Painted lines on the road are helpful, when you can see them. When heavy, wet snow is falling and forming a paste over your headlights, however, there is not much you can see. . . except snow. There is not much you can do about it, except pull to the side of the road, if you can find it, and wipe the snow from your headlights. Then you continue creeping along on the dark and slushy interstate, hoping that truck barreling toward you from behind has good brakes. Either that, or you can figure out which side of the road you are on before he catches up to you.
Such began my trip to “Lackawanna Peak” with SP member miztflip. I was driving, and we were both secretly wondering if this trip was actually going to work: we were nowhere near the trailhead yet, and the weather forecast was sketchy.
As it turns out, we never did make it to the correct trailhead that night, not because of the weather, but because we couldn’t find the trailhead. Gerry Roach’s mileages did not seem to be matching up to my odometer. Instead, we settled for a midnight camp set-up at the La Plata Trailhead, and we decided we would find the Upper Lake Creek Trailhead the following morning.
Six hours later, with the first look outside our tent, we found a couple inches of fresh snow on the ground, and while it was not snowing, the sky looked somewhat ominous. Two hikers had already returned from an ill-fated attempt of La Plata Peak, which they had begun just a couple hours earlier.
Now daylight, we could see many of the southern ribs of “Lackawanna Peak,” but it was difficult to determine where the exact trailhead was. We finally settled on a small pull-off equidistant from the La Plata Trailhead and the Colorado 82 road closure.
Above us was a large avalanche chute, complete with tons of avalanche debris, and, not surprisingly, no trees the whole way down to the road. We started up through some thick saplings to the right of the avalanche chute, on what we figured to be the South Slopes Route. Then we eased onto the edge of the glacier-like snow and moved our way quickly upward.
The crux of the route came quickly, as we worked our way up onto the steeper, barren slopes leading up to a small forest of evergreens. There was surprisingly no old snow anywhere along this slope, but the fresh layer of snow and the steepness made it slippery and a bit tricky at places. At one point we had to scramble up some ice-covered rock for ten or fifteen feet to gain the next section of this tiring slope.
Above this the angle relented only slightly, and we were met by evergreen trees surrounded by deep pockets of snow. We did our best to avoid the snow, as we had left our snowshoes in the jeep, but a couple places we had to posthole our way through.
For a while the sun had been shining, but clouds quickly took over, and wind and new snow came with them. As miztflip and I continued above timberline, we added some layers of clothing to keep warm.
The steepness of this climb was relentless, until we reached a small flat section of the ridge, which was relieving to our lungs and legs. We tromped through the snow on this short bench, previewing most of the rest of our route up the steep and talus-strewn south slopes. We weren’t even entirely sure we were on the right route, as we didn’t even know if we had found the right trailhead, but we continued up the hill in hopes that the summit lay above what we could see.
This section, though taxing, was not as steep as what we had already climbed. Still, the wind picked up and the snow-mixed-with-talus was obnoxious at places. Finally at the false summit we had been eyeing all the way up, we could see the true summit at last, a short ten-minute walk away. The wind was howling here, and intimidating cornices hung out over the north side of the saddle. Unfortunately, we were socked in by the ugly weather and had no views of the surrounding peaks. We easily avoided the cornices, and made it to the summit at 10:45, nearly four hours from when we had started up this “short” route.
This is about as good as class 2 hiking can get. Nearly 3,500 feet in 1.7 miles, it is truly steep, and truly tiring, especially if you are out of shape, like I am right now. It had involved bushwhacking, some snow, and a lot of steep talus hiking. But wait, there’s more. . .
We had made the summit, but now we had to go back down. Thankfully, it ended up being easier than either of us expected, and we made good time the whole way back down to the jeep. Near the bottom, instead of bushwhacking our way through the saplings again, we cut over onto the old avalanche debris and carefully followed the solidified mass of snow back down to the road.
This was a nice climb, and the weather did not hinder us, except for our view. For half a day, we were out in another world, the world of the elk, the mountain goat, and the hardy ptarmigan, and that is all that matters. Now it is time to return to the world of the traffic jams, the cell phones, and the bills, but only until next time. . .