Peak(s):  La Plata Peak  -  14,336 feet
Date Posted:  02/18/2012
Date Climbed:   02/16/2012
Author:  WDavis
 Old Man Winter/Cat/Mouse v. Lone Hiker  

This turned out to be quite a day.

I had decided to do La Plata on a whim over the decalibron. A few members had mentioned they would be attempting La Plata as well so I planned on seeing them on the mountain at some point. It turns out that no one was on the mountain that day except me. It had been 2 weeks since I had gotten out so I was eager to go and make this one happen.

I left Denver and arrived at the La Plata trailhead at about 9pm the night before. I got my mobile hotel set up, watched Season of the Witch on my laptop (weird movie), and turned in for the night at 11pm.

One hour later I woke up to a scratching sound coming from my window. My first thought was that someone was outside trying to get my attention. "Thats creepy," I thought. I soon realized I was alone in the parking area. There was no one there but me. Still the sound persisted. In my confused state I tried to make sense of what was going on. Was there something in my car? Yes. There was indeed.

I got up, put my clothes on, walked around the back of my car and lifted the floorboard to the spare tire space in my car where the sound was coming from. It was a mouse.

"How did a mouse get in there?" I wondered. I pulled the tire out hoping to grab the mouse and toss it out. No luck. He disappeared further into the body of my car before I was able to get him. I put everything back and returned to by sleeping bag to try to go back to bed. An hour later, the noise was back and it was louder this time. I consciously tried to ignore it and slept on and off through the night. At 5:30am my alarm went off. Within seconds of sitting up I saw a very large coyote trot by right in front of my car. Then a second came flying out of nowhere. They must have been chasing something. These coyotes were much bigger than I'd seen before and truthfully it was a little intimidating. As I got dressed I could hear the mouse still partying inside my car somewhere. There was nothing I could do about it.

I was hiking at 6:08am. I made my way down the trail and at the second bridge across the river I came upon more signs of wildlife. Namely, cat tracks.


By about 7:30 I reached the northern most headwall of the ridge.


I ascended the left slope in the picture above. The scree slope was highly unstable on the way up but still safer than traversing the avy slopes heading south by the summer trail.

By 8am I had gained the ridge. I was finally in the sun and it was a beautiful day.



The forecast has called for a high in the low 20's and a wind chill of -15 to -20 blowing at 20mph. As I traversed the ridge, the wind gradually picked up and though it was not blowing hard (NOAA was spot on at about 20mph) it was colder than anything I'd experienced to date.


The first 3/4 of the ridge is a very gentle, pleasant walk. The last 1/4 gains elevation quickly and is a little tougher. When I got to that part the wind chill was having a substantial effect on my energy and stamina. I was also hungry, but I was not about to remove my gloves and try to feed myself. I was afraid if I stopped I'd get too cold.

At 11am I reached the summit, I was shocked how incredible the view was.




I made my way to the east side and sat down out of the wind (which had subsided some on the summit). Then I noticed I couldn't feel the tips of my thumbs or my two middle fingers at all.

I dug my fingernails into each one. No pain sensation whatsoever. "That's not good," I said out loud. The relief and feeling of happiness for having reached the summit quickly disappeared as I realized my finger tips were on their way to being frost bitten.

As an EMT I knew it was imperative to thaw them as quickly as possible. I had no idea how long they'd been without feeling. I placed my hands below my heart and started rubbing my palms together to generate circulation.

Within minutes I could feel the blood returning to my fingers; and with the blood came the return of sensation and with that came a sharp persistent pain. I sat on the summit and groaned as my fingers thawed. While it was uncomfortable, I was relieved because the pain meant that my fingers would be fine and that no permanent damage would be done.

Once I got my fingers back, I was able to relax on the summit and take some pictures.






After about 35min on the summit, my body temperature had dropped and I was now starting to shiver. I knew I had to get the blood pumping so I wasted no time and headed down immediately.

