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|Conditions Information||Posted By||Posted On|
|2015-05-13||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: After a round of spring snow and with a week free of obligations, I decided to meet my old CMC-Steamboat compadre Liam to attempt a snowboard descent of La Plata peak in the northern Sawatch range. We arrived at the La Plata Peak TH the night before and awoke at 4 am to start the day. After coffee, breafkast (which consisted of a bacon-guac burger from the night before for me), and gearing up, we left the TH at 5 hiking on dirt. We encountered frozen snow intermittently and soon we were following a skin/snowshoe track South and East into La Plata Gulch. 1 The trail took us up into the creekbed, where we continued skinning through the forest. We wanted to attain the NW ridge of La Plata, and decided to ascend the ridge to our left (East). The W-facing slope had intermittent snow cover and we were forced to boot up to the top of the ridge. On the ridge we continued, bootpacking through a steep scree field until we arrived on a bench at treeline. We decided to venture into La Plata Basin (the N-face descends into the basin and the W-face descends in to the gulch) to see if we could gatch glimpse of the face. It was around 7 am at this point and clouds clung to the face around 13,000ft. The west side of Ellingwood ridge looked incredible, but I doubt that it typically looks this good. The consistent upslope storms this spring have left the Sawatch looking filled in well. We booted up an E-facing chute on a supportable, kickable crust and continued along the top of the ridge. We continued along the ridge, passed the point where the summer trail reaches the saddle on the NW ridge, and continued higher. After meeting the first patch of rocks, Liam decided to bootpack while I followed a skin track weaving through the rocks. The skinning was at first difficult but became easier higher up as the snow cover increased. Around 13,600 feet, Liam and I stopped, heavy clouds completing blocking the face, and our route up. We decided to wait and see if an opening in the clouds arrived. After ten to fifteen minutes, the mountains surrounding us began to appear and we scrambled towards the summit. On our way up the clouds once again reclaimed the peak but we continued on hoping for another break in the clouds. We arrived at the summit around 1030-11, a 5-6 hour ascent. The clouds opened up with views of the Sawatch tempting me into other basins. This was my first time in this area and I wonder if the snow cover is typically this good as I saw enticing, huge lines in every direction. 2 img We hurried to do our transition and ensure some sort of visibility for our run. We spotted a chute, which ended up not being the one we were shooting for, that looked to descend the entirety of the face at 20-50 feet wide. I descended first, making a slope cut across the couloir. We know that the warm temperatures, spring snowpack, and new snow would most likely result in a soft slab avalanche, if anything. This would release at our feet and if we were careful, this problem could be managed. My slope cut released nothing, and showed mixed bag conditions, a firm base with edge-able cream cheese on top. Liam descended next after I was in my safe spot. He released a small sluff and continued onwards. La Plata‘s North Face is a beautiful thing, especially for skiers and snowboarders. Couloirs litter the face, with couloirs residing within larger couloirs. The face has a true big mountain feel with exciting route-finding and aesthetic views with gigantic rock buttresses. The descent went well with good, soft but variable snow with most of it residing within the cream cheese realm. 3 After making gigantic turns down the apron, I stopped atop what seemed to be a rather insignificant roller lower down on the apron to take a picture of the face. I turned downhill toward what appeared to be a mellow slope reconnecting with the basin at large. With the lower visibility, I was not able to differentiate between the snow at my feet and the snow 20 feet below me. It was not until too late that I realized what had happened, and I was 20 feet in the air. I landed in a heap, but bounced up immediately. After throwing a bit of a tantrum, and making sure I wasn‘t hurt, I gathered my things for the rest of the descent. I have had similar things happen to me before, where I was trying to take speed in an outrun and flew off of a windlip. What I‘ve learned from these experiences is that the day is not over once the face has been descended. The mountains demand your respect until the moment your back inside your car. The rest of the descent would drive this point home. 4 Once in the flats, we switched into split skis and began descending and traversing, North and West, back into La Plata Gulch. Up high the snow held our weight, but soon we encountered trap door