Photo
La Plata Peak
snow North Face
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Difficulty:
 Difficult Class 2 
Snow Steepness: Moderate  
Ski/Board: Advanced, D8 / R3 / III  
Risk Factors:Exposure: Considerable
Rockfall Potential: Considerable  
Route-Finding: High  
Commitment: Considerable  
 
Trailhead:La Plata Peak
Start:10,000 feet
Summit:14,336 feet
Total Gain:4,900 feet
RT Length:8.75 miles
Author:BillMiddlebrook
Updated:3/2019
Weather:NOAA Forecast
Conditions:365 reports
Cell Signal:28 reports
Sheriff:Lake: 719-486-1249
 Chaffee: 719-539-2596
Forest:San Isabel
Wilderness:Collegiate Peaks
Quad. Maps:Log In to View
Camping:On Google Maps
Eats:On Google Maps
Downloads:Log In to Download
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Trailhead

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.

Route

1 provides is an overview of the route and 2 is a closer look at the north face. From the parking area, walk down South Fork Lake Creek road 100 yards, cross a vehicle bridge ( 3) and continue on the road for 1/4 mile to find a trail sign on the left - 4. Walk east into the woods and continue on the good trail. Hike through the forest and cross South Fork Lake Creek on a metal+wood bridge - 5. 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 continue on the La Plata Peak trail as it parallels the stream in 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 a bit easier. If the area is snow-covered and you can't locate the trail, simply take the easiest terrain you can find continue south up the hill on the east side of the gulch. Near 10,900', you'll want to break from the La Plata trail and climb southeast away from the gulch . Your goal is to gain La Plata's northwest ridge at tree line so you can cross over into La Plata Basin. Without a trail, bushwack southeast away from La Plata Gulch for about 100' vertical feet and continue southeast through the steep forest. After another 500' of gain, the angle eases as you approach tree line. Continue to a large clearing and a headwall on the northwest ridge, near 11,800' - 6.

Exit the trees and turn left before the headwall and continue east along the talus below the northwest ridge - 7. You are entering La Plata Basin. Without dropping too much to your left unless you must due to avalanche concerns to your right, continue south/southeast along the base of the ridge, toward the upper basin and La Plata's north face - 8 and 9. Angle into the center of the basin and continue up the drainage - 10. After passing through a narrow section at 12,200', the view opens up and the north face is not far off - 11. HOLD ON! The face is confusing from this vantage and you'll need to identify the main couloir, which is partially hidden. First, identify the summit. There are couloirs far left of it and far right of it but the main line is almost directly between you and the summit. Locate the entry point to the main couloir and continue south toward the face - 11 and 12.

In case you forgot what the upper route looks, 13 is a close-up taken from the lower, headwall area. Near 13,000', angle southwest into the couloir and begin climbing - 14. As you climb a bit higher, you'll notice some additional snow lines that branch off to the right but the best climbing line is to stay left and continue up the narrow main couloir - 15, 16 and 17. Fun! Near 13,650', stay in the couloir and avoid heading over to the right as it will take you onto the convoluted, upper north face - 18 and 19. Above 14,000' the couloir splits. Climbing left takes you to the ridge crest, near 14,250'. Stay right to climb directly to the summit - 20, 21 and 22. 23 and 24 show views from the top.

If you're skiing the north face, you can exit via the same line you used to enter La Plata Basin. If you're hiking, your best option is to descend the (standard) northwest ridge route or the "winter variation" of that route if there's still the possibility of avalanches on the west side of the ridge. Follow the crest of the northwest ridge down to 12,700' where the standard trail drops west from the ridge. If there isn't too much snow on the west side of the ridge, you can continue down the standard route. For the winter variation, continue north along the northwest ridge for nearly 1 mile to reach the top of the headwall, just above tree line. Find a way down through the headwall and retrace your ascent route through the trees.

Skiing?

The north face provides excellent skiing but should only be attempted by experienced backcountry skiers and riders. Once down the face, you'll likely be able to turn it up in the wide-open area, below the couloir. If you're lucky, you picked a day with coverage that allows you to skin back to the headwall without too much trouble.

Notes

Get this one before the snow melts out between the headwall and the north face. 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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