“The best view comes after the hardest climb.”
About three weeks ago Luke and I did our first fourteener of the year and our twentith ever. We woke up at 1 a.m. to drive down to the trailhead because we’ve learned it’s best to get started in the dark for three reasons. 1) You can’t see the trail, which is great if you’re like me and keep looking ahead at the daunting rockiness and steepness that lies ahead. 2) You get up to the top pretty early, which allows you to get down at a decent time and not ruin your whole day. Plus you can even get an afternoon nap in. 3) You see a lot less people. I absolutely hate playing leap frog with people as you trek up and down.
Note: We actually did Mt. Bierstadt again a week after La Plata because we had family that had never done a 14er. I swear we saw 300+ people on the trail as we were coming down, which again leads me back to the point that starting early is important!
Back to La Plata… we got to the trailhead around 4 a.m. The hike starts out on a road for a quarter of a mile and then there’s a sign off to the left where the actual trail starts. Then you will pass a big metal/wood bridge and continue for a bit and cross a small log bridge over La Plata Gulch – which is kind of hard to recognize as a bridge in the dark because it is literally just a few logs. Then you start to a climb a decently steep trail through the forest. It was in the dark so all I could hear the whole time was water crashing in the Gulch to the right of us. Near 11,400 feet the trail starts to veer off to the left. At this point you’ll start to climb up a gully of small switchbacks. It looks daunting, but is actually not too bad. After a 400 foot climb the path goes off to the right along the hillside for a nice break. Around 12,300 feet you have a steep climb up to the ridge that starts at 12,750. Once you get to the ridge you have 1.25 left to the summit. This is where the trail starts to get difficult. There was still snow when we were there so there was a lot of bouldering off trail we had to do. Up until this point I would say the hike isn’t too difficult. Once you start climbing the ridge you really cannot see the summit and the path gets difficult to follow (this could’ve been because there was still snow though too). Eventually, you will think maybe the summit is off to the right, but it’s actually to the left. You’ll get to an area that kind of flattens out – you’ll also be between two mountain tops, but if you look left you will see the actual summit. Then you traverse over some more rocks to the summit. The last mile is definitely the worst part, especially if you’re like me and not a big fan of really rocky areas with no defined trail. But as always the views are worth ever step you took and all that heavy breathing!
La Plata Peak (Northwest Ridge Route):
Range: Sawatch Range
Trailhead: La Plata Peak
Miles RT: 9.25
Start Elevation: 10,000
Elevation Gain: 4,500
Time: A little under 4 hours to summit, about 2.5 hours down