terrain that was just too fragile/loose to safely traverse. Near the saddle, drop below the ridge and traverse below the cliffs for a short time. Ascend back to or near the ridge proper once a dirt gully presents itself. Follow a series dirt/talus-filled gullies. The ridge proper goes in some sections, but doesn't in others. Eventually (we've ended up in the same spot all 3 times), you'll reach a notch in the ridge with a steep slab. You can climb the crack up the slab, or work around to the left to find some easier Class 3 Terrain. Once at the top of the crack, follow the ridge proper to a catwalk that will plop you on some chill terrain below a headwall. In the center of the headwall is some gray (sometimes loose) conglomeration of boulders that can be climbed at about Class 4. You can also climb some tan granite blocks that make up the summit ridge (South to North), but these were more exposed and holds weren't as readily available. There's 3 "summits", but the summit register will be on the first high point you reach (SE). We tagged the other 2 high points for funsies.

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Traversing below cliffs at the saddle
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Regaining Ridge Proper
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Following some chill Class 2 Terrain when Needed
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Back on ridge proper
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Still ridge proper
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The notch and steep slab - getting down to this spot from the ridge proper was tricky. Easier Class 3 Terrain around and to the right.
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After climbing the crack - fun to stay on ridge proper. Notch is below and to the left.
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Great scrambling on this portion
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Scrambling up the gray rock headwall (it's not as easy as it looks from a distance)
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SE Summit of Wheeler

Wheeler to Drift

This section contains the most sustained scrambling of the day. There's usually a route that stays ridge proper, though there are some notable exceptions. The first is shortly after beginning your descent from Wheeler. Descend down a gully to the left of the ridge. This gully will terminate in a slab with some low-5th friction moves or a lower angle dihedral with no holds to descend roughly 10 feet. After this gully, traverse below the difficulty and back up to ridge proper. The ridge is fairly easy from here until you hit some notches right before Tower 1. All of the Towers are climbable, but become increasingly difficult/exposed as the traverse goes on. The section between Towers 1 and 2 is the most technically involved portion of the ridge with lots of route finding required. Either ascend/descend the gendarmes when able or contour below and to the left. I don't remember climbing anything that we weren't able to downclimb. The section of smaller gendarmes before Tower 2 was the most exposed and tricky to navigate staying up near ridge proper. The climb to the top of Tower 2 was fun Class 3 scrambling with minimal exposure on solid rock. After a bit of meandering on the ridge, you'll encounter a cliff. Descend down the West Rib along this cliff face until you find a weakness in the rock that will allow you to descend a steep face on solid, black rock (potentially easier route lower down). We ended up doing a Class 4 / Low 5th downclimb into the notch where the white rock feature is. Traverse below the pointy white rock and climb Tower 3. The route follows a series of chimneys or dihedrals just to the right of center (Class 4) with pretty hefty exposure over the East Face. At the top of tower 3, the terrain easies. It appears to cliff out based on the route overview photo, but there's an easy Class 2/3 route that keeps you on or near ridge proper. Follow this terrain to the summit of Drift Peak.

A note about the photos... I think the descriptions are accurate, but there's so many towers and gendarmes that it's hard to keep track... I tried my best to link the photos to their location on the ridge.

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Looking down the gully - the low 5th slab is where the grass terminates. It's short and not super exposed.
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Got a long way to go
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Not sure what I'm doing here... pretending to be a bird?
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fun climbing on solid rock - pretty sure these are the "small" gendarmes after Tower 1
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More fun climbing
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More fun gendarmes
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Descending to the saddle between Towers 1 and 2
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Climbing up out of the saddle (fun Class 3)
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Looking back at descent into the saddle
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Looking down at the climb out
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Looking towards Tower 2 and "The Saw"
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Tricky Downclimb to some mellow terrain just before The Saw
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Looking back at the downclimb
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Nice reprieve before The Saw
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Starting into The Saw
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A mess of gendarmes before Tower 2 (The Saw)
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A different angle
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Almost to Tower 2
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Eventually drop down around a cliff to re-gain the ridge via this gully and ascend to the top of Tower 2
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Bomber rock
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Almost on Tower 2!
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Coming down off Tower 2 - First Step
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Mini-climb that's fun, but contrived as you're about to hit the crux downclimb
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Crux Downclimb (second step leading to the white pointy rock)
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Climbing up Tower 3 (initially difficult)
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Another view of Tower 3 Climb
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After the summit of Tower 3, terrain mellows until the summit of Drift
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Summit of Drift with delicious snackums

Drift to Fletcher
The route form Drift to Fletcher is well documented asp art of the Mayflower Cirque traverse, so I won't get into too much detail here. The terrain is pretty chill Class 2/3 with the exception of the prominent notch in the ridge. This notch necessitates a Class 4 downclimb and subsequent climb up a 5.5 face OR a workaround to the left where you can ascend a steep dirt gully and traverse a highly exposed ledge system. Having done both, I recommend the 5.5 climb on bomber rock. After the notch, the terrain is class 3 for a bit until the saddle and then class 2 to the summit of Fletcher.

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The 5.5 Section. The black steps require some high feet, then follow the line of white rock that cuts diagonally across the face, which has great holds
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Some pictures of the climb out
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Caption Here
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Looking back at the ridge
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The summit of Fletcher!

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




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
51 52 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101


Comments or Questions
daway8
User
Sweet!
09/16/2022 08:52
Looks like some sweet ridge climbs - I may have to go back to try this variant some day!

FYI, for Drift-Fletcher there is a ledge with just a move or two of 5.2 and everything else being class 3 - in your first photo of that section the climbers right knee is at the start of the ledge and you can see a pointy cairn at the top of the ledge on the right edge of that photo (but sounds like you had fun with your own variant).

Also, North Star to Wheeler can be done at class 3 (some say class 4) without needing to drop down into the junk below the ridge. I did a writeup on it - it's probably what you consider too much beta but if you go back and don't want to struggle as much with route finding you can check out my TR here and the others linked in it at https://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=20693&cpgm=tripmine
But, yeah, I often enjoy intentionally not doing the easiest route if I see a solid line that looks more fun - that's why I may consider revisiting this region at some point to get some extra spice!


pgres
Lots of Variation!
09/16/2022 10:10
For the Drift-Fletcher ledge, we saw the cairn and ledge system that looked like it would go at an easier grade, but ultimately sided with the direct approach because it seemed to have less exposure and fewer friction moves... the ledge looked to be at an angle (at least from the bottom) that didn't provide a lot of confidence. Tackling the face head-on, while more technical, had great juggy hand holds and less of a pucker factor (IMO).

Looks from your TR that you dropped below the ridge proper at the saddle, but took a higher ledge system? The junk below wasn't as bad as it looks - minimal BS if you stay right at the base of the cliff. Thought it was interesting that we ended up on the same slab lol actually found a route lookers left (ascent) that goes at Class 3 on the previous attempt, but not as a fun. Looks like the main delineation between Class 3 and 4 is the summit block. Never read the standard route that goes around the backside (looks loose and gross), but the front-side headwall was pretty stout.



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