We Came, We Saw, We Partied! - La Plata Winter Route
View up La Plata Gluch from snowshoe stash
Peak: La Plata 14,336’ Distance: ~8mi (plus distance getting almost to East La Plata) Elev Gain: 4200' (plus elev gain/loss on traverse attempt) Time: 9:00 (6:45am - 3:45pm): Summited La Plata @ 11:15AM (4:30 to summit), Spent total of 1:30 on summit and traverse, 3:00 to descend Technical Gear: Trekking Poles, Microspikes (I used snowshoes on way up, others didn't) Travelers: Geojed (Jed), Matt Lemke, jswiftcervelo (Josh) Wildlife (other than the climbers ): None
Just getting there can be the hardest part
Matt, Josh, Pete and I met at the T-Rex parking lot at 3AM and headed up slippery I-70 in Matt's car. 5mi up the road, after being passed by a couple of cars and unsuccessfully trying to wash/wipe the windshield off we discovered that Matt's car was out of washer fluid! Which is a terrible condition to be in on snowy/slushy/salty/wet roads with semi's and other cars passing you. So we stopped in Idaho Springs and refilled the washer fluid. It still took a while for the air to work its way out of the system, but traffic was lighter and we just had to make sure no one passed us and we didn't pass anyone and we were golden! The road on the other side of the Eisenhower Tunnel was especially slick w/ snow so we drove at 30mph down the hill. All this snow didn’t portend well for the weather conditions for our climb of La Plata but as we drove over Fremont Pass and down into Leadville the clouds/snow completely cleared up and we started the hike under clear, starry skies. The slick roads pushed our start time from 5:45am to 6:45am which was good so we didn’t wake up Natalie! When we got to the TH several other cars were already there and people were getting ready to hike. Natalie (nkan02) was there too and we all geared up quickly and set off on the trail.
The incredible North Face of Sayres BM
Let the Party Begin!
I decided to wear snowshoes because I’m lazy and I like the freedom of not having to worry/think so much about stepping exactly on the boot pack or you will posthole. Matt, Josh and I were the speedy ones of the day and Pete hiked with Natalie. We made short work of the flat section and then we came to where the trench splits. The left trench had pink surveying tape along it but the right trench stayed more in the gully. We deliberated for a second about which trench to take, and we decided to take the RIGHT trench that headed up the gully. I’m glad we did as we never saw the other trench with the pink surveyors tape again and I’m not sure where exactly it goes. Josh surmised that maybe it goes towards the Ellingwood Ridge route? Anyways, the trench was very easy to follow as it wound its way up the gully alternating between mellow and steep. I led and “re-broke” slightly the mostly-broken trench because I was the only one of the three of us wearing snowshoes. We quickly got to treeline and up to the base of the gully that accesses the NW ridge of La Plata.
From here we gawked at the gorgeous North Face of Sayres BM while we stashed our snowshoes.
Close-up of Sayres BM North Face
From the stash point we headed up the very loose slope being wary of rocks that “look” stable but are more than willing to roll at the touch of your boot. I gained the solid rock ASAP and once I did it was an easy/safe scramble to the ridge.
Loose gully up to NW ridge, taken on descent. You can see the "dirt" track to the solid rock
From the ridge we had great views up La Plata Gulch
View up La Plata Gulch
Across to the short in stature but tall in beauty PT12,610 with East Garfield and Grizzly Peak A in the background.
PT12,610 w/ "East Garfield" and Grizzly Peak A behind
Good views of Elbert and Bull Hill were also to be had looking north.
View North w/ Bull Hill and Mt Elbert (Center Right)
We headed up La Plata’s NW ridge staying along the rock/snow edge.
Looking down the NW ridge
Fantastic views of the Ellingwood Ridge accompanied us along the way.
Part of Ellingwood Ridge
Towards the top Josh got tired of waiting for us slowpokes so he went all Lance Armstrong to our Jan Ullrich and powered away like a machine to the summit, which we reached around 11:15AM. It was sunny and quite pleasant on the summit with a 10mph WNW wind that was easy to hide from while we snacked and refueled. A possible second objective for the day was to attempt Sayres BM’s East Ridge. The views we had of it from La Plata’s summit showed too much snow and not enough exposed rock, and weren’t encouraging enough to have to lose 1500ft just to get a better look at the conditions.
Let the party begin! Missouri(far left), Huron and the Apostles behind
I had seen a checkbox on the peak lists for “East La Plata” so I proposed traversing to it as a consolation prize for not getting Sayres BM. We headed across and enjoyed some really fun Class 3/4 scrambling to the last notch right before the climb up to East La Plata. Here we were faced with a 20ft cliff that had a 6-12” ledge on a perfectly vertical face we would have to traverse for 5ft or so to get down to the notch. The only other way we could see was to descend about 50ft or so on very loose and very steep snowy scree to get around this obstacle. So we decided to turn around and head back to La Plata’s summit.
Beautiful snowy gully on traverse to East La Plata
We enjoyed the scrambling a second time as we headed back.
Snowy knife edge on way back to La Plata. Josh and Matt on right
We made it back to La Plata’s summit around 12:30pm, fully expecting to see others arriving “fashionably late” to the summit party we had planned.
Ridge back to La Plata. Josh (L) Matt (R)
When we arrived back at the summit no one else had arrived yet. So we hung out for 15min or so waiting for people to come up but no one came. So we decided to head down at 12:45pm and we would see them on the descent. 5mins down we ran into the first group of 5 others heading up (incl Natalie and Pete), then there were more, and more, and more. We counted 15-16 others as we descended (Iman86, Silverlynx, SurfNTurf, Grover to name some others). We thought about forming a conga line but everyone was too spread out! also we thought maybe we were violating "fire code" with this many people on the peak at one time.
Matt, Josh and I cruised down the ridge (with images of “meatball marinara” dancing in our heads) and made it back to the car around 3:45pm. A great day, w/ great climbing partners, and fun time partying with everyone on La Plata.
La Plata no worse for our party's wear
Here are some pics taken by SurfNTurf (Jeff) and Natalie (Nkan02):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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