I have been wanting to climb La Plata Peak (14,336 feet) in the Sawatch Range in winter conditions for some time now and finally got the opportunity to climb it with Jeff and 5 friends.
On Thursday, March 27th 2008 we met Steve, Steve, Steve, Mike and Mike at Sawatch Backcountry, a great outdoor shop in Leadville, CO to pick up any last minute gear. We all decided to have lunch before going up to the trail head so we headed over to the Golden Burro Café and Bar. (you should try the open face turkey sandwich with mash potatoes, it’s yummy). After lunch we all drove up the Independence Pass road to the La Plata Peak trailhead. We couldn’t park in the parking lot because there was so much snow. We had to park along the road the best we could. We got out our snow shoes first because when we tried to get on the trail we just sunk to our knees. The tents were first set up and then Mike gave us a lesson on crevasse rescue which was really fun and informative.
We actually put Jeff over an edge of a gorge and learned how to set up a Z pulley system to get him out.
We headed back to camp and had dinner and discussed the route we wanted to take and at what time we were going to leave camp. Friday March 28th 2008 at 4:30 am I woke up. I was a little nervous that I was the only girl on the climb and a little excited because I had been wanting to do this climb for such a long time. So at 5:00 am a went to where the guys tents were set up and howled like a coyote, “Ahoo, Ahoo” and I didn’t see any head lamps go on so I waited one minute and yelled “BREAKFAST IN FIVE MINUTES”!!! Then I heard one smart ass say “OK mom”. We all had a little breakfast and double checked our gear before heading out. It was 6:30 am when we finally left camp. The sound of the hard morning snow against the snow shoes was so loud and crunchy you had to yell in order for anyone to hear you. We had to cross this bridge...
early in the morning!
The first couple miles in snow shoes was really neat because we hiked in the woods in La Plata gulch.
It was also nice that there was already a trench made so no one had to break trail.
Breaking wind on the other hand was not a problem for some guys in our group.
We climbed about 600 feet to a saddle and took off our crampons.
and Steve climb to the Ridge
After climbing to a saddle on the ridge, we took off our crampons. The snow on the saddle had blown off enough to just walk in our boots. The wind started to kick up a bit so I put on my hood and goggles. We hiked along the saddle for a while and got on the regular summer trail we had to vary a little when there was too much snow. At that point a couple of the guys decided to head back down so that left five of us to try to summit. We later got to a point where Jeff and I decided to take a little bit different route then the other three, as we liked the looks of bouldering up to the ridge other then going around. Jeff and I made it up to the ridge and looked up at the summit. We knew we still had another hour to go the wind was really starting to howl by now so we decided to hike up another 15 minutes and assess again. We were still feeling pretty good so we decided to go ahead and go for the summit . I was so PSYCHED to reach the summit first. The views were absolutely breathtaking.
I have never been on a summit where the other peaks had so much snow on them. I have climbed all of the 14ers in Colorado but have never seen anything like this before. I would have loved to have had a magic wand and have my friends and family magically appear to share that moment. Jeff and I spent about 10 minutes on top and decided to descend. We met Mike, Mike and Steve on our way down and they told us about the route they took…they said they were waist deep in snow. We told them they still had about a half hour to the summit but to keep an eye on the weather. The winds by then had about 80 miles per hour gusts, it was blowing me off of my feet onto the ground. One of the guys decided to turn around not much after that. We decided to descend the exact same way we came up so we just followed our foot steps down. The rocky ridge on the way down was getting to be a little unnerving and I was really starting to get tired so I sat on a rock, cried and ate something for 5 minutes and then felt a lot better. At that point Mike met and descended with us and we got down to where we put our crampons back on and even got to glissade at bit down to our snowshoes.
We had left camp at 6:30 am and it was now 5:30 pm and we were exhausted. We still had another hour and a half to camp. We didn’t talk much we were so tired. Suddenly, I yelled out “Where the f@#! is that damn bridge?” I knew it wasn’t far back to camp from there. That was the longest last half mile in my entire life. We got down to camp at 7:00 pm we took off our packs and sat gazing into space for a while. We got out some water and drank and drank and drank. This was one of the hardest but most rewarding climbs I have ever done. I finally got to put all the skills into action that I have learned over these many years but most of all...mental toughness.
Calling yourself a mountaineer is something to be very proud of.