OverviewThis is the recommended route up La Plata in winter. It is a bit longer and has more ups and downs than the standard summer route, but avoids avalanche danger.
There is one slope right near the summit that could slide under the right condition and the hellish talus slope mentioned in the route description could possibly slide under unusual conditions, however as long as you wait a week or more since the last major snowstorm there shouldn’t be any avalanche danger. Never-the-less, make sure to be aware and to pay attention to current conditions when you are there.
This route is rated class 3, but only because of the nasty scree slope. This is the worst part of the climb and I don’t know if there is a way to bypass it.
Getting ThereThe trailhead is 14.5 miles along Highway 82 west of the junction of Highway 82 and Highway 24.
This is about 15 miles south of Leadville or 19 miles north of Buena Vista.
Route DescriptionFrom the trailhead, follow the road south (usually packed by snowmobiles) to the signed trail for La Plata Peak. The route is an up and down route (can be frustrating on the return) until you cross La Plata Creek. Look carefully at the map. After a short distance you are going to want to leave the standard summer route and gain the ridge more directly.
There are several variations, but ultimately, you are aiming for the flat area marked on the topo just below 11,800 feet (marked here). This is right at timberline and on the north end of the ridge. If the trail is broken to this point, you are in luck, if not it will be a very strenuous task to break trail to timberline.
The crux of the route is next. Notice the nasty talus slope blocking easy access to the top of the ridge. I’m not sure if there is a bypass or not, but it might be worth looking for one (perhaps on the east side of the ridge) if you have the time. If not, climb up the nasty talus slope to the ridge. The route is class 3 and very loose and can be dangerous. It will help if the rocks are frozen.
Once the ridge is reached, the difficulties are over, but it’s still a long climb to the summit. Follow the ridge south over several minor summits or bumps until you reach the standard summer route. The route steepens here, but is a straight forward climb to the summit. Right near the summit is one slope where an ice axe is highly recommended and at which place could avalanche under certain conditions after a storm. Normally this route has no avalanche danger.
The route trip distance is 10-11 miles depending on the variation of the route in getting to timberline. Since the route has 4400 feet or so elevation gain, it is a very long day in the winter. There are good campsites at timberline (11,800 feet) and in a hollow at around 12,300 feet for those whom desire an overnight trip.