La Plata Peak

16 Jun 2001 - by Rob Mullen

On Saturday I decided to climb and ski the North Face of La Plata Peak. A grand adventure in every sense of the word. Arriving at the trailhead at 5:30am I met Sam (not the wolf dog, a person) from Colorado Springs who informed me that he would be climbing and skiing the route with his buddy Tony. They started hiking while I was still packing, I hit the trail around 6am. Here's where my 'variation' on the standard route starts. Continuing on the dirt road (South Fork Creek?) I hiked 2 miles past the turnoff for the La Plata trail, finally realizing I was nowhere near where I needed to be I turned around and went back the 2 miles and found the well-marked turnoff for the La Plata trail. Was this really here before? OK. Time to really start hiking, the Dawson's book says to hike 1 mile past the bridge to 11,100 feet, leave the trail and head northeast to a step on La Plata's northwest ridge. Since I didn't have an altimeter, I just hiked for a while, then headed east into the woods. After some Colorado style bushwhacking, I came to the step and found a faint trail, which I lost after about one hundred feet, keeping my compass bearing between 90 and 110 degrees I made my way towards the La Plata basin. When the bushwhacking ended at the river I found the trail again, at last the Ellingwood Ridge came into view. "So this is the famous Ellingwood Ridge, eh" an interesting adventure itself no doubt. There was still some snow on the trail, but it essentially follows the river up valley. As I came upon the main snowfield I met up again with Sam and Tony. We decided to climb this thing together. There are three main chutes on the North Face. Due to the recent new snow fall, there was a small direct action slide in the far left chute. The middle chute looked the best for skiing and the far right chute looked the easiest. Climb the far left chute. It's about 2,300 vertical from the base of the snowfield to the top of La Plata, it took us about 3 hours. The far left chute peaks out on the Ellingwood ridge about 100 feet below the true summit it is an easy snow climb, maximum angle 45 degrees. We gained the summit around 1pm. After debating which way to ski down, we decided to ski the middle chute, which ran right from the summit!!! While Sam and Tony (thanks for the fried chicken!!) were getting ready to ski, I couldn't wait anymore, time to hit the slopes!!! The turns at the top were amazing, right from the summit, really steep, really narrow, really exposed, on perfect consolidated corn snow. As I made my way down into the main chute, there was a layer of 3 inches of new snow not well bonded to the consolidated layer, certain it would not hold, I made two turns and cut left behind some cliffs and watched the innocuous slide polish the slope like a zamboni. 1,000 vertical feet later through the chute and into the main bowl, 25 degrees and loaded with about 6 inches of powder!!! Powder skiing in June, there's something to be said about that, not sure exactly what, but something. Simply an amazing ski descent in real wilderness surroundings. The hike out was easier knowing where I was going. Back to my car around 5, a greeting from a cold beer, a true friend who waits on ice and asks not of his purpose. The stats for my variation of the north face are 12 miles 4,500 feet of elevation gain, in 11 hours. If you choose to forego hiking in the wrong direction for 4 miles you can knock about 2 hours off that time. I would highly recommend this climb and ski to anyone who has nothing to do for a day and wants to ski great snow in June.

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