| Cairn Hunting Season on La Plata
Hiking Partners – Greenhouseguy (Brian) and Rockfarmer (Zach)
Distance – 7.7 Miles RT
Trailhead – West Winfield – Southwest Ridge
Class – 2
Elevation Gain – 3500ft
On Wednesday night, Greenhouseguy inquired with interested parties for a La Plata summit on Sunday, June 20th. I had just returned from Belford and Oxford, but was ready for another. We planned to meet at the Missouri Gulch TH at 5:00am on Sunday so Rockfarmer and I chose to camp overnight with Greenhouseguy driving up in the morning.
Sleeping was hit or miss for me. Not sure I got a full 2 hours, but apparently it was enough. About 4:30, Rockfarmer and I got up and prepared our gear. Out of the darkness I heard an inquisitive "Dave?". Greenhouseguy had arrived late the night before. We briefly talked, then piled into my 4Runner heading for the trailhead.
Officially, we signed the log at 5:50am. The first part of the climb gave us all a good cardio jolt. We stopped a couple times until finding our pace. As the trail ascended, we were greeted with a view into North Clear Creak Valley (not sure if that is the official name). The path became muddy in spots, but nothing to what we were about to encounter.
Signing the log
Looking west up North Clear Creek
Close to two miles in we entered the "Valley" as we called it. Along the way, the wildflowers were in abundance. Greenhouseguy (a horticulturist) pointed out many of the different flowers and provided some interesting information. My favorite was the "elephant head" flower with pedals that look like elephant ears and a trunk. We continued making our way to the Northwest side and began our first major climb.
Approaching the Valley
Entering the Valley (ascent path is on the left towards the ridge's notch)
Upon reaching the top, we saw where our work was about to begin. We would climb roughly 1100ft to the first false summit through nothing but talus making it difficult to find cairns. The process was: Stop, look for cairn, find cairn, slowly move to cairn, and repeat. This part of the climb took forever. It wasn't strenuous, just very monotonous.
Looking into the valley (Huron and the Three Apostles in the background)
First false summit
This Cairn is like the dozens hidden in the sea of talus
Rockfarmer taking a break on ascent through the talus
Upon breaking the first false summit, the second false and real summits were in sight. Our pace quickened on the better trail and we reached the summit just after 10:00. The day provided great weather on top (light breeze, warm temperature, light clouds) and clear views allowing us to recognize 24 separate 14ers. We spent about 45 minutes eating, taking pictures and talking to different people (who all came up the standard route).
Breaking the first false summit, the second false and true summit can be seen
Capital (left of center in the distance)
Close to 11:00am, we headed down and as we approached the top of the first false summit, we ran into someone who recognized my 14er.com hat. It was Mel McKinney and her hiking partner. We introduced ourselves, and had a brief chat then wished each other well. It is always nice to meet someone in real life vs. a screen name.
Anyway, we headed down to the ridge overlooking the valley and stopped to take some pictures. Then continued to descend into the valley where Greenhouseguy and Rockfarmer stopped to take wildflower pictures. Rockfarmer persistently tried to take a picture of a yellow bird that kept moving just as he was ready to snap the shot. Thankfully, he finally got his shot as mosquitoes were the other flying objects in the air. Finally, we made the descent to the TH and car.
Looking over the valley towards Huron
Greenhouseguy really wanted a picture of these flowers in the middle of the stream
Looking west up North Clear Creek - Afternoon shot
For a surprise trip, this turned out to be a nice one. The route had its challenges, but they were outweighed by the beautiful views, abundant wildflowers, limited contact with other climbers, and some good partners. Overall, it was a great climb.