conditions. If you‘ve ever had the pleasure of watching a snowboarder attempting to split ski downhill, then you can imagine how I looked trying to ski collapsing snow. We cursed, and you would have laughed as we slogged downwards towards the valley. Upon reaching the valley floor, I exclaimed something about how La Plata could throw anything at us and we could overcome it. I need to learn to keep my mouth shut. 5 After pulling skis off, and booting down the dirt to the flat valley below, it was apparent that we still had a few miles West to travel to reach the bridge across Lake Creek. We opted for the direct route North, across the river and back to the road where we would walk to the last few miles on pavement. After deciding this, we came across a willow bog. After a good bout of willow thrashing, we arrived at the river. Channels one and two were easy crossing, especially in my snowboard boots, and the third would be the swiftest and most challenging. We made the crossing, and soon the road. We arrived back at the cars around 230, a 9.5 hr day. It was an incredible day, frustrating at times, but very rewarding for my first winter (Snow?) ascent and descent of a 14er. https://vimeo.com/127856441
|2015-04-12||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: Began from trailhead at 5:00 a.m. Snow pack was hard through the tree line. Only used micro spikes for the ascent. We weren‘t sure if we were on the specific winter route but followed some tracks that turned up towards the ridge a little bit before the standard summer route came out of the trees. Made summit at 11:00 a.m. Snow shoes were very helpful once we made it back to tree line. Summer route may have been safe. Some potential avy chutes but I don‘t think there was enough snow to be of concern. Not an avy expert so we still stuck with the winter route.
|2015-04-11||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: Ascended the winter route to the NW ridge, nicely packed trail to treeline (hard pack in the AM), then just followed the ridge. Lots of snow on the ridge, mostly packed and no need for flotation any of the time, we carried our skis from the car to the summit. Skied the NW ridge to the West side of the North face. Snow was a mix of wind blown powder and wind packed crust. Conditions were still more winter like, no corn up high, but things are melting fast down low. Below treeline snow was very sloppy in the afternoon, but staying in the packed track made for minimal postholing. If one climbs/descends in the AM you can probably get away with trail runners, microspikes and an axe (for some of the more exposed sections).
|2015-04-11||Route: North Face
Info: Soft winter snow. All major chutes filled in.
|2015-04-11||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: Summer route is almost entirely covered in snow, but packed and fast. Winter route is similar, from what others said.
|2015-03-28||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: The trench for the winter variation of the route is easy to follow until about 500ft below tree line. From there we ended up making our own trench up to the ridge where the route is easy to follow. Snowshoes not needed on the way up but absolutely needed on the way down below the ridge. We ended up post holing to our hips in a few spots even while wearing them. We wore microspikes the rest of the time. If the guy we met from Subaru and also the guy who found our snowshoe could shoot me a quick message I would appreciate it.
|2015-03-15||Route: NW Ridge Winter Route
Info: An increadibly beautiful and sunny day. Follow standard NW Ridge route to 10,900‘ and then follow trench up steep slope to gain ridge. This steep section should be carefully considered if the snow pack is at all suspect. The trench at 10,560‘ started by JtheChemE on 7 Mar dead ends. Early in the morning on the way up snow was firm. Spikes worked well all the way to the top. As the day warmed up, snowshoes were very helpful on the way down. If the day is very warm, wet slides on the steep slopes could be a possibility. There was a lot of snow on the route after the scree slope. Depending on temperatures, you may want to use your snowshoes past the scree slope. The existing trench takes a line up the scree slope to climbers right. The scree slope is steep but not too long. Send me a PM if you‘d a copy of the GPX file I captured.
|2015-03-07||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: The trench for the winter variation of the route is easy to follow from the trailhead until about 500ft below tree line. From there to the ridge we lost the trail a couple times and ended up making our own trail to the ridge. Once on the ridge it is possible to stay mostly on dry terrain. We were able to get by with microspikes on the way up but absolutely needed the snowshoes on the way down. Even with them we were post holing in spots up to our hips. I have pictures if anyone is interested.
