Peak(s):  Wheeler Mountain  -  13,690 feet
North Star Mountain  -  13,614 feet
Date Posted:  09/11/2020
Date Climbed:   09/07/2020
Author:  daway8
 Wheeler to North Star Traverse w/ waypoints   

Another fantastic class 3+ ridge traverse. Many thanks to E_A_Marcus_949 (Emily) who did this traverse in the opposite direction and wrote a great trip report that I used to help me on this modified reverse version of it. Her trip report can be found here: I'll occasionally make reference to her trip report to sync up between the two directions so you can choose which way to go and have extra beta for finding (or avoiding) features.

Trailhead: Montgomery Reservoir (parked past the marked trailhead at the water shed/concrete wall

Ascent: the Weeler Mountain South Ridge route (w/ slight modifications)

Traverse: from Wheeler to North Star

Descent: North Star Southeast Shoulder (with extension down around to Montgomery Reservoir)

RT distance: 11.21mi; Total gain: ~4k ft; Total time: ~10.5 hours; Time for Wheeler to North Star: ~3hrs (includes lots of time spent documenting)

Overview of route starting from far side of Montgomery Reservoir, up Wheeler, traversing to North Star then drop down and loop around.

From Montgomery Reservoir to Wheeler Lake

The Wheeler Mountain South Ridge description gives clear directions on where to find the parking along the concrete wall by the water shed. There is ample parking here but no camping or fires allowed, however there is nothing said about not being able to park overnight and take a little time getting out of your vehicle...

While you technically can drive all the way to Wheeler Lake at 12,200ft that would first of all seem somewhat like cheating for a 13er but second of all it's a really serious 4WD road. It's rated as Difficult to Severe by see Wheeler Lake (may need to setup a login to view link). With a difficulty ranking of 5-7 it's just below Lake Como's (Blanca Peak) ranking of 6-8. That is to say this is a bad ass 4WD road and you better have lots of clearance, a very flexible suspension and very good skills if you want to tackle that road.

For the rest of us, it's about a 3 mile walk down a wet road that often has a lot of puddles, though they tend to have walk arounds. I would worry what this would be like in early spring vs. the late fall trek I did.

Example of one of many puddles on road to Wheeler Lake.
Another puddle with sketchy bypass on the right.

Wheeler Lake to Wheeler Saddle

The Wheeler Mountain South Ridge description does fairly well at guiding you up but there's one very key piece not mentioned - the Z. Once you come up to the smaller lake above Wheeler there's a very prominent Z made of bands of white rock that can be seen from all over. I swung wide around the lake and then aimed straight up at the Z until just a little below it when I took a hard left then curved right up to the square rock that marks the saddle.

The Z is circled and the square rock on the saddle has an arrow pointing up to it. Go up to the Z then turn left.
Following easy route along rock lip straight up to the Z.
Coming close enough to the Z to start going left to the square rock on the saddle.

Pano showing the Z plus a faint X below the square rock on the saddle. Note, that depending on where you are in the valley, there can appear to be multiple saddles, thus the Z is a better marker until you get close.

Looking over to the upcoming ridge traverse
Looking back down the valley at the route I came up - swinging wide and then aiming up to the Z.

Wheeler Saddle to Summit(s)

Up till now this has been basically a class 2 stroll. Now some class 3 action starts to show up, though fairly tame except maybe a few slightly harder moves just below the summit(s). I basically followed the route description going up along the left side of the ridge - figuring there was plenty of fun scrambling ahead to be able to skip the ridge proper for now.

From the saddle looking over towards the route to the Wheeler summit(s).
Path along the left of the ridge.
Continuing along the left of the ridge.
The Near, Mid and Far summits of Wheeler. The Near one with the Y seems to be considered the official but the Far one seems highest.

Around this time is when the smoke from the fires really started to roll in. I briefly considered turning back, but based on the forecast I believed the winds would turn and blow the smoke away (haha, nope - but with my neck gaiter it proved not to be too bad).

Looking over at the traverse as the smoke from the fires rolls in for dramatic effect.
Looking back at the summit(s) of Wheeler.

