Star Peak (13,521 ft)
16.8 miles, 5,300 vertical, 9 1/2 hours and four descents in the Elk Mountains
w/ Adam Moszynski
Since we’ve been in a nice freeze thaw these last few weeks and winds have kept everything up high pretty frozen, Adam and I had the benefit of a late start last Tuesday morning at about 6:15 am from Ashcroft. As we knew we were in for quite a day, we hit the flats up Express Creek with a pre-dawn pace fueled that could only be explained by copious amounts of coffee.
Adam and I have planned a pretty ambitious day. Tour out and into Star Basin, a zone complimented by the picturesque Star Peak (13,521ft), flanked by Taylor Peak and the Rib Cage. Lot’s of options for a long day of climbing and skiing. Myself, having a small obsession with couloir skiing, was naturally drawn toward the North Couloir and the Dr. Evil Couloir. Hoping to climb one to gain access to the main, north face of Star, Adam and headed out toward the basin, just 6 or 7 miles away from our truck. We were fortunate to only have to walk a few hundred yards before it was skins on and up the old mining road toward star basin.
As we steadily climbed, we raced the morning sun as it illuminated our goal. The Dr. Evil couloir, (far left angled couloir), Star Peak, still remained blocked by the flanking the Rib Cage on lookers right. (Low snow year, only a few lines still go on the Rib Cage)
The skin up express creek went quickly and we soon broke tree line. We were fortunate to take in several different approaches to Star peak as we climbed, opting for an elusive but skinable approach lookers left of Star Basin to a lower elevation gun barrel pass. We thought the skinable approach seemed better than climbing Dr. Evil or the North Couloir so we opted to save our legs and keep our skins on.
Just over six miles from the truck we reached the top of the gun barrel. Our gateway to the acutely glaciated Star Peak and our first opportunity to gaze upon its north and the north ridge which we would end up using for our ascent.
We transitioned over to our skins and continued the climb. The snow was perfect, just soft enough to keep skinning so we opted for a less steep route to the ridge to save our legs for the final few hundred feet to the summit.
As Adam took the lead, I took in the views from the rear. The sun was warm, the snow was just soft enough to skin and the sky a perfect shade of blue. Absolutely no sign of the impending storm we were trying to avoid. The horizon was completely clear.
Star’s north ridge offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains. Once gaining the ridge, it becomes much more obvious why this peak is rarely climbed in the summer. The ridge is steep, lined with loose scree and the bordering north face is equally as steep. Rolling over back to the basin floor, a fall isn’t an option.
After some water and food, crampons on, ice axes out, it was up the ridge toward the summit. Adam and I took turns putting in the steps toward the summit. Stopping to breath and take photos of the incredible landscape. From the ridge we could see our entire approach, well over seven miles from the truck and well worth all the effort.
The Summit of Star is incredible. The 360 degree views from the Sawatch Range, to Crested Butte the San Juan Mountains and back to Aspen leave nothing more to be desired and the internal sense of accomplishment, for how far we’ve traveled and climbed certainly mask any fatigue from being on our feet since 6:15 am. We were really excited to see this summit had snow, top to bottom, and we would be able to descend without too much difficulty. I got the chance to drop in first!
We had made the summit but we were not even half way through. The second of four total descents awaited.
The north face was a little steeper than we both realized…and the snow a bit chalkier too!
After taking in the warming snow on the south/south west aspects we needed to climb to get back to Star Basin, Adam and I decided to head up the closer, South Couloir to access the big, North Couloir back into Star Basin. We didn’t have big climb ahead of us, but because things were warming up we transitioned quickly and I started putting in steps to the top.
Topping out and peering into the North Couloir we were pleased to see the couloir went right from the top. Having scoped the line on our approach toward Star, we were excited for this picturesque classic. After having climbed around 5,000 feet and been on our feet for almost seven hours we were both pretty tired and opted to take a few minutes to enjoy the view, have some water and food before the descent.
With the snow still holding and a bit more stretch in the legs Adam and I decided it was a must,
the Dr. Evil Couloir.
We had incredible views of both Star Peak and Castle Peak from the top of Dr. Evil. This was by no means a first descent, but a lesser skied couloir amongst many other lesser skied couloirs. The wide open walls allowed for some fun on the way down and we both enjoyed the descent! Our forth and final of the day.
With four descents down we made our way through the basin, taking in the views of our approach, Dr. Evil and the North Couloir all the way down. Star Peak remaining hidden.
Each day in the mountains we explore a little further, climb a little higher, suppress our nerves in the face of pain, exhaustion and situations that scare us. We do this by pushing ourselves, one step at a time a little closer to our goals, both the tangible and the internal. Returning home from the freedom of the wide open to find out a little more about ourselves, that we are truly capable of more than we believed and stronger for the lessons we learn far away from four walls. Today was one of those days where every moment reminds you, there is no form of skiing more pure, no greater expression of freedom than to climb a mountain, stand atop its summit and ski down in whichever way you most prefer.