Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ellingwood Ridge

After a failed attempt last year, I have been pining to return and finally see if I could complete the Ellingwood Ridge on La Plata Peak. I drove to the parking area on Highway 82 and slept in the back of my truck. Anticipating a twelve hour day I woke at 4 and left at 4:30 AM.
The point where you leave the trail was fairly easy to find in dark. It is just over a hundred yards after the two log bridge crossing the second creek. I heard some animal in dark: probably just a deer, but I was hoping it wasn't a bear.

It didn't start to get light until I started up the boulder field at around 7:30 am. I didn't finish the tedious climb over the boulders (pic 1) until 8:30. I missed the cairns at 39 3.38, 106 28.85 because I crossed the third creek too soon.

Finally the fun part of the scramble was here (pic 2). The first down climb is a good test of what is to come on the rest of the ridge (pic 3). Overall the ridge is a good mix of hiking and third class climbing. I made my way contouring and down climbing on the left side of the ridge never getting too far from the ridge crest. The weather looked bad toward Mt Elbert, but it was still sunny on La Plata.

Approaching the crux of the route, I went right as prescribed, but then hooked back left. The steep terrain forced me down farther than I wanted and I missed the dihedral described by Cooper because I was too low. Trying not to lose any more elevation, I found a few dead ends but always found an escape. Reviewing my route later, I probably followed Roach's line more than Cooper's.

The weather started rolling in at this point. It was snowing lightly and I could see that the summit was socked in. There was no turning back so I pressed on. Picture 4 shows one small chimney I climbed through. The best line follows the ridge crest at this point which lifted my spirits.

At this point you can see the obvious route to the left of the next peak. I enjoyed climbing the chock stone (pic 5), but the rock was a bit wet from the melting snow.

Once past this crux, I tried to make good time across the talus slope (pic 6) but my weary body could only move so fast. Pic 7 looks back on the route with the weather coming in.

After passing the East La Plata summit, I was tempted to do some more scrambling along the ridge (pic 8). But with thunder booming to the east, I followed the advise of the guidebooks and and contoured left across the loose gravel then up the rocks to the true summit. Cooper's terse description of the final ascent was perfect.

At the apex (pic 9) I talked with a guy who came up from Winfield trailhead. I made a mistake and followed him down the wrong trail for 1/2 mile. I was in a hurry to get off the top due to rolling thunderstorms and didn't realize I was on the Southwest ridge. This forced me to contour back to the Northwest trail wasting over an hour. As I was making my way slowly, the hail rolled in and my head started to crackle. I made quick progress straight down the mountain until my hair quit buzzing.

I plunge stepped down a dirt hill and crossed a grassy bench until finally I was back on track. The trail here is interesting for the many switch backs. In the valley bottom I hunted mushrooms (pic 10) on the long slog back to the truck.

No comments: