| Simply La Plata
La Plata Peak Ė 14,336í
Northwest Ridge, Lake Creek TH
Elevation Gain: 4,500'
Round-trip Length: 9.5 miles
July 21, 2011
Starting Time: 0500
Return Time: 1130
I was in the middle of my first week of vacation. Iíd done two doubles so far, Bierstadt and Evans, and Torreys and Grays, and in another day I would be hiking into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in the hope of making a summit bid up Capitol the following day. I didnít really want to take another rest day, but rather do a moderate climb to get me tuned up for the big one.
At one point I was considering the Shavano/Tabeguache duo since they would be new to me. But after looking over the data more carefully, they seemed to be pretty long with quite a bit of elevation gain, and they would also involve a lot more driving which, in itself can be exhausting to me.
Even though I had already done La Plata twice before on different routes, it still seemed to be an appealing alternative. Although steep, it isnít terribly long, and it is a beautiful mountain. In addition, the trailhead would be very easy to access. So the choice was made.
I get to the Lake Creek parking lot a little before 0500 where several vehicles are already parked, and quickly load up my pack and gear. Walking across the heavy timbered bridge, I can hear the thundering of the water rushing below. It is still too dark to see anything however.
About a quarter mile up the Lake Creek Road, the actual TH branches off to the left. I sign the register, noting that 2 other couples of hikers are ahead of me. The first group is from Iowa City. Wow! Iíve been seeing more people from Iowa on this trip, meeting about 8 others on Bierstadt just a few days earlier.
When I hike solo, I tend to go at a rather brisk pace, which sometimes can be good. But when Iím still using a headlamp for illumination, I can easily get off trail, especially when it passes through more level, needle-laden forest floor and the pathway is not clearly apparent. This happens a couple of times and I have to backtrack a few times to get back on route.
I catch up with the first duo fairly quickly. They are two young men climbing a few 14ers for a week as a kind of bachelorís party alternative. The groom-to-be is from NH and has previously done the entire Appalachian Trail. The other person identifies himself as ďPackratĒ and is from Cincinnati. He is more of the slow-but-sure type of hiker. After walking a little ways with them, they stop for a break and I continue onward and upward.
The trail soon crosses the South Fork Lake Creek on a good metal and wooden footbridge and then turns sharply to the right paralleling the creek. It is just beginning to get light but I still canít see the water very well even though it is again thundering beneath me.
This section of trail rises sharply with many log steps cut into the slope. Eventually it does level off a bit before the gulch finally opens up with a nice view of Mt. Sayres highlighted in sunlight.
Mt. Sayres dipped in sunlight
The trail continues awhile along the side of the ridge but then climbs sharply up a steep gully. At the base, I stash an extra bottle of water for my return if needed. I frequently do this on up-and-back treks so I donít have to carry any more weight than necessary. Itís at this point that I finally see the first couple climbing steadily above me.
Once out of the gully, the view opens up again and I can finally see the long ridge of La Plata Peak. The trail skirts the ridge for a little while longer but then rises up to a saddle just before the large hump on the ridge via another series of switchbacks.
The long ridge of La Plata; the saddle is right before the first big hump.
On these switchbacks, I finally catch up to the young couple ahead of me. I compliment them on their outstanding pace and say they must be from Iowa! They chuckle and tell me they are from Iowa City. I tell them Iím from IC as well, and we introduce ourselves and get acquainted while we rest. They mention that a few days earlier they climbed Bierstadt with their 7yo daughter. It was her first!
Catching up with Daphne and Dave P from Iowa City; the hump lies just ahead.
I walk along with them for a bit until they want to stop and take a snack break. I still have my momentum going, so I wish them well and tell them Iíll see them at the top.
I reach the ridge and then turn right and head for the hump. The ďtrailĒ is soon lost in the rubble of rocks marked with an occasional cairn. As can be seen in the last photo, a snowfield lies just beyond the hump.
Iíve never felt real comfortable on the snow, so again with my brisk pace I avoid it by going around to the right of it. With my tunnel vision of just climbing upward wherever it leads me, I reach the top of what I thought was the summit. Iím just about to take my pack off and finally enjoy something to eat when I turn around only to discover the true summit is still a ways away off to my left.
I quickly descend down to the little saddle between the rises, again avoiding the snow, and then begin to climb up to the true summit. I arrive at 0830, 3.5 hours from the TH. As I anticipated, I am the first to enjoy the top.
While munching on some nuts and apple, I savor the views and take some summit shots.
In the far distance from L to R: the Bells, Snowmass, and Capitol (my next quest!)
The multi-peaked Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert.
About 15-20 minutes later, my friends from Iowa City join me. Hawkeyes rule the mountain today! #1, 2, & 3!
Shortly thereafter the man from NH arrives and we ask him to take our picture.
Dave & Daphne P with me on La Plata Peak.
While they all enjoy their summit stay, I load up my gear again and begin my return, wishing them all a safe journey down. Pretty soon I meet ďPackratĒ who is none-the-less, slow but sure, encouraging him that he is very close now. I also meet a few other climbers heading up as well.
Going down I try harder to take my time and enjoy the route. I donít want to cause hot spots and start blisters forming on my feet this close to my next big climb.
The long NW ridge of La Plata, La Plata Gulch, and Hwy 82 leading up to Independence Pass.
Although not as stunning as some years, I do find many excellent specimens of beautiful flora along the trail.
Of course, lots of Columbine.
Walking through such a beautiful rock garden!
Just canít resist, more Columbine.
This part of the trail is gorgeous!
La Plata Gulch in full glory.
Once again, looking back at Mt. Sayres, this time in full sun.
The overhead sun is getting hot and I welcome the trees when I reach them. I now can also enjoy the lovely sound of the rushing creek tumbling down in its rocky course. When the pathway winds close to it, I get an occasional glimpse of the white foaming water as well.
A makeshift log bridge forms the first water crossing:
A little lower, I come to the metal and wooden bridge, a much more permanent structure. I can now see why I heard such thundering below me earlier this morning. The water rollercoasters through a rather deep, rocky gorge. I donít remember this from my climb back in 2005. Itís really beautiful and mesmerizing to watch the water, and I take a moment to simply enjoy it, delighting in both the sights and sounds.
Iím back at the car by 1130. Itís been a glorious day, and Iím very pleased with my choice of a climb for the day.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):