Peak:  La Plata Peak (14er)
 Route:  Northwest Ridge
 Range:  Sawatch
 Posted By:  vdavidoff
 Date of Info:  02/21/2013
 Date Posted:  02/21/2013

I attempted La Plata Peak for the 2nd time today. Unfortunately for some reason my GPS didn‘t save the data it was collecting today (!!!), otherwise I‘d provide it.

Last night La Plata Peak received about 6-8 inches of snow, and maybe another inch or two today. Even with that new snow, there‘s a clearly defined trench below tree line, all the way up to the clearing at around 11,700‘ where you aim to gain the ridge. Just after the clearing there was no sign of a trench or a trail at all, and given how quickly even today‘s mild winds (occasional, 10-15mph) covered my tracks, I imagine any tracks I left past the clearing are already gone.

If you‘re into snow shoes, they would have helped today, but I generally find them more aggravating than helpful. Personally I think using them in the fairly narrow trench would have been a headache, and the sections where they would have been helpful on the ridge too short to mess with, especially considering the stretches where you‘ll be on rocks/boulders. But that‘s me. And that said, I still had mine with me.

I stuck with microspikes, though there were some sections above tree line where I post holed. Making my way across the clearing at 11,700‘ to gain the ridge I post holed up to my thighs the whole way, but it was relatively short and I expected it. On the ridge there were a few short sections where I post holed to my shins or knees, but again, these were relatively short. The trench below tree line is solid, but if you get out of it at all, you will post hole to about your knees. I found the climb up to the ridge from the clearing to be a little sketchy, but perhaps I took the stupid way up (switched up right from about the middle the clearing). Though I didn‘t see a safer/better way to do it (not to say there isn‘t one).

Once on the ridge I was doing a lot of careful foot placement, feeling for whether or not I was going to post hole, or would find a boulder under the snow. This slowed me down a bit but with care I usually found rocks/boulders under my feet.

This trench below tree line diverts from the summer trail pretty quickly. Just before the last hard climb to make tree line there‘s a short section that mellows out, which is kind of nice given how steep of a climb the winter diversion is. This is just my opinion, but I think any way you slice it, gaining tree line during winter on La Plata Peak is just plain hard. It took me around 3 hours.

My possibly incorrect understanding of the winter route is that instead of going west around the buttress that peaks around 13,500‘, you just go straight up it. I got within maybe 100‘ of the top and the climb got so sketchy that I turned back. At this point I would have had to literally climb (arms, legs, leverage, skills, what not) almost straight up over the top. As risky as that seemed (extremely), I couldn‘t imagine having to down climb it. At least not with the snow cover. Even down climbing some of what I had done so far was a little scary. I really wish I had my GPS data for this. I think it took me about 6 and a half hours to reach this point.

As I descended I took a look at the west side of the buttress from several vantage points and couldn‘t see any way to safely divert west around it, like you do in the summer, with the snow cover. I also couldn‘t see any route other than the one I tried to take that appeared safe. But maybe I just didn‘t see it, or snow cover made it hard to discern. Basically I was climbing up the buttress and trying to stick close to boulders that I could hang onto, and the other options appeared to cross extremely steep decently large patches of snow, with no way to know what lay underneath. It took about 2.5 hours to fully descend. I was right at 9 hours when I reached my car at the trailhead.

This is only my opinion, but I don‘t think there‘s significant avalanche risk if you stay squarely on top of the ridge, at least as far as I made it (near the top of the buttress). There absolutely *is* avalanche risk if you were to veer off of either side. There were clearly defined cornices on the east side of the ridge. There are sections where the ridge becomes very narrow, so great care must be taken. If you had to stick closer to one side of the ridge than the other, I found the west side of the ridge to be safer looking (more boulders and rocks than just plain slopes of snow). But again, just my opinion. Use your own judgement.

Sorry that‘s long. I think that‘s all there is to tell.

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