North Star Mountain: a great winter climb!

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For ease of access, sweeping views and just enough exposure to be interesting, it’s hard to beat the East Ridge of North Star Mountain. Suggested by fellow CMC member Kier Hart as a good training climb, I ventured out there in November, for a quick preview: 20131118_143050 That’s me at the start of the ridge, but looking north, probably toward Red Mountain. Easy to find right off of Hoosier Pass above Breckenridge, I said I had to return.

The route is in Dave Cooper’s excellent guidebook, Colorado Snow Climbs, with a round trip distance of 8.4 miles, and 2,700 feet of elevation gain, to a summit at 13,614, which puts in the CMC hiking category around B+/C-.

So it was on December 28, I found myself there again, but this time leading a CMC trip with six others: Ilene Carpenter (co-leader), John Broadbooks, Frank Dong, Don Byington, Tom McClernon and Conrad Brannon. This time we started earlier, at 8am, and colder — a temperature sign we saw in Breckenridge said 9 degrees!

IMG_1652 Fortunately, the first mile or so is pretty mellow, and gave a chance to ease into the hike. But as we started up the east flank of the ridgeline, the angle increased, as did the wind and cold. The barren terrain, well above timbeline now, was fully exposed to the raking western wind as we gained the ridge line; time to put on that extra layer! Ontheridgeline

Between the gusts of wind, the views were quite something to take in: Mount Lincoln to the south, Quandary Peak to the north, both fourteeners, and a slew of smaller summits to the west: Wheeler, McNamee, Traver, and Fletcher, among others. This is an area with a lot to explore, I thought.

By 12:30pm, four hours after starting, we were on the modest summit of North Star, a slightly higher bump along the ridge. IMG_1660 After a quick summit shot in the high winds, we immediately began the return trip. Fortunately, the winds began to abate, and we were able to take some calm breaks to rest up, and admire the views into South Park, towards Alma and Fairplay.

Back to the cars by about 3 pm, it had been a fun and exhilerating hike. It would be entirely possible, depending on your energy level, to continue on past North Star to Wheeler Peak (as a faster group ahead of us had done). Indeed the linking up of smaller summits is quite popular, making for a variety of routes to suit a variety of goals. Maybe I’ll be back next summer!

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