Solo ski descent NW ridge

Solo ski descent NW ridge

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 39.02940°N / 106.4725°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Apr 14, 2007
Activities Activities: Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring
I've been wanting to summit La Plata for some time now, since it's one of my last two 14ers to climb in the Sawatch; and given that it's not a technically challenging mountain, I had hoped to pull off a winter ascent. But, after last month's debacle, it looked as if a winter ascent wasn't going to happen for me. The weather was looking good for an ascent saturday, so I thought I'd try and bag a summit ski descent. None of my usual partners were around, so I was off from Boulder at 3:15AM for a solo mission. I arrived at the trailhead just before 6AM to find 4 inches of fresh snow from the previous storm. I ended up breaking trail from the car to the summit, making the climb much more exhausting. I stopped by the trail register to find that only a few groups had been through the area since our attempt in March, and much of the trail we had used was completely buried. I skinned up to treeline in just under four hours, which was slow, but not too bad given that I was breaking new trail solo. At treeline, I searched for the snow couch we had built a month prior, but I found no sign of anything. I considered traversing to the side of the ridge and joining up with an approximation of the standard summer trail, but being solo, I felt more comfortable climbing directly up the ridge, then traversing the ridge to the summit. This proved to be a long bootpack, but lots of fun. I actually could have put my skis back on when I was traversing the ridge, but I don't know how much quicker this would have been.

just after sunrise

the view of the summit from just above treeline. I ascended the scree slope in the left of this photo then traversed the ridge all the way to the summit

a nice view of Sayres from the ridge

getting closer to the summit

looking back at my boot path along the ridge. i probably should have put my skis back on for this, but it wasn't too bad of a boot pack.

I finally reached the summit at 3:15, about 9 hours after I started. 9 hours to climb about 4500 feet over 4 miles or so. I'd like to think it took so long because I was laying fresh tracks, but I was probably just slow. Oh well. I couldn't have asked for better weather and it was a great climb with a little of everything - skinning, rock scrambling/snow climbing, boot pack ridge traverse, 14,000 foot summit. This was a blast! I was totally exhausted as I reached the summit and moving at an incredibly slow pace, but the exhilaration of having made it brought a new burst of energy, and after a short rest and refuel I was ready for the descent. I had decided that with the new snow, the north face was probably a little too committing to go for a solo descent. I thought the line off the shoulder looked good, but I had measured it at 35 degrees, so I wanted to feel pretty confident it wouldn't slide before I committed to that line. I clicked into my skis, touched the tails to the summit cairn and began my descent. I was able to ski nice wind slab for the first few hundred feet, then had to negotiate a rock field for a bit, then made it out onto the open part of the ridge. The snow was surprisingly nice with good soft wind slab to solid hard pack, fun turns for a wind hammered ridge. I quickly arrived at the top of the shoulder, and with the seemingly good stability thus far (I had observed one small slide which looked to be a day or two old, but all the snow I skied and travelled over thus far had looked good with no cracking, whumpfing or any other visual sign of instability), I approached the rollover into the shoulder cautiously. I planned on skiing to a safe zone to dig a pit, and I took a few ski cuts in a safe area just above the rollover. But as I neared the top of the convexity, I found some of the new snow to be breaking off in sheets. This was enough for me to decide not to go solo. I knew that this was possibly minor, especially since it occurred near the convexity where you would expect to find a weakness. With a partner I would probably still have considered a descent of this east aspect, but I had decided to go on the extra conservative side as a solo trip. So, I descended the ridge back to the saddle and dropped off the west side into some beautiful spring snow, made some nice turns then traversed back down to treeline and skied to the car, 3.5 hours for the descent and 12 hours round trip.

the summit

summit scenics

tracks just below the summit. you can see the rocks i had to negotiate. It was actually not as bad as it looks to get through.

more tracks on the upper part of the ridge

the beginning of the end for a cornice. this was maybe 8 feet or so in from the edge. i moved even further from the edge after exposing this. Another crack formed a little ways down the ridge as well.

my tracks down the west side of the ridge

one last scenic


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