The 4WD to the TH wasn't incredibly rough but we were thankful for some good clearance. We parked in the meadow where the road splits and starts rising to the right. We finished packing, and were on the trail.
|At the TH|
I have decided to break the hike down into 5 sections: 1) Below treeline/willows 2) Gaining the Ridge 3) On the Ridge 4) Summit! 5) Descent
1. Below Treeline and Through the Willows
In the trees, the trail follows a stream and we gradually gained elevation. There are several easy stream crossings and it isn't long before you are out of the forest. The trail is slightly rough, but in great shape for an alternate route. As the trees start to thin, the willows begin to appear, and we found ourselves in a muddy willow meadow.
|Starting the Willows|
The first part of the willows took the most route-finding. As seen in this picture, the trail runs into a muddy plain but trail is straight across on the left.
The mud can be deceiving and almost sucked my boot off when I was in half way up my calf. At this point we spread out a bright blue T-Shirt where we could see both ends of the trail from. At first it was difficult to navigate the elbow-high bush but we soon got the hang of it. With a close eye on the cloudy sky, we made our way through the mud. It was steady going and at the end of the meadow, we crossed one last stream and began the ascent to gain the ridge.
2. Gaining the Ridge
This was one of the more mentally demanding parts of the route. This part was very steep and parts of the trail were blocked by snow. We avoided the snow by skirting the sides of it on the way up and completely bypassing it on the descent. The trail was well defined otherwise but contained plenty of gravel-like conditions and took some "mind over matter" mentality to reach the top. The clouds were still looming and blowing by fast above us and thus made the ascent up the ridge that more mentally gut-wrenching. Soon enough we were on the ridge and the clouds continued to be broken up to the north-west so we pushed on up the ridge.
3. On the Ridge
As good as route descriptions can be, they still can mislead slightly. Whatever the case may be, we half-concluded that a lot of our work was behind us and that that was the "crux" of the route. We were wrong.
The false summit ahead of us was the most demanding section of the trip. The trail runs out into the boulder field and the cairns start to pop up. Again, for an alternate route, this section was well cairned and had good sections of tread. Gaining the first false summit took a good amount determination. Up and up we went, wanting to see the top, we did. Except that it was much farther down the ridge to go yet. We breaked here, checked the weather (the clouds still breaking up to the north-west of us and nothing too dark yet, but the still zipping past above us) and demolished some cliff bars that gave us second wind as we pushed for the top. Following the rest of the ridge was not difficult and required a bit of attention from cairn to cairn. There is one flat, short snow field that we had to negotiate and after the final false summit, La Plata was in view.
The peak was somewhat socked by clouds but still offered great views. We spent about 20 minutes on top of the windy peak and noshed down some fresh fruit. After a few pics and a phone call to mom we started down the ridge.
We were making good time back across the ridge and were now walking west, where we could keep a good eye on the weather. Over the false summits we went and across the bottom of the ridge. On the way down the loose gravel we spread ourselves out to prevent any accidental slides from becoming a bigger problem. Riding our concentration, we navigated down back to the stream crossing signaling the start of the willows. At this point we heard a low, soft rumble of thunder to the west, so we kept pace through the willows, comforted that treeline/the car were not far at all. My blue T-Shirt guided us in and pointed us out and we were down in the trees. Shortly after we stumbled out into the clearing where Roxanne was waiting for us, just showing off...
Overall, a great hike on a route that I would recommend. The weather was unsettling but was never an issue. It was a fun drive and a good length and made for a great way to spend a day in the Colorado summer.
Date: July 8, 2011
Route: Southwest Ridge
Elevation: 14, 336'
Range: Sawatch Range
Location: 15 miles Norhtwest of Buena Vista
Climbed With: David (brother), Tim (brother)
Conditions: Mostly cloudy, cool, gusty at times
Trailhead: West WinfieldRoute: Southwest Ridge (Class 2)
Round Trip: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 3380'
Timeline: Denver: 5:00AM
Log at end of Willows: 9:00AM
Top of Ridge: 9:30AM
Off Summit: 11:10AM
Top of Ridge: 12:30PM
Log at end of Willows: 1:00PM