| Sayres BM and La Plata
Who: Andy Dimmen (ADimmen), Brennan Metzler (KansasBoarder)
What: Celebrated Andy's birthday in true Dimmen style
When: April 14th, 2010
Where: Central Sawatch Mountains
Why: Check out the lines!
With alpine conditions stabilizing for the first time in a long while, Andy and I decided to attempt a fun double in the Sawatch. A short-wave system had passed through the area on Tuesday, leaving behind a dusting to a few inches of the good stuff. Stiff northerly winds promised to redeposit the snow on favored aspects...but I digress.
After a short night of broken sleep at the La Plata TH, we were off and skinning just after 5am. With a crystal clear sky overhead, the air remained crisp throughout the morning, a small price to pay for the pleasant skinning conditions we enjoyed on the La Plata winter route.
While the horizon gained its daily glow, we gained treeline on the NW ridge of La Plata. At this point we left the La Plata winter trail, traversing southward and down to the La Plata gulch floor. Despite losing close to 500' vert, this path kept us above the micro route-finding, heinous downfall, and willow wacking of the lower gulch. We made the quick changeover to touring mode and soon found ourselves five miles in at the base of Sayres Benchmark's aesthetic north face.
ADimmen considers the numerous possibilities of the vertical world of Sayres' North Face:
The "X-rated" couloir drops off the true summit (lookers left). Grand Central Couloir falls away from the saddle between Sayres' twin peaks:
The most efficient way to gain the summit of Sayres BM is to boot/crampon straight up any one of the three prominent couloirs on its northface (the two branches of X-rated, or Grand Central Couloir). However, we decided to minimize our time in the rock walled chutes, electing to gain the NW ridge of Sayres instead.
A profile of Sayres BM's north face from 13,000 on the west ridge:
While this move cost us time and energy, taking nearly three hours to climb the 2000' of inconsistent sugary snow, it did keep us safe. We arrived at Sayres BM's breezy summit shorty before 11am - six hours, seven miles, and 4500 vert in.
A fatigued KansasBoarder climbs the final pitch of Sayres, photo Adimmen, son!
The views from the summit of this bicentennial 13er are jaw-dropping. Straight to the south and east are the numerous high summits of the Sawatch. To the west sit the powerful and intimidating Elks. North stretch the Mosquito, Gore, and Ten Mile Ranges. The southwest horizon is lined by the great San Juans. Wow.
But the north face beckoned. Oh, did it call our names. Later in the spring season on a normal snow year, it is possible to drop directly into the left branch of X-rated from the summit. However, we had to drop down the snowy ridge to the mildly corniced right-branch. After assessing the stability of the new snow, it was game on.
ADimmen enjoys wintry conditions in X-rated
KansasBoarder making the most of the phenomenal conditions. ALL PHOTOS ADIMMEN, YEAH!
Following the mandatory high-fives, hoots, and disbelief that comes after riding a line like X-rated in pretty darn prime conditions, we celebrated Andy's birthday....with day-old cream filled donuts and views of our handiwork.
No candles? Wax paper kind of works:
After our lunch in La Plata Gulch, it was time to do the dirty work of the day; skinning up the SW ridge of La Plata. Honestly, the soft surface conditions allowed for an efficient effort. However, the 4500 vert we already had on our legs did not. We worked our way up the windy slope, gaining the two false summits and topping out above 14,300.
As we took refuge from the wind beneath La Plata's summit block, dining on chocolate, turkey sandwiches and homemade smoothies, the day's effort started to hit home. It was close to 4pm, eleven hours after we left the warmth of the TH, and we were 10 miles and 7,000 vert in. I offer those statistics for two reasons. First, this trip was the biggest Winter/Spring effort of my short back country career...and that makes me excited. Two, for the number crunches who are considering this tour later in the season - it is a big effort, and WELL WORTH IT.
Adimmen considers lines on La Plata's awesome north face:
After recharging on the summit, we traversed along the south side of La Plata's East ridge to the entrance of a boomerang-like couloir. Being the gentleman that he is, Andy allowed me to ride the line top-to bottom, with one radio-check in the middle for a conditions/line report
KansasBoarder drops into one of the north lines on La Plata:
Riding this line in wind-buffed conditions was a gift. The snow was super-stable, consistent, and very readable....allowing me to open up and let loose a bit. Every time I banked around a rock wall and expected to find the apron, the couloir continued, softly turning downward nearly 2,000 vertical feet. I came charging out the bottom, howling primal screams of ecstasy.
I made my way across the basin and radioed up to Andy, who was waiting atop a separate line. It was good to go! Watching Andy handle the complex terrain of La Plata's north face was awesome. One ski cut, two, nothing doing. A big breath and he began banging out snappy turns down the steep upper pitch:
Rounding into the sunlight Andy handled the subtle changes in surface conditions with fluidity and style.
As he neared the apron, Andy let his skis go, opening up into super-g type turns.
We re-grouped in La Plata's deeply carved north basin. Surrounded on three sides towering rock walls, we had the joy of looking up at our brushstrokes on an otherwise blank canvas.
The traverse back to the winter trail on La Plata's northwest ridge went smoothly and quickly. However, as the trail wound to the western side of the ridge, a rotten snowpack greeted our drained bodies. We slogged, postholed, and face-planted our way back the the TH, arriving at 6:45, some 13.5 hours after we departed.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):