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La Plata Peak

Southwest Ridge
Difficulty Class 2 
Risk FactorsExposure: Moderate
Rockfall Potential: Considerable  
Route-Finding: Considerable  
Commitment: Moderate  
 
Start10,750 feet
Summit14,344 feet
Total Gain3,600 feet
RT Length7.5 miles
AuthorBillMiddlebrook
Last UpdatedOct 2022
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Trailhead

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 the old town of Winfield. Reach a junction where the main road goes left. Turn right onto the 4WD road signed for the CDT and La Plata Peak trails. Measure from here.

Parallel a fence for a bit before turning left. At 0.4 mile, pass the Winfield Cemetery, which is marked by an explanatory sign. Shortly thereafter, pass a loop to your right, that provides some parking. Continue a bit farther and you'll find a turn-off on the left, with more parking. At 1.8 miles, reach a signed junction. Turn right and park 50 yards up from the turn. This is the parking area for the trailhead. The road above is closed to vehicles and the actual trailhead and start of the trail is 0.1 mile up this narrow road.

Route

The 4WD road above the parking area is marked "Administrative Use Only," so walk up the road over 0.1 mile to reach the actual trailhead - 1, 2. Start up the trail, cross a small stream, and continue to a corner which overlooks a gulch - 3. This gulch is at the base of the basin you will hike through to reach La Plata's southwest ridge. Parallel the gulch for less than 0.5 mile to 11,500' where the terrain opens up ( 4) and a bit higher to tree line at the south end of the basin - 5. From here, you can see La Plata's southwest ridge but not the summit.

Following the trail, weave through willows to reach the north end of the basin. If the area has received a lot of rain lately, the trail may be quite muddy. Reach the end of the basin near 12,100' to see the trail climbs northwest up a slope to reach a notch in the southwest ridge - 6. Leave the basin and ascend northwest - 7. Just above 12,400' you'll reach an old mine below some cliffs - 8. Turn right and hike higher where the trail becomes steep and loose but then improves as you approach the ridge - 9. After gaining 650 feet on this slope, reach a notch in the ridge, at 12,750'.

Turn right and continue northeast on the trail - 10, 11. 0.5 mile of easy walking after the notch you reach the crux of the route, a prominent rocky slope - 12. The defined trail ends before the slope so you'll need to locate trail segments and cairns as you approach the base. You may find a LOT of cairns in the area so if it gets confusing simply aim for the center of the slope, not to far left or right - 13. As you climb, the slope gets steeper yet the rock is surprisingly stable. You'll still need to be careful of loose rocks and dirt - 14, 15. After battling the slope, reach a flat spot just shy of 14,000' - 16.

Much of the remaining hike is now visible to the north/northeast - 17. From the flat spot, walk over to the ridge crest and follow it toward a 14,200-foot false summit - 18. Follow cairns to the false summit and just before you reach the top, bypass it on the left - 19. On the other side of the false summit drop slightly to join the final portion of La Plata's standard, northwest ridge route - 20. This is a good time to look back and study your surroundings so you know how to return past the false summit on your descent. Join the standard trail and make your way higher. Reach a false summit and walk a short distance over to the true summit - 21, 22.

Notes

While this route may be less popular than the standard approach of La Plata, by no means is it secluded. 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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