Introduction/StatsObjective: La Plata Peak (14,343’) – CO Rank 5
Date Climbed: June 16, 2007
Route: Northwest Ridge
Elevation Gain: 4620’
Total Distance: 9.4 miles
Participants: Jim & Karen Ohl, Adam & Kris Runyan
Another new summit for Jim, another repeat for Karen – so continues the theme for the start of our 2007 hiking season. Adam and Kris Runyan, our new friends from Vanguard church, bravely signed up to join us and made excellent hiking companions. Karen had already taken the southwest ridge route on a previous ascent of La Plata, so we opted for the standard northwest ridge route for this trip. I had had enough of the early wake-up and drive trips this year and was glad to hear that Adam and Kris were up for camping at the trailhead on Friday night. We left Colorado Springs at 6:15pm Friday evening and were setting up camp right off highway 82 at the trailhead by 9:00pm. The obligatory gear issues started Friday night as we realized Karen didn’t have her sleeping pad and her Camelback leaked out almost all of its contents through the bite valve during the drive. Fortunately the ground around our campsite was soft enough to forego a sleeping pad, and Adam had brought a water filter - there would be plenty of opportunity to refill Karen’s Camelback in the morning. By 10pm I was sleeping like a stone.
La Plata Peak ClimbThe wake-up call came at 5:00am and we were packed up and on the trail at 6:02am. The first mile of trail was good for getting the blood flowing as it wound gently through the forest without gaining much elevation. We stopped at the first creek crossing to refill Karen’s Camelback and enjoy a spectacular feature being formed by the raging water underneath the bridge.
The trail continued on along South Fork Lake Creek and we kept a comfortable pace as the trail gradually grew steeper.
Around 11,000-ft the trees became more sparse and views of Sayres opened up at the end of the gulch. I suggested a traverse over to Sayres to make a loop hike on the way back, but sensed that would have quickly caused a mutiny. We could also start to see the path we would need to take to gain La Plata’s northwest ridge. The trail was pleasant as the dirt underfoot was soft and plenty of switchbacks kept the grade gentle as we made an ascending traverse to the ridge. We came across a few patches of soft snow en route to the ridge that resulted in only minor post-holing. As warm as it was, I imagine that snow will be history in a matter of days. Once we reached the ridge we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Ellingwood Ridge.
Roach claims it can be kept at class 3, and it looked like a fun route to take if one could be assured of a good weather day. We stopped to refuel and admire the views before finishing the last 1500 vertical. The trail beyond this point weaves through the talus and was often tricky to follow and it was obvious that we weren’t the only hikers to experience this. We brought 2 pairs of snowshoes if anyone from our group wanted to ascend the snow along the ridge rather than hop along the talus.
Kris opted to avoid the ankle-turners and donned the snowshoes to reduce the potential for post-holing. The snow was soft, but Adam was able to make good progress up the snow as well, with only occasional post-holing.
At this point, clouds were fluffing up around the summit and we were starting to get a little anxious. Adam and I decided to make a quick push for the summit and topped out at 11:30am, with Karen and Kris shortly behind.
The weather held out nicely for us and we enjoyed lunch and the surrounding views on the summit for nearly an hour. I was glad we had not chosen a peak in the southern Sawatch as storms had already moved in down there. After a few more summit photos we started down. No more than 800 vertical feet down the ridge we heard the first rumble of distant thunder. We increased our pace and hot-footed our way back down the talus to treeline, catching a few short easy glissades along the way. My knees and I struggled to keep up on the downhill as usual but I was thankful for the soft dirt on the trail once we were back in the trees. The rolling hills near the trailhead felt good to stretch out the legs and we were back to the car by 3:15pm. All-in-all a very enjoyable hike with great company on the silver peak!