The opening day of my 14er season had to be put off a week, due to bad weather being called for the La Plata area last week. Pushing back our attempt on La Plata a week, found one of our trio on vacation, so it was just D. H. and I that headed up late Sunday night. We did have a new member of our 14er crew, my new X Terra. Only a week "old" and she is on her first road trip.
An early wake-up had us on the trail just before 6 a.m. A short quarter mile hike down the road and we turned onto the trail, and headed to the South Lake Creek crossing. The creek was raging as we walked over the bridge. Ten yards upstream of the bridge the creek feel over a 20 foot drop . The spray from the falls bounced up to the top of the gorge walls. Awed by the power of the falls we continued left on the trail, once over the bridge. Now if I would have been paying more attention, I would have realized that the trail description said to go right once over the bridge. The left trail followed the creek eastward. Coming to the second creek (La Plata Gulch Creek) crossing we did not see the bridge described in the trail description and had to walk upstream a little ways to find a place to cross safely. About 50 yards after crossing the creek we started to question if we were on the right trail. Doug pulled out the map and saw that we should be heading upstream into La Plata Gulch, rather than continuing eastward. We backtracked to the creek crossing and found branches placed across the trail were we would have crossed the creek at lower water levels. I guess we were not the first group to make this same mistake. We bush wacked upstream along the eastern side of the creek for a hundred yards or so and found the bridge we should of crossed over the creek on. REMEMBER TURN RIGHT as soon as you step off the first bridge.
Once past the correct second creek crossing the real hiking begins as the trail starts climbing. A big round of applause to those responsible for putting in the great wood rail stairs. This must have taken a lot of work, but the quality of that work is obvious. Thanks guys! Above the stairs the trail continued to climb on an excellent trail. The only problem we had with the trail the whole day was where we lost in under snow in the just below the boulder section on the upper part of the N.W. ridge.
The remaining snow fields (5-7) began just below the N.W. ridge. All but 1 of them could have been avoided by walking off trail. But where is the adventure in that? (At one point I post holed up to my crotch)
Once we hit the boulders on the N.W. ridge we slowed down considerably. We were passed by a trail runner, clad only in shirt and shoes, who quickly left us in his wake. I think is was ultra-runner Anton Krupicka (Bad Ass!!!). He was on his way back down while we were still over 1/4 mile from the summit.
Top section of NW ridge frm below the boulders
We made the summit at 10:45, almost 5 hours after leaving the trailhead. The weather had been perfect on the way up. Only cool enough that you noticed the temp. when you stopped for more than a minute to rest.
PLEASE excuse the following rant: Like on many peaksthese days the summit register and USGS marker were missing. What is a tired hiker supposed to do? Why not write your name in sharpie on one the the rocks in the summit wind-block shelter. Apparently Darrell O had been there the previous day and wanted everyone to know it. I am often amazed (?) my people's lack of respect for out environment. How would he like it if we came to his house and wrote all over it with sharpie. Please be respectful for nature and those humans coming after you. Dumb ***!
Beside the above, the trail was incredibly clean. One of the least litered trail that I have been on. Thanks to all of you keeping it clean and wild for the rest of us.
Coming off the summit was as slow as going up, due to the fact that we lost the trail again, and my knees were starting to feel beat up at this point. Once below the boulder field it was a pretty uneventful hike back down to the trailhead.
La Plata turned out to be more strenous than I imagined it would be. Nothing was technically hard, as it was a strait forward hike all the way up. But there were 2 or 3 long, steep uphill sections. As I always say "there aint no such thing as an easy 14er". It was a good test of my fitness level for future 14ers this summer. Guess its back to the gym this week.
For a more complete trip report and pictures check out my 14er blog.