Peak(s):  La Plata Peak  -  14,336 feet
Date Posted:  06/03/2008
Modified:  12/03/2009
Date Climbed:   05/31/2008
Author:  doumall
 La Plata - Race for a North Face Ski   

Northwest Ridge Ascent
North Face Ski Descent
4500', 9.5 miles

After reluctantly dropping Debbie off at the airport for her summer research position with a colleague at Yale, I drove to the La Plata trailhead. Arriving at 8:30 am on a warm spring day lent for many questions in my mind.

Could I catch the group I intended to ski with who started at 5:45 am? Would the snow hold on the east facing aspects which were required to climb out of the basin below the North Face? Fortunately, there were no obligations I had to meet, if I needed to turn around I could.

I started the day in poor form, getting lost in the woods around 10,100' for nearly an hour. I felt like such a doofus running back and forth through heavy aspen and swamp land trying to find a waypoint. The major problem I had was I followed the road beyond the trail cut off, then tried to cut back east to catch the route but I counted streams incorrectly due to the many small torrents running through this area. I thought I was headed for Ellingwood ridge for a while, then convinced myself I was on track, then thought once again I was headed too far east: back and forth, back and forth. Someone camping in the area might have thought my shanagans were from an angry bear smashing helpless dead aspen trees. Eventually I found the raging stream coming down from La Plata gulch and had my bearings. Unfortunately it was completely impassable so I had to descend a few hundred feet to use the bridge. Finally on track I began to make progress at 9:45 am. I'm screwed I thought. Tree line and continuous snow was a welcome reprieve from the post-holing madness.

I used this gully to ascend to the NW ridge.

Sayres is holding nicely:

At the ridge I found the trail dry for a few hundred feet, and then switched back to skinning to the summit. I spotted a few climbers on the North Face and a few skinners along the final stretches of my route. I wasn't the only one summiting this late?

North Face:

Climbers on the face:

Ridge ahead with skinners:

Looking down the ridge:

These two guys were quite friendly and seemingly accomplished Colorado ski mountaineers, the type who have not benefited from the recent explosion of ski mountaineering popularity in Colorado. They have been doing this for years and years and look back fondly on days of seclusion on snow covered 14ers.

I decided to ski with them since I thought the group I had intended on catching was long gone. Just as I was about to ski off the summit...

...Pam and friends poked their heads up from below in the couloir.

Might as well wait for them to top out right? Some quiet time alone on La Plata...

It was cool to meet Pam, the first women to ski Capitol Peak. They ate lunch and leisurely got ready to ski. After spending over an hour on the summit I was ready to go. They were supposed to ski right behind me, but that didn't seem to happen which was fine as I got to ski fast with minimal time devoted to picture taking as is usual with a larger group of skiers. Here are some pics of the line: Looking up at the entrance:

Looking down from there:

The skiing was amazing despite being a bit past prime corn. The North Face of La Plata is a continuous low to mid 40 degree line with many options. Top three in the Sawatch 14ers in my book. After 10 minutes I was in the basin looking up at the face.

Already past my meeting time with Prakash in Buena, I high tailed it out of there. The best way to get back to the trailhead is to use a bench right above tree line which contours around to the Northwest Ridge right where the winter route hits tree line. There were some potential objective hazards above the bench, so I kept my distance.

Here is a view of the area where the bench wraps over the NW ridge. Some of you many recognize this from the winter route.

Looking back:

Looking forward:

I always try to add in beta in my TRs that answers questions I couldn't find prior to my trip. Getting out of this basin was one of them. I had heard it was a miserable bush whacking fest to get down by using the drainage below the North Face. I also heard climbing back up to the NW ridge usually involved dangerous snow conditions in the spring. This bench solves the problem, use it!

I continued to wrap around and descend into La Plata Gulch using nearly continuous snow patches. My post holing trip back down the trail should make it really easy for anyone to follow this route for the remainder of the 08 snow year.

I really wondered if we should just head back to the flatlands instead of going for Harvard the next day due to warm temps. However, I knew it would be a clear night, which gave the possibility the snow would freeze hard above 11k despite the high forecast overnight temps. Fortunately the snow froze really well Saturday night. We hit Harvard in perfect corn conditions and the approach/descent through the trees was easy. It's so nice to get it right in the mountains.

 Comments or Questions

top 3?
06/03/2008 23:24
Not sure which sawatch 14ers i‘d put on that list. E face Huron, N face Tab, N face Missou, Cross couloir, N face La Plata-- tough to rank those.

I want to do that huge S facing couloir on La Plata one of these years.

Way to keep cranking them out- where are you on your ski list?


Yo gb
06/04/2008 14:00
My top three in the Sawatch: Huron E Face, La Plata N Face and probably Cross Couloir although I havent done it yet. Would like to check out the N Face of Tab some day. N face Missouri is pretty short on vert although it always seems to deliver on conditions.

I have 38 total, 35 officials. Would like to get a list of 59 ( list plus N Massive). You can see which ones by looking at my profile


sounds about right
06/04/2008 22:44
Missou, yeah, it‘s short. Also the best conditions I skied on the 14ers. the N side of Tab may have been my favorite sawatch route overall, actually. The cross was cool, but having to exit so quickly our of the couloir takes a lot away from what would otherwise be a classic.

Nice list. I get to sit back and cheer for you and everyone else trying to get them done

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