I had some trouble getting back down. For whatever reason, lack of sleep or not eating/drinking enough, I was toast. I would walk 50 yards and have to sit down. "This is the easy part," I thought to myself. "Why, is this so hard?" I forced down a hershey's bar and what little water I could get out of my frozen nalgene. That helped some and I was able to continue, though still completely exhausted. When I got to the head wall, I descended the sketchy scree slope carefully and was finally back at timber line.



I shed some clothing, (now it was hot, go figure...) and continued down. The upper half of the trail below timber line is very steep.


The snow had softened up considerably and I took several hard falls trying to get down. One fall in particular happened next to a fallen tree that rain parallel with the trail.

I was cautiously sidestepping and the ground gave pay and put me on my backside. I started sliding fast and my microspikes did not bite. In a split second I realized I was heading straight for a huge tree and I risked getting a leg, arm, or ankle caught somewhere and breaking something if I didn't stop. Just then I stopped abruptly.

Somehow, the loop on the cuff of my left glove had snagged a nub on the fallen tree and stopped me.

You can see the nub my glove snagged.

I looked up and wondered how the loop on my glove could be supporting my whole body weight. To get my feet set I actually had to pull up on the loop. It held. How, how, how did that loop hold???

Notice the left loop as compared to the right. Somehow that loop held my body weight.

This is the same pair of gloves, mind you, that I lost on Humboldt's east ridge one week on a failed summit attempt, and found a week later on a return attempt! Outdoor Research makes good gloves. I'll leave it at that.

My glove on the east ridge of Humboldt - Jan 2012

Once I got my feet under me, I then noticed my trekking pole. Better that than my leg.


Fortunately since I bought them at REI, I will be able to return them for a new pair. Side note: I work at the REI in Englewood. If you're ever in the neighborhood stop by. It always nice to meet fellow climbers.

After a few more falls, I made it back to the flat part of the trail. I noticed the cat tracks again this time going the other way. At this point, I had resigned myself to the fact that unless my luck changed, given the way things had been going, the cat was definitely going to be waiting for me on the trail and rip my jugular out. It's okay, I would just beat him with my bent trekking pole. They stopped right where they had started that morning, by the second bridge over the river. If you plan on doing La Plata anytime soon, keep in mind that there is a cat that lives right there.

I was relieved to reach my car at 2:45pm after a heck of a day. I opened the back hatch to my car and immediately heard the stupid mouse again. To this day I think he's still in there. I'm probably going to have to buy a trap or something.


I stopped at Tennessee Pass Cafe in Leadville and then was off to Denver. Another great day in the mountains was in the books.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/18/2012 20:53
I liked your description of the mouse! I think they must like the warmth of the car - I got woken up by a mouse running across my face when I was up by Bierstadt last month.


No Denim?
02/19/2012 03:22
Do you wear your jeans as a mid layer?

Don't think I 'll return those poles for you.

But good job texas boy. You make us Coloradoans look bad.


02/19/2012 11:31
Congrats on the summit, and glad you returned safely! I was up there a few days later, and know exactly where you're talking about with that tree--I was really sketched out on the trench section a bit above that. Otherwise was a fantastic peak with some impressive views!

P.S. We had no feline encounters of any sort, just a raven flying right by the summit


02/19/2012 15:26
Gorgeous pictures. Loved your summit shots. I'm kind've jeleous because I've been ”rejected” twice recently. Nice to know the summit is still there! Thanks for sharing the pics. You know, if youd've left your trunk open the cat might have taken care of the mouse problem! Congrats on a safe trip.


02/22/2012 05:13
Amazing photos!! Congrats on the summit, I can't wait to do that mountain one of these days. One of my BD trekking poles did the same thing in the grand canyon last spring... but totally agree, better than my leg!


I remember that tree very well
04/02/2015 19:45
and the very steep trail below treeline (no switchbacks). For a tired guy you move pretty fast I am a frequent visitor to that REI, maybe I see you there.

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