14er Ski Descents – La Plata Peak – May 30, 2005
Route: North Face
Team: Christy, Ted, Dirk Bockelmann
The North Face of La Plata is a good late-spring 14er ski descent for two reasons. Its north face couloirs keep snow late in the spring, and coming from Aspen it’s less driving if you wait until Independence Pass opens. So Dirk, Christy, and I loaded up the Suburban and headed over the pass for my third 14er of the extended Memorial Day weekend. The quick one hour drive was a refreshing change to the usual drawn out approach so common with this stuff.
The trail was dry for a while and we had out skis and boots on our backs. Upon reaching the NW ridge, we put on our ski boots and continued up with crampons. We could see the couloir riddled North Face, with plenty of snow still– this would be fun. From that point we made it to the summit quickly, which was good as some spring weather appeared to be moving in.
Upon reaching the summit I could see that north side of Missouri Mountain still looked to be filled in. Like La Plata, that’s another good late season ski line, maybe next week? The snow in the couloir below us looked good, the heavy cloud cover had warmed the air that morning. The couloirs were ready to be skied.
The three of us had a a blast. There are several different ways to ski the north face, you can take your pick from several couloirs. From wide ones to narrow chutes, natural wind features and abundant rock outcroppings, it has a playground feel as opposed to a long, feature-less line with a single fall line. I would love to ski this again someday.
At the base of the big North Face, tree line and snow line met and we were faced with a decision. Option one: climb and contour around to the west, to meet up with the dry summer trail we ascended. Or option two: follow the thinning snow down into the forest, taking it as far as it went, and walking back to the trailhead from there. FYI, get back on the summer trail.
We thought we might be able to ski little ribbons of snow (what we call “ribbons of love”) far down into the shady forest, and that we might just find a ski line all the way to Highway 82. It was OK for a bit, but the “love” ended soon after we started, and we went to battle with the forest. With skis mounted in an A-frame on our backs and ski boots in their bindings, we followed old meandering game trails which ran everywhere through deadfall and dark timber for about two hours.
As miserable as it was, like a lot of things given the benefit of time, the drawn out exit only added to the days positive experience in our memories. The three of us once again had an awesome day.