|2015-03-07||Route: Northwest Ridge DIRECT
Info: Trench to treeline if you follow the right one. Snowshoes mandatory. Spikes and an Axe were very useful for the rubble slope as well as along the ridge.
|2015-01-10||Route: NW Ridge, winter variation
Info: Had a long day on La Plata‘s standard winter route yesterday. First off, don‘t blindly trust existing trenches! We followed the existing trench and snowshoe tracks from the trailhead until we realized we were going up the wrong ridge. After a lot of traversing around and a hair-raising ravine/stream crossing, we got to the location of the standard summer trail, but had lost quite a bit of time. There was no trench or broken trail from the standard trail in the valley up to the winter ridge crest. We broke a steep line up deep, unconsolidated snow from 10,700‘ or so up to the ridge crest at 11,800‘ (photo #1). This was physically the hardest part of the day, as I was often past my knees in the snow, even with snowshoes. A little past halfway up, we were joined by another hiker (BlenderHead) who took over trailbreaking for a while. Avy danger was definitely a factor on this slope. Finally, we hit treeline, 4.5 hours in, with the worst physical difficulties behind (photo #2). The talus slope was a mix of loose rock and snow, but quite short (photo #3), and soon we were cruising up the standard Northwest Ridge. (#4 and 5). We stayed on rock and trail segments most of the time. Reaching the summit was amazing! (photo #6) The descent went quickly (#7 and . Great route, but it can be a long day if trailbreaking is required. Weather was great too!
|2015-01-10||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: Thigh deep sugary snow in the woods. Be very careful following the trenches! One trench begins to venture into avy terrain on the standard summer route... There are a couple tracks that meet back up with the main trail, so leave the trail and cut east (left) early. Either way, use your judgement and don‘t follow a trench into avy terrain! There is a decent amount of snow on the ridge, packed in between large rocks. All in all, a pretty slow moving day.
|2014-11-28||Route: Ellingwood Ridge
Info: La Plata in November sugar is quite the beast. The traverse over to the start of the ridge is very pleasant gentle terrain however it is a steep climb to the tree line after crossing the 3rd creek. Also, the route description on this website is spot on for this climb. Day 1 - We made the traverse and ascended to 11,500‘. The snow made the elevation gain difficult as it is not consolidated except where it has been scoured by wind. We dug out a solid campsite a few hundred feet above the tree line, and called it a day. Day 2 - This was a very difficult day. We started up the talus with our heavy packs. The wind has blown most of the snow off the ridge and its possible to follow rocks up. From point 13,206, the rest of the day was technical. We had 2 rappels and many descents to keep the climb manageable. There are several 4th class and a few low 5th moves on this route in winter like conditions. After 10 straight hours of climbing we were still several major gendarmes away from the turn in the ridge so we cut out a nice platform on the east side out of the wind. Day 3 - From camp it was back to technical climbing. This part of the ridge was by far the most fun and challenging. We climbed for 2.5 hours before deciding to bail. We chose a gully that leads to the basin between Ellingwood and the NW route. The descent was straight forward and only required one minor rappel. The walk out of this basin sucked with the snow. Post holing and side hilling in snowshoes were the name of the game. Our team could have completed this climb given an extra day. In these conditions, and carrying the equipment necessary to keep it safe, this climb is a beast. I think 4 days would be prudent for a successful climb of La Plata in winter. On a side note we bailed because of work and school obligations on Monday morning.
|2014-11-08||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: La Plata Northwest ridge is covered by snow at 90%. The forest approach and switchbacks near 11,300‘ receive little sun during the day and microspikes were helpful during the steep sections. The traverse south along the slope was hiked in the dark, the sun reaching the ridge (9.30AM) only 2.5hrs after hitting the trail. Around 12,300 snow is much deeper on the ridge, progression is slow and postholing frequent (until knees and waist) pumping most of your energy. From then you hike looking at the sun, bring sunglasses as it is blinding. At around 14,000‘, snow becomes less significant and progression can be done much more easily to the summit.