Wheeler to North Star Traverse

So the traverse looks somewhat wicked based on your angle but as you get nearer you see a very easy walk on ramp to get you started.

View of the traverse
Slightly different angle

Very soon after starting you'll encounter what I deemed in one of the first waypoints past Wheeler as the "Sweat slab" - since going down it kind of made me sweat a bit at the exposure (I've not done a lot of slabs so they still make me a little uneasy). It looked like I could have also gone down the ridge to the right side (south) of the slab but I was out here in the first place to stretch myself.

Sweat slab - just enough exposure to make me sweat a little.

Looking down the sweat slab.
Looking back up the sweat slab.

From here there was either a crazy exposed tiny ledge around the left (north) side of a tower, a sketchy looking climb straight up, or a loop to the right (south) side to what Emily described in her report as a "class 4 slab down-climb with more exposure." I'm not sure I agree with the class 4 rating but it was enough to make me rather nervous when standing at the bottom and looking up at it. However, after the first step or two up it I could see it was going to be easier than it looked.

Had I not seen Emily's description of coming down this I probably wouldn't have picked this as my preferred option but after studying snapshots of her report and deciding this was the same feature I decided to give it a go. I rate it more as a class3.pucker but it might qualify as a low 4th class move.

Left side of tower looked too dicey...
Right side of ridge has Emily's slab.

I had been both looking forward to and somewhat dreading the class 4 wall that Emily described but, after detailed analysis and comparison from the comfort of my desk I eventually concluded that her class 4 wall was on the north side of the ridge just past my waypoint of "chimney to exposed slab" while I went along the south side in what I labeled with the blue line in the route snapshot near the end of the report as "David's class 2 slab" opposite of "Emily's class 4 wall."

So depending on what kind of climb you want you can customize it to easy or hard based on taking the north or south side of the ridge at this point.

Ridge just past the slab - Emily's wall is somewhere off to the left - just to the right is my slab.
This is the spot I marked as "David's class 2 slab" opposite of Emily's class 4 wall.

So just past the chimney to slab climb you come up on a gnarly looking ridge. Emily came up form the left (north) I went down to the right (south) to a very obvious sort of flat slab.

From the slab you cut left and down a little gully.
Down the gully from the slab.

Looking back up the gully - the class 2 slab is jutting out to the left - somewhere off to the right is Emily's class 4 wall.
Ledge going up to my "bridge/tunnel" waypoint - what Emily called the rock window.

Just past the rock bridge/tunnel/window you'll encounter some ledges on the right (south) side of the ridge (see "Ledges" waypoint).

Ledges on right (south) side of ridge - very similar spot to one of Emily's photos.
Looking back along the ledges.

I was surprised to see Emily's report more or less begins at these ledges, but as I saw in putting this report together it's super easy to loose track of where exactly you are without having taking extensive notes, pictures and saving waypoints so you can compare time stamps and locations between photos, waypoints and notes.

Anyways, after this came a tower that I took head on, leading up to the ridge high point.

Fun scramble up to ridge high point.
Closer view of the climb up.

After you hit the ridge high point it looks at first like most of the fun is done but there are still a couple more nice features ahead hidden in the dips.

View after the high points looks like its taming down, but still some fun ahead.

This second little tower below is somewhere near my waypoint of "Ridge 2nd highest mid point" but I didn't make solid enough notes to be positive of its exact position.

Small but fun tower.
Closer view of winding path of this little tower.

On the far side of this tower is a little wedge to downclimb (see "tower" and "base of wedge" waypoints).

Looking down the wedge.
Looking back up the wedge.
Farther away view looking back at the wedge climb up the tower.

North Star and Beyond

At this point things did indeed mellow down but the smoke just got heavier and heavier. I was happy to discover that with my Buff neck gaiter over my face it didn't bother me, but any time I tried to pull it down the odor was very, very strong.

Tamer territory.

Looking right (south) to Lincoln through the smoke.
Looking left (north) to Quandary and down at the Blue Lakes Trailhead used for Quandary's West Ridge class 3 route.

This ridge seriously goes on forever - you'll note various tongue in check waypoints beyond this point such as "The ridge of a thousand camels." That's only barely an exaggeration, lol.

