La Plata Peak
June 4th, 2012
The opening day of my 14er season had to be put off a week, due to bad weather being called for the La Plata area last week. Pushing back our attempt on La Plata a week, found one of our trio on vacation, so it was just Doug H and I that headed up late Sunday night. We did have a new member of our 14er crew, my new X Terra. Only a week "old" and she is on her first road trip.
An early wake-up had us on the trail just before 6 a.m. A short quarter mile hike down the road and we turned onto the trail, and headed to the South Lake Creek crossing. The creek was raging as we walked over the bridge. Ten yards upstream of the bridge the creek feel over a 20 foot drop . The spray from the falls bounced up to the top of the gorge walls. Awed by the power of the falls we continued left on the trail, once over the bridge. Now if I would have been paying more attention, I would have realized that the trail description said to go right once over the bridge. The left trail followed the creek eastward. Coming to the second creek (La Plata Gulch Creek) crossing we did not see the bridge described in the trail description and had to walk upstream a little ways to find a place to cross safely. About 50 yards after crossing the creek we started to question if we were on the right trail. Doug pulled out the map and saw that we should be heading upstream into La Plata Gulch, rather than continuing eastward. We backtracked to the creek crossing and found branches placed across the trail were we would have crossed the creek at lower water levels. I guess we were not the first group to make this same mistake. We bush wacked upstream along the eastern side of the creek for a hundred yards or so and found the bridge we should of crossed over the creek on.
At this point the trail started to climb steeply. "Someone" had done a great job of creating a series of steps out of logs. It must have taken some serious work to do this quality of job, but we greatly appreciated their hard work. Above the steps the trail continued to climb on a great trail, eventually leveling out into a high valley. The trail stayed on the east side of the creek as it worked its way up the valley. We passed four backpackers who were on their way down after an overnight. Chatting with them we learned that they had not attempted to summit the peak. About half way up the valley the trail turns eastward and enters into the steep switchback section.
For almost a half mile the trail climbs steeply through a series of quick switchbacks. Throughout this section I kept my head down and kept putting one foot in front on the other. One step at a time; the only way to make it up. It was not until later in the day on the way down, that once again I actually realized how steep this section actually was. Once topping out on this section the trail traversed southward, working its way up to La Plata's northwest ridge. We took a quick beak at the 6 foot square boulder, before heading up the final section up to the N.W. ridge. At this point we crossed over a couple of remaining snowfields. A one point I post holed crotch deep. All but one of these could have been avoided. But where would the adventure be in going around them?
|Looking down the |
The trail up the N.W. ridge was good until we reached the boulders. Once there we managed to lose the trail, in some snow patches, and ended up doing some class II boulder hopping as we slowly continued upwards. We were passed by a trail runner, clad only in shirt and shoes, who quickly left us in his wake. I think is was ultra-runner Anton Krupicka (Bad Ass!!!). He was on his way back down while we were still over 1/4 mile from the summit.
We made the summit at 10:45, almost 5 hours after leaving the trailhead. The weather had been perfect on the way up. Only cool enough that you noticed the temp. when you stopped for more than a minute to rest. We had the summit to ourselves, and lounged about for 30 minutes or so. We could easily identify Mt Belford and Oxford, Missouri Mountain and Huron Peak to the south; Mt Elbert and Mt Massive to the North. I am sure there are many other peaks that were visible but we did not recognize them for sure. To the north-west there is a red mountain that we noticed from the summit of Huron last year as well. Anyone know what it is? Both the summit register and the USGS marker were missing. However, some dumbass did write "Darrell O was here 6/3/23" in sharpie on one of the rocks on the summit wind block. Some people have no sense of respect of nature or others experience of it. Besides this, the entire trail was incredibly clean; very little trash. Thanks to all of you doing your part to keep the area clean.
|Upper section of N.W. Ridge, just below the bolders|
The way off the summit and down the N.W. ridge was once again slow going. We managed to lose the trail AGAIN, an ended up doing some boulder hopping. Wherever we found the trail it was in great shape. By the time I was off the boulder section both legs were shaking , and I was looking forward to flushing them out on some flatter ground and getting rid of the shakes.
Below the N.W. ridge we ran into a couple who were still on their way up around 1:30 p.m. when we passed them. As we chatted with them dark clouds we begin to roll over La Plata's summit from the south. I think they decided to just make it up to the start of the ridge and turn around.
The remainder of the way down was uneventful and we arrived back at the trailhead at 3:05 p.m. Nine hours round trip. Not as fast as I would like, but not too bad for opening day. Overall I felt good. I did not notice any effects of the altitude except moving slow. I still need to work on my food. The cashews I had at the summit did not set well in my stomach on the way down. However, the shots blocks seemed to keep my energy level up, so they are coming along on future trips. Until next time... See Ya!!