Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Mt. Massive  -  14,421 feet
La Plata Peak  -  14,336 feet
Date Posted:  08/10/2012
Date Climbed:   08/03/2012
Author:  Threepeaks
 Elbert, Massive, La Plata on a Weekend  

In our our yearly weekend re-union of bagging 14 teeners (Longs Peak in 2010, and Democrat/Lincoln/Cameron/Quandry/Sherman in 2011), and my son Peter, our friend Nick from Virginia, and myself left early Friday morning on Aug 4 from Arvada with the intent hiking Mt. Elbert on that same day, Mt. Massive on the Saturday, and then La Plata on the Sunday.

We arrived to the North Mt. Elbert trail head around 0745 that Friday morning (got one of the last parking spots in the lot) and hit the standard Northeast Ridge trail at 0800. The climb through the forest up to the tree line was fairly uneventful (except for being dive bombed by a couple of playful mating birds) and easy to follow along the Colorado trail then to the sign diverting to Mt. Elbert Peak. Once we got past the treeline, we began to catch up with a group of folks moving along the switchbacks of the first slope and then over a few false summits with more difficult ascents before reaching the top around 1115. Quite a pleasant crowd on top lunching, taking pictures, and just hanging out sharing stories.
After a 30 minutes of lunch time, we began a very pleasant cloud free trek down off the peak back to the trail head arriving at about 3:00 completing the 9 mile route.

After spending the night in Leadville, we made our way the next morning back along the same roads past the North Elbert Trailhead to the Mt. Massive trail head. We had significant debate as to whether we should take the longer almost 14 mile East Slopes route up to the peak, or the shorter Southwest Slopes route starting from the North Halfmoon Creek trail head. Ultimately we decided to take the longer route given potential for not making it to the trail head with out 4wd , and the need to stretch out the ascent/decent this day to make it easier on the legs. When we arrived to the main trail head at 0645 the lot was already full, so we went back to the big overflow lot (just back down the road a short bit) to park. We hit the trail head at about 0715 (after signing in for the free wilderness permit) and made our way up through the forest to the tree line. The walk was a bit long through forest but very pleasant with a couple of stream crossings. We also saw a number of tents in this area closer to the tree line who had made this a two day event. After the tree line, we made our way though the willows up the switchbacks of the Grassy Point to the beginning of the longish gradual ascent to a saddle before heading up to the peak. Once up to the saddle at 13,900, we took a quick break and then began our ascent up the ridge to the summit with some good scrambling (passing the trail to the Southwest Slopes trail) and very beautiful scenery along the way. We reached the summit around 1130 to again a rather large but pleasant crowd of hikers on the top. Talking with folks we learned that it was pretty equal for the numbers that had taken the Southwest slopes versus the longer route. Although going back some comments that it would be a bit harder on the legs doing the shorter route. After lunch and pictures, we head back down to the saddle, where I took a quick break while Peter and Nick took a 20 minute jaunt up and down to the top of "South Massive". The walk back to the tree line was pleasant (again another beautiful day), and we reached the trailhead/car around 3:30 pm. Along the way back we passed more backpackers who intended to camp at the treeline, and one who was heading back to the trailhead after camping out the night before with two others, making it to the saddle, but not the peak due to lack of water. He wished he'd had a water purifier (given the streams in the forest) but was prepared to come back and do it again soon after.

After another night in Leadville, we made our way south early Sunday morning to the West Winfield trail head for our last 14teener of the weekend, La Plata. We had opted for the Southwest Ridge route given the distance and need for a shorter hike to drive back to Arvada in the afternoon, but as it turned out we ended parking at the Cemetery just after Winfield due to the road and not wanting it to risk it further in our car. This added another 1.5 miles walk up the road to the trailhead which we reached at about 0800. From the actual trail head up to the tree-line seemed to go rather quickly, and we were reward with beautiful scenery reaching the "bowl" and before starting through the willows. The muck wasn't to bad through the willows as we approach the steep ascent leading to the top of the bowl. It was a bit slow going (for me at least as Pete and Nick have a bit mountain goat in them) through the steep switchbacks to the top of the bowl. Upon reaching the top of the bowl, we began a beautiful gradual ascent to the start of again a rather steep talus strewn ascent to the top of the next slope. We picked our way up through a fairly well marked cairn trail, to the top. From here we continued on through a gradual ascent to another serious of steepish ascents over talus finally reaching the summit at about 1115(Nick led our way up and Pete was pushing me along with routine altitude updates from his GPS watch) . We hung around the top for lunch, and pictures, and again chatted with other peak baggers. Such great camaraderie the entire weekend on the peaks. A few more clouds gathering, so we headed back down in fairly quick order. Much easier going down, though slip a few times on the scree coming down the steep accent back into the bowl. We got back to the car around 2:30 PM, and not to bothered about having to walk the extra bit on the road.

Of the three hikes, La Plata was probably the most scenic, but for me also the most difficult (third 14teener in a row and tough ascent). We soon hit the road and stopped for our celebratory dinner at the Brown Burro in Fairplay (a tradition). Our plan is to come back next year, stay in Buena Vista and see how many more peaks in the area we can knock off in this area of multi-14teeners. Many thanks to Pete and Nick for the company and incentive to keep trekking upwards.


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