La Plata Peak - Southwest Ridge
Climbing mountains is dangerous! Please read the Mountaineering Safety Page and make sure you have a map+compass and can use them effectively. A GPS or cell phone can be very helpful with navigation but you should still be able to use a map+compass in case your device stops working.
(WINTER) HOLD ON! If you don't have much high-elevation, winter climbing experience, be careful in your planning and take a partner. Even the "easy" 14ers (Quandary, Sherman, Grays & Torreys) can be deadly in winter.
|Difficulty:|| Class 2 |
|Total Gain:||3,380 feet|
|RT Length:||7.0 miles|
|USGS Quad.:||Mount Elbert|
|County Sheriff:||Chaffee: 719-539-2596
|National Forest:||San Isabel|
|Wilderness Area:||Collegiate Peaks|
From Leadville: Drive 20 miles south on U.S. 24 and turn right on the Chaffee County 390 road.
From Buena Vista: Drive 14.5 miles north on U.S. 24 and turn left on the Chaffee County 390 road.
On the 390 road (dirt), drive 11.3 miles to Winfield. There are a bunch of log buildings here. From Winfield, continue north for a short distance (less than 100 yards) to a fork. Go right up a road bordered by a fence that may present a challenge for some passenger cars. After about 0.4 miles, the road passes the Winfield Cemetery, which is marked by an explanatory sign. Shortly thereafter, there is a sign that warns cars without high clearance not to continue, and a loop that allows for some good parking places. Alternately, the first part of the road is not much worse than what has already been traveled, and some parking spots can be found along its sides. About 1.4 miles after the sign, in a meadow at about 10,700', a rough but obvious road rises to the right. (The turn has coordinates 38° 59.560'N, 106° 28.141'W). All-terrain vehicles may wish to continue driving several hundred yards to a gate and the registration box up a steep, rocky, and sometimes muddy road. On busy summer weekends, several vehicles can park here.
A distinct trail begins directly after the registration box - Photo #1. Here, as on many parts of the trail below treeline, the tread itself is clearly defined, but foliage has grown thickly on its sides. It may be necessary to step over occasional fallen trees or push away willow branches, but the path is easy and unambiguous for now. Almost immediately, the trail crosses a small stream -Photo #2- and then gradually moves toward and runs along another stream -Photo #3. Eventually, the path moves away - Photo #4 - and a spacious, scenic valley is revealed as treeline is reached - Photo #5.
The path continues clearly enough to be followed easily through the willows and flowers contained within this vast space, although there is deep mud and a few shallow water crossings in some areas. Some spots are messy, but none are difficult. The trail then rises up out of the valley - Photo #6. After the trail tops out here at about 12,800', it turns northward. Do not proceed down the other side, but rather look to the right for a trail with some cairns - Photo #7. From here, the path traverses part of the top of the valley and it is easy to find good views of the ground already covered - Photo #8.
The remaining part of the route, however, can be more difficult to spot, as the clear, cairned tread begins to dwindle. A switchbacking climb starts north-northeast up the prominent slope ahead - Photo #9, Photo #10. There are several large cairns toward the middle of this talus face that may prove helpful in finding a reasonable, trafficked route upward. There tend to be more cairns than tread at times, and attentive cairn-spotting can save time and energy. It is easy to digress from the main route here, and multiple paths serve as evidence that many have. Physically and technically, this is the climax of the route, making it a moderate class 2 hike. Approaching the apex of this slope at 14,000', continue between two small outcroppings with a cairn between them - Photo #11. Cairns beyond this lead one to a point where much of the rest of the route, including the summit, is visible - Photo #12.
Though the remaining route is very simple, the tread now becomes intermittent, with occasional cairns to show the way. Stay centered on the ridge until the third lump, and then proceed to the northwest (left) side - Photo #13. There are scattered cairns on both sides, but there are more on the suggested side and there tend to be persistent snowfields on the southeast one. The last false summit is very close to the actual one - Photo #14. The way should be clear, and there are many paths from which to choose - Photo #15. In summer, the summit is a popular one, with hikers from all three routes coalescing on a single spot. The view is pleasant ( Photo #16 and Photo #17 should give an idea), and numerous other fourteeners can be seen.
Photo #1: A clear trail proceeds directly from the registration box.
Photo #2: Almost immediately, a small stream is crossed.
Photo #3: Soon the trail moves toward and runs along another, noisier stream.
Photo #4: As the trail approaches treeline, the path moves away from the stream.
Photo #5: Around treeline, a spacious valley opens up. The trail will proceed across it and rise out of it.
Photo #6: This is a closer view of the trail out of the valley. It is clearly visible from a distance.
Photo #7: The route continues to the right after the climb in the saddle.
Photo #8: Looking over the side, much of what has already been traveled can be viewed.
Photo #9: A switchbacking climb soon starts up the prominent north-northeast slope ahead. Look for large cairns toward the middle of its base to stay on track.
Photo #10: This is a view looking down from the middle of the aforementioned slope. Note the clarity of the trail and steepness.
Photo #11: Approaching the apex of the slope, continue between two small outcroppings with a cairn between them.
Photo #12: After reaching the ridge, the summit and much of the rest of the route is visible.
Photo #13: At the third lump in the ridge, proceed to the northwest (left) side.
Photo #14: The tread becomes more ambiguous, but the route is clear as the last false summit is approached, tending slightly left again.
Photo #15: Soon the summit is in view once more and the remainder is obvious.
Photo #16: Looking southwest from the summit.
Photo #17: Looking northeast from the summit.
The drive up the last several hundred yards of road is probably not even worth the wear and tear on vehicles considering how short this section is.
While this route may be less popular than the standard apprach of La Plata, by no means is it secluded.
Please note that the anomalies in the visual representation of the route on the map are due to scouting for cairns with a GPS in tow. 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 Wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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