In a last minute decision to bag a 14er, Ryan and I decided that it would be best to choose an “easier” one. We had already climbed all Class 1 14ers, as well as a few Class 2 14ers, so we decided to choose another one from the list of Class 2 mountains with limited mileage.
–> We decided on La Plata Peak! Located in the Sawatch Range and standing at 14,336ft (Colorado’s 5th tallest mountain), we would set out to climb it from the Southwest Ridge (West Winfield Trailhead, which sits at 10,700ft). This route, while not the most popular route, was only 7 miles in length with 3,380ft in elevation gain. We began hiking in the dark around 4:45am, reached treeline at dawn, summited La Plata Peak at 9am, and finally returned to the car at 11:45am; putting us at a 7hr day. <–
NOTE: To access this trailhead, you MUST have a high clearance vehicle with 4WD. There is no way that an ordinary passenger car would have made the trip.We took my Nissan Xterra and while 99% of the road was easy for it, with only one section was more technical that the typical ruts, rocks, troughs, etc. that you would experience on a jeep trail. While I had no issue carefully navigating this section (minus spinning the wheels a bit), another truck did get on three wheels while trying to make its way past. So be careful!
- 4:30pm- Off work, and off to the mountains!
- 8pm- We arrived at the trailhead, and went back down the road a ways to find a comfortable pullout to park the car (that we put our air mattress in the back of for some good ‘ole fashioned car camping).
- 10pm- Lights out!
- 4am- Alarms going off; getting dressed and eating yogurt with granola.
- 4:30am- Aaaand we’re off!
The entire first half of the trail for us was in the dark, but we like it that way because then you can’t tell how steep it really is! We had to cross a few streams, fallen logs, and overgrown brush that was overtaking the trail.. but by the time we reached treeline, we were able to turn off our headlamps and use the morning’s first light to guide us.
This entire next section of trail weaved us through thick willows and muddy bogs (which were frozen at this hour, luckily!) with a few more water crossings. We soon reached the end of the valley as the trail began to take us nearly straight up and out. About 1/3 of the way up, right as the first light began to hit the dramatic 14,000ft peaks behind us, we came across an abandoned mine! Ryan wanted to go in to explore, but with water ~2ft deep in the bottom of it, he decided against it (thankfully– the idea of having him disappear back into that mine creeped me out!).
We continued onward and upward (literally.. straight upward..). We soon reached the top of the pass which sits at 12, 800ft. Relieved to have finally come this far, we took a quick breather while looking down the majestic valley from which we had just come from.
As we decided to continue on our way, we looked around for the trail as our eyes raised upward and our jaws dropped at a magnificent peak to our left. “WE HAVE TO CLIMB THAT?!” we exclaimed. This looked nothing like the pictures, so we looked at our directions and with a sigh of relief realized that we needed to be going right. Phew! We located a cairn (a tower of rocks which is used as a landmark to show which way the trail leads) and made our way along the expansive pass.
Soon we were faced with a looming scree field on the slope ahead of us. We took a quick rest before heading up towards what would later become the hardest part of this hike. As we increased in elevation, the tread of the trail disappeared and we were left to attempt to spot the next cairn along the way as we climbed over the scree, both big and small, in a moderate Class 2 hike. Numerous breaks were taken on this ascent, as a few steps upward immediately led to an increased heart rate and a loss of breath (the air is thin up here!). In what felt like for-ev-er.. we finally reached the 14,000ft mark in what was, in my opinion, the most defeating false summit I’ve ever come across.
We used this false summit for an extended snack and water break as we looked on to the true summit ~1 mile away. We made it this far- time to summit!
The remaining section of the hike was easy compared to the giant scree field that we had just made our way up. There were cairns sporadically placed about, but the route was obvious as we made our way along the ridge and towards La Plata Peak.
It did not take us long to cover this ground, and we were SO relieved to have finally reached the true summit! We shared it with just one other hiker as we took in the beautiful sights around us. The sun was shining bright without a cloud in the sky, and there was no wind (WHAT?! This never happens up here above 14,000ft!), which made for an incredibly pleasant experience for us to sit down and actually enjoy our time up here before heading back down.
We decided that the descent had three different parts; the scree field, the steep section, and the normal hiking trail. The scree field was slow going.. once again it was difficult to find a true path down, and it seemed that one of us was always falling as a rock we stepped on moved. It didn’t help that there were now ~10 different parties making their way up the slope. The steep section, well, that went as expected. We both fell and slid several feet down the steep incline before finally stopping in a bush or rock. Needless to say, we were both very relived to finally reach the normal hiking trail where we could regain our normal walking stride, conversation, and take in all the sights around us that we had missed earlier this morning in the dark.
La Plata Peak.. undoubtably is a true Class 2 14er, and even though it was only 7 miles long, it still took us 7 hours to complete.
Looking at it one way: we had tired feet (and I had blisters on both my big toes), rumbling stomachs, and headaches.. so we were certainly glad to be back at the car.
Looking at it another way: today was flawless! The weather was perfect, this was by far the most scenic 14er hike that we’ve done, AND, above all, we completed a more difficult peak without much struggling (considering)! The only way to get more comfortable with the higher class peaks is, well, to do them! On to the next one!