Finally nearing the end...

On the far end of the ridge is a lot of mining property. I attempted to stay on the main road but at times fumbled away from it and at one point came up from behind on a no trespassing sign - oops. But it was next to an open gate on a heavily used trail so I'm not sure if that's just an outdated sign. Anyways, I attempted to respect private property as best as I could.

For example, at a junction of several roads I really wanted to take the skinny one down to the right which looked like it would make a good path to Montgomery reservoir but given the Forest service sign saying area closed I decided to respect that and hike further along the road where a bunch of tourists where coming up.

Series of roads near the far side - the skinny one going down center would have been perfect...
...but that skinny one s marked as closed.

Eventually I dropped hard to the right just before I was about to encounter more private property according to the Private Land layer on my GAIA GPS. I did a steep downhill through the trees on forest service land.

Dropping into the trees down to the reservoir.

Once I reached the road it was an easy stroll back to the Jeep.

Montgomery Reservoir.
Going around the reservoir.

I looked up to the right as I was going along the road to see what it would have been like if I had cut down sooner - looks like I did just as well to go further before dropped down as there are various cliffs and ugly terrain in the area where I would have come down if I had dropped sooner. This is the one small hill on the far side of the reservoir to go up to get back to the concrete wall parking area but it wasn't too bad.

Iffy terrain above the road where I had considered dropping down.
To the right of the middle pine tree is a climber on the cliffs above the road.

Finally, I took a zoomed in snapshot of my route with the waypoints of the ridge traverse and labeled them to show the waypoints and a couple key details.

Annotated snapshot of ridge traverse

My Times

4:26am start from far side of Montgomery Reservoir

6:30am Wheeler Lake

7:11am upper Lake (3.88mi)

8:15am saddle (4.69 mi)

9:02am Wheeler mid summit

9:07am Wheeler far summit

9:19am Wheeler near summit

9:37am start traverse to North Star

11:09am Ridge high point (5.4 miles and ~6hr 40min into hike)

12:22pm North Star Summit (6mi and ~8hrs)

12:29pm start along ridge

1:18pm finally at Baby North Star - what I'm calling the clearly lower spot some maps mark as North Star.

2:40pm reached road by reservoir

2:55pm back at Jeep

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Comments or Questions
09/11/2020 16:49
What a well documented TR. Kudos to you for going for it!

Nice contribution!
09/12/2020 14:03
This traverse is underrated and ought to see more traffic than it does.
After Cooper took it out of his "Colorado Scrambles," beta on this route, particularly going W-NS, was hard to find.
We would have loved to have this TR before making this traverse a few years back, as we basically knew it would go, but had to figure it out as we went.
Thanks for posting a good read with solid beta. The smoke pics are a nice touch.

09/13/2020 15:23
Wonderful trip report! I'm glad mine provided some help, even in the opposite direction. I agree that what I labeled as an almost-class 4 wall is probably a 3+(Pucker) (at least from the direction I went). Looks like you had a lot of fun, despite the awful smoke.

wonderful report
09/14/2020 00:12
That was a great trip report of a really nice area.
Thanks for posting this.

09/15/2020 16:53
This is a great TR!
I'm sure many will use this.

Moved onto my list
01/11/2021 14:23
I had wondered about this every one of the three times I've now been on Quandary, and on my occasion yesterday decided that I needed to read up on it. Nicely written -- this will be in my 2021 plans now!

Thanks for the beta!
09/05/2022 18:51
Did a version of this today with my buddy and pup (no I wouldn't recommend for dogs). Going up Wheeler we stuck to the route Bill has on here and found decent trail and cairns all the way to the ridge. As you said the far summit looks highest so we went there. Fast forward to the "sweat" slab was a bit too much with the pup so we backtracked a little and down to our right. We ended up going down a gully and worked our way around to where we could regain the ridge and then saw the "Rock Window". This was also an area we knew we could escape down to the lakes we passed earlier in the hike. Overall we thought the traverse went difficult Class 3 aka Class 3 with a few good Class 4 move areas. Easy to get into tough territory and it really helped having another person to route find. Again I wouldn't recommend dogs on this

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