| La Plata NW Ridge - Winter Ascent
Mountains: La Plata Pk. (14,336')
Route: Started at Main trailhead (10,000'), used the NW Ridge route
Elevation Gain - 4500' (approx)
Roundtrip Mileage - 9.5 miles (approx)
Time – 11 hours
With the last weekend of the calendar winter drawing near one last large summit was required. This was to be doumall and Debbie's prep trip for El pico D'Orizaba as well. We decided to drive up to the trailhead on Friday night and spend the night there. After a large beef soup (I swear it was like 3 gallons of soup) with large chunks of rare steak, well done shanks, and bear's tripe in aurochs dripping, we hit the winding road through the mountains into the Sawatch.
After basking in the starlight for a while, we hit the hay feeling good about the next day. We woke up early and after a meal of banana and some rather ghastly oatmeal we hit the trail at 5:30AM under head lamps. The trail seemed pretty well beaten but stepping out of it resulted in at least a knee-deep posthole. Much of the first half mile was an easy downhill trek. We crossed the bridges described in the 14ers.com route page and began our steep uphill slog. At the end of the first hour there was a net elevation gain of only 700 feet. All that downhill trekking killed our stats a bit.
There was a good snowshoe trail to follow for a bit and trail breaking wasn't too much of an issue for a little bit. Beyond a point however the trail became irregular and we went off route a couple times and evemtually zeroed back in on the right path. The snow was slushy at places and there was plenty of post holing and trail-breaking fun. We found a shovel handle/probe on the trail. If you're reading this report and can identify a suitable reward, the shovel's yours.
We finally approached treeline and an elevated plateau prior to gaining the ridge via the scree slope. Here we stopped for a bite to eat and drink. We removed our snowshoes at this point and started up the steep scree with patches of snow.
There was some good scrambling at the top of the slope which took us to the top of the ridge. Here's looking down at the slope from the top…
We had made good time up until this point and we started up the ridge at 8:20AM. This was going to be a great day. The ridge for the most part was characterized by patches of packed snow.
We identified a few wet slides on East facing aspects of adjacent peaks. A slushy fate awaited us on our down climb. The initial part of the ridge was gentle and we forged ahead confident of making good time.
At about 10AM the steeper sections were upon us.
Here's looking back at the ridge from this point.
It was a beautiful day with clear blue sky. Ellingwood ridge (in the picture below) issued a very strong invitation from across the valley, and we fought off the temptation to set off bounding down an east face into the arms of that burly beast. No… that will be reserved for a different day.
The ensuing sections of the NW ridge started taking on the semblance of steep snow and we had to kick-step our way up it. Crampons were not necessary.
Here's looking at a snowfield above us. The snow appeared safe and solid with some sastrugi. The wind which had made an appearance ever since we hit the ridge started picking up a little bit. My nose demanded a balaclava and the said clavae were provided.
Doumall and Debbie make their way up the slope in an almost surreal setting…
We got past this final snow slope and appeared at the following rocky section of the climb at about 11:30AM
We quickly boulder hopped our way up to this last stretch leading to the summit block at the end.
We reached the summit at a reasonable time of 12 noon, and what a day to be up there… I mean, look at all that blue sky…
... and our mugs...
Here's a little Ellingwood beta if you're planning to do it this spring. I made a promise to try and make it back to this beautiful ridge some winter, when I'm a faster and better climber.
We had some sandwiches and hydrated up on the summit and stayed awhile taking pictures. We set off plunge-stepping downhill at about 12:45PM.
At about 2PM we met a couple other climbers at 13,700' making their way up. They appeared to be moving steadily and we chatted awhile. That's a lot of traffic for one winter day. The La Plata trail is beginning to look like a Roman road. We steadily made our way back to the scree slope and made our way down it very carefully and donned snowshoes again. There was a brief section of snowshoe skiing to be done which got us down to treeline.
The rest of the trail through the trees was not as slushy as we'd expected and the going was fairly quick, barring a couple tumbles and the occasional posthole inches away from the beaten trail. The last uphill section was not fun but visions of many pounds of steak carried us faster. We got one last peek at this beautiful mountain before making it back to the trailhead at 4:20PM… a roundtrip time of 10:50.
Another day, another mountain climbed with great people... Good times were had by all.