Mount Starr via Mono Pass

Page Type: Trip Report
Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 15, 2011
Activities: Hiking
Season: Summer

Getting Started

Ruvicha, 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.
Mt Starr from Rock Creek RoadEastern Face of Mt Starr from Rock Creek Road

Heading Toward Mono Pass

For 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.
On the Trail to Mono PassStarting Out From the Trailhead
Rock CreekRock Creek
View from Trail to Mono PassView of Trail Looking Down Little Lakes Valley
Southeast Slope of Mt StarrSoutheast Slope of Mt Starr

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.
Little Lakes ValleyLittle Lakes Valley
Meadow Along Path to Mono PassMeadow Before Trail Splits (Left to Ruby Lake, Right to Mono Pass)
Path to Mono PassTrail to Mono Pass
Ruby LakeRuby Lake

Mono Pass

At 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.
Mono PassFirst View of Mono Pass
Mono PassMono Pass (Trail in Snow Faintly Visible)
Mono PassLooking South Back Down Mono Pass (Trail on Sand Visible)
West Face of Mt StarrWest Face of Mt Starr from Top of Mono Pass

Climbing Starr

We 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.
Ascending the West Face of Mt StarrAscending the West Face of Mt Starr
Ruvicha Reaches the Top of Mt StarrRuvicha Reaches the Top of Mt Starr
Brian Atop Mt StarrBrian Atop Mt Starr
Atop Mt StarrAtop Mt Starr

Great Views

As 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.
Little Lakes ValleyLittle Lakes Valley
Little Lakes ValleyLittle Lakes Valley
Little Lakes ValleyLittle Lakes Valley
Little Lakes ValleyChicken Foot Lake and Long Lake from Mt Starr
View from Mt StarrLooking Northwest from Mt Starr
View from Mt StarrLooking Southwest from Mt Starr
View from Mt StarrLooking Along Mt Starr's Ridge Toward Southwest
Mono Pass from Mt StarrLooking Down on Mono Pass from Mt Starr

A Quick Trip Back

After 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.
Heading Down Mono PassHeading Down Mono Pass
Mt MorganMt Morgan and Little Lakes Valley

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.


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jaxcharlie - Aug 29, 2011 12:47 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice Report

I'm headed out to the Sierra's on Friday for the first time, and I can't wait! I'll be hitting up Pioneer Basin and Mt Whitney of course, as well as the Bristlecone pine forest, along with a couple other stops if all goes according to plan!


Ambret - Aug 29, 2011 7:28 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nice Report

Thanks for reading the report. Sounds like you have some good hikes planned. We also hiked Meysan Lake (near Whitney) and Kearsarge Pass out of Onion Valley (a bit north of Lone Pine). There are lots of great trails out there. Have fun!

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