Peak:  La Plata Peak (14er)
 Route:  Northwest Ridge
 Range:  Sawatch
 Posted By:  vdavidoff
 Date of Info:  03/27/2013
 Date Posted:  03/27/2013

Today I attempted La Plata Peak‘s Northwest ridge for the 3rd time this winter. I got within about 350‘ vertical feet of the summit then had to turn back due to exhaustion. It was painful to have to turn back so close, but it was the right thing to do. I‘m pretty wasted right now.

There wasn‘t really a trench at all anywhere today, but there was a depression where a recent trench was, and I followed it. It was full of new snow and had no tracks in it whatsoever, and snow shoes were definitely required. Later in the day 4 other people (in two parties) followed the same trench, so if you wanted to do so, it‘s pretty well beaten now. Though I still recommend snow shoes.

I knew very well that the standard winter route ascends toward the ridge very soon after the standard summer route hooks hard South, but for bad reasons I kept following the depression even though it was clear it was more or less following the summer route. I finally made the decision to try to crank up towards the winter route way, way too late, at around 2 miles. I knew I had waited too long, but that‘s just how it went.

Don‘t follow the tracks that turn up the hill at the 2mi point unless you‘re interested in abusing yourself. The attempt to turn up the hill at this point resulted in me digging a thigh-deep trench for about 2 tenths of a mile, at which point I decided to go back down and keep following the depression. The whole ordeal wasted about 1 hour (45m to go 2 tenths of a mile...). It was just way too hard and taking way too long. Turns out, only a about a tenth of mile past my too-late decision was a slope much less dense with trees, and significantly easier to climb, that led up to the clearing at ~11700. There was still a significant amount of trench digging going on but it was a way smarter move at that point.

That climb was definitely harder, more time consuming, and more aggravating than if the standard winter route had been followed, but it was safe, so I guess that‘s something. The past two times I have followed trenches that more or less followed the standard winter route, and those climbs to tree line took around 3h. Today, not including my poor route choice, took 3h30m.

I used snow shoes, and would recommend them, all the way up to the base of the scree slope where you actually gain the ridge. On the ridge there are places where snow shoes would keep you from post-holing, but there are so many other parts on the ridge where they‘d be anything from inconvenient to down-right dangerous/not advisable that I wouldn‘t recommend trying to use them on the ridge, unless you‘re really quick with stashing them or don‘t mind having to swap them on/off often. I used microspikes.

Last time I got stuck at the buttress, because I tried to go over the top. This time there was a lot less snow on the ridge and it was clear that I could go around it to the West. This worked but I may have been a little lower on the West slope than was necessary, but I didn‘t find it to be dangerous. Just slow going due to the somewhat unforgiving nature of making a mistake there, and dealing with finding footholds through the snow. In the attached picture note the small outcropping to the left (East) marked in red just before the top of the buttress. It is at approximately this point that I started making my way around to the right (West). Worked for me.

The battery in my GPS died about 1/2 down where I climbed to the hill to the clearing, so I don‘t have descent data beyond that point, but I didn‘t deviate from my ascent beyond there, so I don‘t think anything interesting is missing.

Including all stops, the poor route decision at 2mi, etc, it took me about 9.5h to reach where I did. About 4h down.

Photos (click for slideshow):
Image #1Image #2Image #3

 Comments or Questions

03/28/2013 17:05
Lets go back and get it next week.


I was thinking about that
03/28/2013 18:05
I was thinking about trying again as early as next week. Due to some work things I'd need to be probably Wed or later. Let me look at some things and get back to you. If you already know days that do/don't work for you, shoot me a PM.


New trench
03/30/2013 04:52
A friend of mine went out today in skis and put in a trench that follows the standard winter route up to the clearing. So, that's there now.

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