Peak(s):  La Plata Peak  -  14,336 feet
Date Posted:  05/19/2021
Date Climbed:   05/15/2021
Author:  dvdcmiller
 Harvesting the silver on the North couloirs route   

Climb of La Plata peak via the North face couloirs on Saturday, 2021/5/15.

I camped in my truck near Mt. Elbert at N39.10061° W106.35608° at 9676' to wake at 3:04 am, have breakfast, and depart for La Plata at 4:10. I arrived at the La Plata Gulch trailhead at N39.06783° W106.50511° at 10135' at 4:30 to pack and get going at 5:02. It was 28 degrees F at the TH when i left. The road part of the route was easy to follow, with little snow. It helped to have the gps track from 14ers.com to know to turn on to the trail at N39.06406° W106.50391° at 10146'. There was some snow on the lowest part of the trail, even turning to ice in some of the steeper sections (including the wooden steps - walk gingerly!) It also helped to have the gps track to know to turn off the trail at N39.05674° W106.49432° at 10728'- i actually passed the turn in the gps track to initially follow fully melted sections (exposed ground). I was grateful to everyone who had done the North Face route recently. With a good freeze overnight, I was able to follow tracks in the snow in to La Plata basin without much post-holing. It helps to step on any previous steps or track, where the snow becomes dense with a good freeze.

I reached the clearing at N39.05137° W106.48608° at 11778' at 7:19 am. If you have not yet and are not on skis, this is a good spot to put on crampons as the most direct approach follows around to the left on steep snow. It was an exercise on the ankles to follow along the topographic contour line to the couloirs. The north face may be accessed by continuing left beyond a rock wall to N39.03844° W106.47068° at 12249'. With my crampons already on, i continued up the main couloir, which goes up and right in its lower section, followed by a sharp left turn. The couloir system on north La Plata was in good shape. There was about 4” of soft on dense, with some sizable patches of snow turning to ice near the top. Thanks to the couple that ascended 30 minutes before me for the steps - that saved me work. Being bigger than both of them I'm sure i left the steps more established. They typically stayed to the left of the couloir - which was the hardest snow being located in the shadows the longest, but sometimes more directly in the fall line (i think they were trying to avoid being in the middle of the couloir where you might find descending skiers). There was not a great rock fall danger: there were a few small sized rocks in the snow below and along the couloir, but mostly tiny bits. After the initial lowest angle section, I measured the angles of 36.1, 39.6, 37.3, 35.4, and 37 degrees along the couloir. I suspect it briefly steepens to low-to-mid 40 degrees at the exit at the top. After an early group near the bend in the lowest section of the couloir, a couple groups of skiers were descending when I had about 600’ more elevation to go. Each group was telegraphed by a small shower of chunks and flakes of snow followed by the first glimpse of a skier zipping across above. There was enough snow to the right of the final, highest fork to ascend directly to the summit. All the skiers were coming down this way too. This avoids what looks like a tedious ridge scramble if you were to go left at the fork. I reached the summit at N39.02949° W106.47298° at 14374' at 12:37 pm. The wind was stronger than i expected and brisk at the summit. I did not bring goggles, but did not truly need them at the summit.

After photos and a snack i started down the standard route at 1 pm. The top of the route was mostly wind scoured free of snow, i bet through the winter season too. I followed the route to where it descended from a saddle in the ridgeline. I could see from the ridge that Independence pass is still snowed over. I’m not sure how people were getting up the middle section of the standard route. The route eventually disappeared into a snow field. I stayed relatively high, following under a rock ridge and then proceeding down and NW. I followed a melted out slope down to rediscover the route at N39.04685° W106.48905° at 11229' at 3:45. The lowest section through the forest was well trafficked, so I did not notice the shoulder season hardly at all. It helped to avoid post-holing that it was clouded over through the afternoon. This was great as i did not bring snowshoes for the forest sections. I reached my truck at 5:09 pm.


Link to album of photos at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/19047247@N04/albums/72157719224233046




Comments or Questions
davebks

Route
05/24/2021 21:28
Hi, I‘m shooting for Sunday or Monday to climb the peak. This was a helpful write up. Thanks for the detail. Two questions, one, I‘ll be going up solo, aside from the usual don‘t climb alone kind of stuff, do you think the north route is doable solo? Or I was considering the standard route with the winter variation with the head wall. Given what you know which one would you choose? Also, I‘m bringing My Pop Up Camper for the night. Are there plenty of places to pull off and camp nearby ish? Thanks!


dvdcmiller
route and camping
06/11/2021 12:36
I did the north couloir solo, there was at least a handful of other groups between ascending and descending. It's a CO 14er, difficult to be truly alone. The TH is directly off the road, that's why i camped near Mt. Elbert, which is a short drive to La Plata



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