Peak: La Plata Peak, Sawatch Range
Date Climbed: September 1, 2008
Partners: Stuart Clark and Ryan Scollard
Route: Ellingwood Ridge
Stats: 9.5 Miles, 5,900 Feet, 8.5 Hours
With Stu and Ryan free from obligations and the summer 14er season coming to a close, Labor day seemed like a great day for another classic; this time we picked Ellingwood Ridge on La Plata. The only apprehension we had was the weather forecast, which did not look particularly good sitting at a 60% chance of rain/snow. We decided to gamble on the weather and give it a shot anyway, reasoning that none of us would really mind having to turn back if it came to that. We left Boulder later than planned and arrived at the La Plata TH around 5:30am, not the ideal start given the situation. We geared up and departed the TH at 6am. By the time we reached the turnoff for Ellingwood Ridge the sun had already begun to rise. After leaving the main trail just past the second creek crossing, the route heads west underneath La Plata basin.
We headed towards the talus slope which rises out of the forest and up above treeline. This talus slope is very deceptive in that it looks small but is in fact a very large ascent, it took us about 35 minutes to top out on the green pastures below the start of the ridge.
The weather had continued to hold but the wind picked up, dropping the temperature quite a bit. We continued on and found that staying just below the east side of the ridge relieved the wind problem. This was good because the first leg of the ridge requires a large amount of scrambling and traversing across scree just east of the ridge crest. Every now and then we were faced with the choice of either downclimbing a large cliff or descending 100+ feet and traversing around it. We downclimbed a few and traversed around a few.
Ellingwood Ridge is really a route that can be made as easy or as difficult as you want it to be, we often looked for short class 4/5 sections to create some fun for ourselves.
For the most part the rock on the ridge was very solid and the scrambling consistent and fun. There were a lot of towers to either cimb up and over or traverse around, all the ups and downs started to become grueling after awhile.
The route slowly but surely began to turn southwest towards La Plata, and the relentless towers and spires began to subside into a more defined and definite route to the summit.
The weather continued to hold, although there were many clouds they were very low and blew over the top of the ridge all day. We felt it was too cold for any of them to turn into thunderheads. The ridge turned west and presented a few more scree fields, then a sharp elevation gain up and over a large tower.
There was a short, fun section of low 5 which we used to gain the tower.
Once on top of the tower, we were still about 25 minutes and 300 verticle feet from the summit. We gained the summit ridge quickly and plodded across the final few hundred yards of ridge, topping out on La Plata just after noon.
We didn‘t stay for long, the weather seemed to get worse as we were on the summit. There was a group who had just summited via the standard route, we exchanged a few words and began our descent. We made quick time down the standard route, arriving at the wooden bridge at 2:15 for a round trip of 8.5 hours.
Ellingwood Ridge was fun but grueling, definately a route I‘m glad we completed but probably not a route I would want to do again.