La Plata Peak
Descent Route: North Face Couloir
La Plata Peak
North Face
Saturday, April 22, 2006

The last three days has been amongst the most intense of my skiing life. After incredible powder and an epic weather day on the North Face of North Maroon, I went straight to Capitol Peak. Hopefully you have read that trip report. With only a days rest I woke up early today, and drove three and a half hours around the Sawatch Range to the east side of Highway 82, the highway over Independence Pass that runs only two mile away from my house on it?s way to Glenwood Springs. Yesterday I picked up my good friend and renowned ski photographer Christian Pondella at the Aspen airport. Christian will be joining me on the road, in our 29? RV, for the next week. He and I have enjoyed some amazing trips together, all over the world, and I am psyched that he wanted to go climb and ski some of Colorado?s finest. Nick Devore is along for the week. He and I skied Castle Peak and North Maroon together this week, and he is getting ready to leave for a climbing and skiing trip to Denali in two weeks. Will Cardamone joined the team today. Will grew up with Nick in Aspen, and he is a super-solid, twenty-year-old telemarker.

We left my home at 6:15 a.m. and were at the trailhead for La Plata and skinning at 9:45 a.m. The approach to the peak is usually pretty straight forward, but deep in the forest the trail was indiscernible. We ended up ?creating? a route up into basin below La Plata?s western flanks. The day was warm, and we were already experiencing collapsing snow at 11:00. As we crested the west side of the mountain, we got a great side view of the North Face. The face is jagged and split by many deep couloirs. Although we could not see into all of them, we did spy the line I had hoped was in, a direct route off the summit. Four or five years ago I skied this route for an article in Powder Magazine on skiing Colorado?s classic north faces, and was happy to be back on this exciting face. I must admit that the final 2000? feet of the climb was exhausting. I was definitely feeling the effects of my efforts in the Elk Range. My legs felt flat and my breathing was way out of synch. Some food and a Red Bull took care of part of that. We relaxed for a while on the summit and discussed plans for the next week. If I had my down jacket with me I probably would have taken a nap right then and there. But we rallied and got ready to enter the couloir.

The upper section of this line is very steep and narrow, and is not a place you would want to fall. With that said, the skiing is really pretty straight forward, and we skied some steep turns down to a narrow crux. You had two choices here: straight-line for 20 feet and try and dump your speed in a 25? wide gully, or air about 5 feet and land with less speed than the straight-line gave. Will and I chose to ski through the line. Nick sent the air (see photo), and Christian got some great shots of this move. Lower in the couloir the line widens significantly, and so did our turns. The snow on the upper two-thirds of the face was cold and, soft, and chalky. Nearing the bottom it turned to excellent corn. We skied fast out in to the basin, and made our direction a ridge to our left that would allow us to contour around into the valley we had ascended in the morning. At this point, and at this elevation, the snow had turned to shit. Even with fat skis, we all broke through to the ground many times, creating a serious comedy of errors as we got lower in the forest. Imagine skiing along at a good clip, then instantaneously being buried to your thighs; frustrating and funny at the same time.

We finally made it back to the RV at 4:00 p.m., tired and ready to get to our next trailhead and relax. A quick, and expensive (55 gallon RV tank) stop for fuel in Buena Vista, and we were on our way to the base of Mt. Antero, our objective for tomorrow. Since we are not near internet access I?ll try and get these updates out as soon as possible,


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