| Elbert and Bull Hill (Blackcloud) and La Plata Encore
I had an open weekend and hadn't been on a summit since January, so it was time for a climb. I wanted to try at least 3 peaks in a weekend, but the fact that I drive a Sentra had to be taken into consideration when determining my options. After a little research, I landed on Bull Hill and Elbert from the south and then La Plata from the north.
My plan was to leave work early on Thursday, drive to the Blackcloud trail head, head a mile or so up the trail and camp Thursday night. Everything looked like a go and then... snow. In the Boulder area we got 6 fresh inches, and the I-70 pass was closed on Wednesday. This is my first full winter in this area, and I couldn't help but imagine feet of snow at the Blackcloud trail head, or rte 82 closed altogether, or the pass not reopening. What do I know about these things? Well, I expected the pass to reopen, and it did, so off I went.
Everything went smoothly, and the forecast was looking better all the time. I arrived at the trail head a little before 4 and made it up to the first stream crossing in short order. Once I crossed the stream, things got a bit interesting. The trail had not seen a lot of action of late, and I was soon left to find my own. That, of course, meant I was left to post hole to my heart's content. Since my plan was to camp somewhere between the first and second stream crossing, I didn't waste a lot of time and just settled on a spot.
Friday morning I headed due west from my campsite to gain the ridge to Bull Hill. The snow was nice and firm and I made it to the cabin a short time later, and stopped to admire La Plata and Ellingwood Ridge. This might be my new screen saver.
Shortly thereafter came the first of many snowfields I would encounter over the next two days.
After a short ridge walk, there was another, this one considerably steeper. From a distance it appeared to be a bit hairy for a wuss like me, but it really wasn't bad.
Then, there was nothing left but the gentle walk to the summit.
Got a couple nice shots from the top, including the ridge over to Casco Peak and of course, La Plata.
What I was most interested in was the ridge over to Elbert, which looked like fun.
It really didn't take too long to reach the Elbert ridge, but it was snow essentially the entire way. Looking up from the saddle:
Looking back towards Bull Hill from almost the top of the ascent:
After reaching the plateau, I was able to drop most of my gear and bolt to the summit of Elbert. From one of the bumps on the final ridge up to Elbert I saw three or four people at the summit, but they had skied off by the time I summited myself. The weather was outstanding and I was elated to be at the top of Colorado.
After thirty minutes on top, I began the long journey back to camp, intending to take the southeast ridge route back to the basin. I have to say I am glad I took the route up that I did. It took forever to get from the ridge down to the basin, and I can't imagine going up that route is much fun at all. I managed to cut across the face of the ridge until I hooked up with what little I could see of the trail. I followed the trail down for a while until it disappeared again. At that point, I decided I would just head straight down until I reached the basin.
After my post hole experience of the day before, this was the part of the hike I was most worried about. So worried, in fact, that I had carried snowshoes the entire day, just for this moment. I reached the basin and started bushwhacking my way back to roughly the area I expected to find my camp. Without too much trouble, I was able to return to camp with ample daylight left.
The next morning, I broke camp and headed back down the mile or so to my car, and was at the La Plata trail head shortly thereafter. The first part of the hike was uneventful. There was plenty of snow in the trees and in the lower part of the basin. Again without a trail, I managed to make it up to a spot that I could convince myself was the gully in the trail description. Funny, it looked a lot different than in the summer shots:
After a good deal of time on the snow, I was on the side of the ridge, and convinced I was where I was supposed to be.
I followed the face of the ridge south for a spell, occasionally seeing segments of the trail. There were a number of snowfields to cross, and when it came time to do the first of the two steep parts to gain the ridge, there was yet another, this one very steep. This is why we carry ice axes.
When it was time for the final push up to gain the ridge, more snow.
At last I made the ridge and was of course taken by the beauty of Ellingwood Ridge, a picture of which is of course required of every La Plata trip report.
After a short break, I began the march up to the summit. The first section, to the buttress, was snowy was well.
Since I had left the ice axe on the ridge and opted for poles, I was left to stick to the parts of the trail I could find, so long as they were on rock. When I had no trail, I had to stick to short trips into the snow without wandering too far from the talus. The rest of the time I more or less climbed the rocks and avoided the snow. This is my first spring living here, so I am no expert on snow levels in this or any other part of the Rockies. However, I will say I was surprised to be in the snow almost every step of the way from the woods clear to the final pitch. The final section had its share as well:
The weather had been perfect all day, but was starting to change pretty quickly. Being mindful of that, being absent minded anyway, and being quite fatigued, I forgot to get a picture of the duck on the summit, so you'll have to settle for my ugly mug, with Elbert in the background. My beloved sox cap has made it to the top of another:
On the decent, I stuck very close to my route up while I was on the upper part of the mountain. Once to a couple of the decent snowfields, I was able to do a little glissading. The ride down the gully was especially fun. What was not fun was the half hour I spent postholing in the basin until I reached the timber. Not fun, but overall a fantastic trip. By 3:30 I was headed home.
One final note, I read another La Plata report (from when, I don't recall) that mentioned seeing cougar prints. In addition to a ton of coyote tracks over my three days in the woods, I did see a cougar track on the La Plata trail, while still in the trees. Even after all my years in Washington state, I'm still waiting to see one.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):