La Plata Peak (14,336′)

Adventures3 Comments

Distance 8.97 miles
Moving Time 4 hr 4 min
Summit Elevation 14,336 feet
Elevation Gain 5,731 feet
Route Northwest Ridge
GPS Analysis Garmin Connect

Natalee and Dohn came in from Indiana for the holiday weekend. I had planned on getting at least 1 more 14er in for the season. Natalee was ready to go. She had to do some convincing to Dohn but he opted to be a good sport and take part. Dohn is a fitness instructor after all. This should just be a good stiff workout, right?


So we were all up by 2:30 AM and driving by 3:00 AM. The rest of my crew took turns napping on the way there. I was glad because I wanted them to be well rested. We got to the trailhead at 5:45 AM. This trailhead is great because its right off the highway! What a treat. No long dirt roads for once. We prepared our packs in the dark but then the sun popped out just as we started. Perfect timing.

We headed down the road and then found the trail on the left and started out through the forest to make our way up into the valley. The trail through the forest was good and well maintained. My visitors started getting a taste of the altitude at this point. Always a new phenomenon for those that haven’t done hiking in it before. Feels like someone is standing on your chest. Natalee was doing well with it. However, Dohn wasn’t sure what was going on with his well maintained body. All I could figure out was that some how the altitude made Dohn start saying 4 letter words — a lot. Altitude is funny. I think it helps a lot of be fit to make it up the trails but there is some physiology to your oxygen intake.

We broke through treeline and started up the first set of switchbacks that were required to gain the ridge. Here are Natalee and Dohn just ahead of me. Another group up ahead.


Then we entered into some nice tundra. This portion ran you further south so you could catch the final set of switchbacks to the ridge. Here I am looking back at my crew. You might be able to pick out the road way down in the valley. That is where our car is parked. Making progress!


I went ahead and got up the final set of switchbacks and waited for them to come up. The elevation is rising and the air is thinning. You can see Natalee in her red jacket down below.


We made the ridge…finally. That was a long way to go to gain a ridge. At this point, Dohn was slowing down and couldn’t get his breath. We were getting later in the day but the weather was perfect. However, with 2 reconstructed knees, Dohn decided that he had seen enough of this mountain and would hang out on the ridge with Natalee and wait for me to complete the trek. I was glad they made it to the ridge. That was a worthy accomplishment. I had to finish so I headed off. 1 mile left to the summit. Current elevation was 12,700. My not favorite…the grind through the 13s to go. I hike up a bit then looked back at where I left them. They were between those 2 “pads” on the ridge.


From there, this was the view up. Lots of big loose rocks. Not too much trail. Just follow the line to the top. Mostly footwork, some hands.


Approaching over on the east was the famous Ellingwood Ridge. What a cool ridge! Very sharp and spooky looking. That is a class 3+/4 route they say.


After the big rocks, the trail would come back and then more rocks. This went on and off through the 13,000 range. Then at 14,000 I could see the peak over in the distance. A few more leaps and bounds and I had summited my 7th 14er of 2006. Not too shabby!


Views of the neighboring mountains — that is Elbert in the top right. And Massive stretching across the top. Man that thing is big.


The descent was pretty uneventful. I wanted to get back to my group so I picked up the pace. I cruised down through the rock section and then jogged down the switchbacks. My average speed was 4 MPH on my watch at that point. Nice way to catch up. I finally caught up to them about 2 miles before the end of the trail. From there we had a nice walk back and out.


I took a few pictures along the way near the end to try and capture some nature shots.


The creek near the end of the trail was orange. Its from all the mining/ore run-off the sign said. The water was staining everything it touched.


Made it back to the truck. Looked back and took a final shot at La Plata. It was a good climb but not my favorite peak this summer.


When we were driving away, I told Dohn that most people either say “that was an experience of a lifetime” or “that was the hardest thing I have ever done”. He said “Yep, it sure was one of those two, maybe both”. I think Dohn is going to stick to the gym. The bad news for me — Dohn said I have to let him work me out “his way” the next time I come through Indy. Uh oh…paybacks are a bitch.