Getting StartedRuvicha, Brian and I chose Mt Starr for the last day of our week in the eastern Sierra. The guidebook described an easily manageable hike and promised impressive views from the top; as we learned, the views on the way up are nice, too. We decided to circle Starr and approach via Mono Pass in order to tackle Starr’s west face, which reportedly would entail less loose rock and scree (Kearsarge Peak six days before had given the three of us all the scree we wanted to see for the entire week).
We arrived from our campsite near west of Bishop at the Mosquito Flat trailhead around 9:30 am on August 15. First lesson: don’t get there too late. Even though it was a Monday morning, both the main lot and overflow lot were nearly full, with lots of hikers headed for the Little Lakes Valley trail. We got our daypacks and started about 10:00 am from the trailhead. Although it was mid-morning, we encountered a fair number of mosquitoes during the first part of the hike.
Heading Toward Mono PassFor the first half-mile, we shared a wide, sandy trail with hikers heading up the Little Lakes Valley. At Mack Lake, the trail split, with about 90 percent of the traffic headed to the left and up the Little Lakes trail, while we headed to the right toward Mono Pass. The trail soon began switch-backing up the lower east slope of Mt Starr, generally working its way toward the south. We shortly found a use trail that climbed up and to the north, which we assumed led to Starr’s east slope.
As the trail climbed, the vistas increased. We could see more and more of the “little lakes” running down the valley, with Mt Morgan rising across the valley. After one-and-a-half miles, the trail turned toward the southwest, passed around Starr’s southern ridge, and entered a small meadow. At the end of the meadow, the trail divided again. The left fork headed for Ruby Lake and the right fork toward Mono Pass. We took the right fork and soon began a series of long switchbacks that rapidly gained elevation on Starr’s southern flank. The trail now headed generally in a western direction, and we soon gained a terrific view of Ruby Lake and the mountains behind it. We met a number of hikers who were coming down from north of Mono Pass.
Mono PassAt about two-and-a-half miles from Mosquito Flat, the trail turned toward the north, and we caught our first view of the southern end of Mono Pass. As a couple of hikers had warned us, the pass was largely snow-covered. A well-worn trail worked its way up the snowfield, having been trampled by hikers and pack mules hauling supplies into the backcountry. Enough snow had melted on the sides, particularly on the west side of the pass, so that it was also possible to ascend most of the way on an easily visible use trail on rock and sand. A half-mile climb up the pass brought us to the top and the west face of Starr.
Climbing StarrWe crossed the snowfield at the top of the pass and began to work our way up Starr’s face. The lower part was sand and scree, and we occasionally found faint trails, but they faded in and out. The higher we got, the more solid rock we encountered. With the trails having disappeared, we fanned out. Brian moved to the left, I stayed in the center, trying to keep on solid rock rather than scree, while Ruvicha moved up to the right. Not that anyone was racing, but Brian made it first to the ridge and ended up closest to the true summit. We found little wind and comfortably warm temperatures at the top.
Great ViewsAs promised by the guidebook, the top of Starr offered great views in all directions. One could see the whole length of the Little Lakes Valley running east and south of Mt Starr. More mountains, including Mills, Abbot and Dade, also lay to the south. Toward the northwest, there were still other mountains heading up in the direction of Yosemite.
A Quick Trip BackAfter lingering at the top for 45 minutes, taking lots of pictures, and snacking, we headed back down, retracing our path back to the trailhead. With the mid-afternoon sun, the views of Little Lakes Valley were even better on the return hike. We encountered few hikers on the way back, though two returning mule pack teams overtook us. Back at the trailhead, however, we found crowds of returning hikers and fishermen, presumably from the Little Lakes Trail. Almost everyone looked like they had had a really good day.
We walked back to the overflow lot and drove two miles back to Rock Creek Lakes Resort for cold beers and soft drinks. We figured that we covered a roundtrip of 7.5 miles – as opposed to 4.4 miles if one were to directly ascend the east face – with 3100 feet elevation gain from trailhead to Starr’s top. Getting there took us three-and-a-half hours (we’re not the speediest bunch), and the return took a little over two hours. All in all, this was a great finale to our week: terrific weather, a good hike, fun rock-scrambling and continuously nice views. Starr goes down high on our recommended list.