Climbing 14ers can be very dangerous, please read the Mountaineering Safety Page and make sure you have a map+compass and can use them effectively, without the help of electronic devices.
Route #1) La Plata Peak - Northwest Ridge
Notice! In winter months, portions of the standard route may be prone to avalanche activity. To avoid this area, it's often best to leave the standard route near 11,000' and ascend east to gain the crest of the Northwest Ridge (near 11,800', at tree line) and continue along the ridge to re-join the standard route, near 12,750'.
La Plata Peak
From U.S. 24 south of Leadville, take Colorado 82 west towards Twin Lakes. Drive 14.5 miles on Colorado 82 until you see the marked trailhead and parking area on the left.
Photo #1 shows the route seen from Colorado 82. From the parking area, walk down South Fork Lake Creek road (dirt). Walk over the bridge and continue on the road for about 1/4 mile to find a trailhead sign on the left. Walk east into the woods and continue on the good trail. Hike through the forest and cross South Fork Lake Creek on a great metal+wood bridge. Turn sharply right up from the bridge, walk another 1/3 mile and cross La Plata Gulch on a small log bridge. Turn right and reach a small clearing almost 100 yards after the bridge crossing. In the clearing, there is a smaller trail that heads off to the east - be sure to stay right on the main trail. Continue south along La Plata Gulch. Between 10,400‘ and 10,700‘, the great trail has log and stone steps that make the steep climb through the forest enjoyable. Continue through the forest for over a mile where the terrain becomes easier.
At 11,100‘, the trail begins to climb away from the gulch. Near 11,500‘, climb steeply up a gully with a series of small switchbacks - Photo #2. Near 11,800‘, the trail straightens out a bit and traverses south across the hillside - Photo #3. Climb briefly to a small, level area near 12,300‘ where you will find a 6-foot by 6-foot square boulder near the trail. Walk through an open area before turning left and climbing a steep pitch leading to the Northwest Ridge - Photo #4. Once on the ridge (12,750‘), you are still 1.25 miles from the summit and the hiking becomes more difficult. The remainder of the route is on a trail that weaves through the rocks on or just below the ridge crest.
Photo #5 and Photo #6 show a couple of different views of the terrain above. Your next goal is to bypass a large buttress on the ridge. Hike to the base of the buttress and follow the trail as it turns right and climbs around to the west side of the ridge. Photo #7 (taken from a lower elevation) shows the west side of the ridge. This is the most confusing part of the hike because the large talus makes route finding a bit difficult. Follow the trail as it eventually turns left (east) and climbs back to the ridge. If you lose the trail and feel you have gone too far along the west side, turn left and climb directly up to the ridge crest.
Reach the ridge crest near a flat spot at 13,500‘. The summit is visible but steep hiking remains - Photo #8. Photo #9 is a closer view of the terrain above. There is a broken trail all the way to the summit. If you cannot find a trail, stay on the ridge. Near 13,800‘, the trail becomes more defined as it ascends the right edge of the ridge. Above 14,000‘, curve around to the west side again and reach a point near 14,200‘ - Photo #10. Turn left and follow the trail to the summit - Photo #11, Photo #12, Photo #13 and Photo #14.
The first half of this hike is easy, but don't be fooled, once you start climbing up to the ridge and beyond, it's more challenging. This route may not appear to be 9.5 miles on the map, but the mileage adds up with all of the many switchbacks. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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