|2014-10-24||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: The trail below 11,000 is snow free and easy hiking. From 11,000 to the switchback gully, it was frozen mud in the morning and slop in the afternoon. Didn‘t need traction in the mud, but it made for dirty boots. The first snow on the trail hits in the switchback gully and then is pretty much constant from 12,500 to the summit. It gets to be a bit of an issue once you start your way around the buttress. Route finding is tough although the trail sneaks through in places. I recommend traction above 12,500. In the morning, it was icy and slick in the afternoon it was soft and slick. That was pretty much the condition the rest of the way. This might seem odd, but definitely bring good sunglasses, as you climb up the north ridge, as that ball o‘ light is really blinding over the route due to season. Had to hand block the sun, with my specs on to check my ascent. Lots of postholing - thigh high on me (6‘2") in places. Also, I suggest lots of appropriate layers. I started early, but the sun doesn‘t reach the west ridge until well after 10:00 AM. Cold, icy, and shaded for most of the climb. Stay warm and be safe.
|2014-10-03||Route: Ellingwood Ridge
Info: It was a LONG day on Ellingwood on Friday. I‘m not sure if I was having an off day, or if it was the snow; but it took me 9 hours to reach the summit (and only 2 to descend down the northwest ridge). The snow wasn‘t impassible by any means; but it made route finding more arduous. I definitely felt as though the route was class 4 rather than class 3; but perhaps I was following too close to the ridgeline on account of the snow. There were no other people on the route nor were there footprints in the snow. Long story short, I wouldn‘t recommend this route until next season. It‘s pretty dicey with the snow. The standard route is still doable at the moment.
|2014-10-02||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: Above the tree line there is a lot of snow. Trail entirely covered; drifts more than 1 foot deep. Don‘t know how much of this will melt, as I think it was very fresh (last 2 days??). Lower trail was melting by 11am.
|2014-09-24||Route: Northwest Ridge
Info: No snow accumulated on the route, even at the summit today. Crossing the stream at La Plata gulch likely to be slippery in the morning - the 2-log crossing was frosty and wet at 8:45 a.m.. I‘m not sure if people use the multiple small log crossing, but water is high enough to make that very dicey. I followed a trail upstream a short way and crossed on rocks, but those, too, were slick - water is higher than normal for this time of year. Trail was damp but not soggy in the morning, parts were dried out later in the day.
|2014-09-13||Route: Southwest Ridge
Info: Started at 5:30 am. The willows were muddy/slightly frozen. Sections of it were hard to follow in the dark, but I could see the trail leading up to the ridge, and was able to merge back onto the main trail. The section above the willows was frozen on the ascent, flowing water on the descent. The next section of trail (just below the first ridge) was steep (fall line in places) with scree. Once on the first ridge the view made me forget about the ball bearing scree. As others have stated, the boulder filed cairns were interesting. I stayed further to the west on my way down and had an easier go. Fun trail, but if I take my kids up La Plata we will take the NW ridge.
|2014-09-07||Route: Southwest Ridge
Info: Trail clear all the way to the top. Started from trailhead at 6:30am and reached the summit at 9:30am. Quickly turned around due to approaching storm. On the way down passed about four groups and warned them about the storm. One guy with his son replied back that he‘s climbed 70 of these and he‘s keeping an eye on it. Once we reached back into treeline there was plenty of thunder and lightning. Most of the groups were probably just reaching the summit at that time. Hike smart out there and don‘t get caught on top in a thunderstorm!
|2014-09-02||Route: Southwest Ridge
Info: Climbed La Plata on Labor Day and thought there should be a more recent report. Parked at the loop past the cemetery and walked. There are a few places with water on the road to the TH, but there were plenty of somewhat high clearance vehicles parked past those spots, a truck with high clearance was at the TH. The willows were definitely muddy, but if you‘re careful you can keep the top of your boots dry. In one swampy place new trails have been padded down to avoid it. They‘re a little hard to follow, but the trail is only about 30 feet away. Looking at picture one, we opted to take the blue route and do some climbing up one of the chimneys. Definite scree all over the place, but was fun! Second pic is looking down the chimney we took. Just a touch of snow towards the summit, but other than that none on the trail.