Peak(s):  La Plata Peak  -  14,336 feet
Date Posted:  10/05/2017
Date Climbed:   09/04/2016
Author:  petal53run
 La Plata's Extra Views   

This report covers my September 4, 2016, Sunday climb of LaPlata Peak. After my computer died, I used my smartphone. I prided my frugalness to avoid buying another computer, but soon became frustrated with its cumbersome ability to work as a word processing device. So, I wrote the old fashioned way: paper notebooks and pencils with big erasers. I finally found a reasonable priced laptop to edit some of my notes into it. Although my climbs are from last year, they could still provide information.
I pulled into the last available parking space at 5:05am directly off the highway. How easy was that? The dampness in the air smelled thick, but all weather reports predicted sunny skies and warm temperatures. I still folded my rain jacket and pants into my backpack. I trotted over the wooden vehicle bridge onto a hard damp dirt packed road. My headlamp helped me avoid the sparkling puddles and a mini pond spanning the road. We climbers hugged the fence (private land on east side) to keep our feet dry. The trailhead was welled marked which began the climb up the NWridge.

Suddenly, my backpack broke on one side. I slung it over one shoulder until I had ample light to assess it. I was still within reach of the car for the spare. After passing through an umbrella of trees, I crossed a cool looking pedestrian bridge going over the South Fork of Lake Creek to find some rocks to sit upon. The sun was bright enough to see that the plastic buckle had broken. Knotting the two straps together would drill a hot spot into my back, so 2safety pins flatly bound them together.A short downhill dirt section lead to the creek with a crossing built from 8 foot long logs. My pole helped to steady myself across. At the other side, the climb dramatically pitches upward. I lost sight of the blue skies because of the thickness of the trees. The running water became my companion as I climbed my way up.Wow! The CFI trail people build some impressive stairs. They wove logs, 4x4s, planks and stone steps into the mountainside to make nearly vertical ladders in places. Stepping up one of the ladders caused my boot to loosen. One of the shoe laces had broken. I spliced it together with 2safety pins.

The trail begins leveling out when coming to a fork. Have to be careful here. The right arm deadends into willows and the left fork takes you out into the treeline and into LaPlata Gulch. It's a picturesque view of the contrasting ecosystems and being able to walk faster on flatter ground. I patted myself on the shoulder for picking a perfect day to climb as it was crystal blue skies as far as I could see. After I caught my breath, I was ready for the steep gulley. At the 6foot boulder, it was another wow of the most gorgeous view I've ever seen. Ahead was a cool line of white rock steps creeping up to a zillion switchbacks. As I was gaining the ridge, I saw the only cloud in the sky.

I was meeting other climbers and we stopped to seriously study the murky cloud that was hovering over us. The air temperature was cooling dramatically. Some turned back. I was one of the few who had raingear. There was no threat of thunder and lightning so we pressed upward in the wind onto the rock and talus section around 13500 feet. It was a rain cloud until the barley sized hail pelted us. Behind us, the terrain was dry and sunbathed. The path going forward was sort of visible, but hail collected on low spots so a spotted white trail marked the ridgeline. It was soft hail meaning that it flattened when stepped upon. Climbing in a cloud is the ever changing conditions of Mother Nature. Every time I reached out, the walls moved. We maintained a 6foot space for safety, encouragement and direction. With no visual focus, every step became an immediate goal. The false summit never faked me out because I never saw it; I felt it.

The group was a great bunch: friendly, humorous, positive and careful. We continued step by step in the hail cloud until someone shouted we're almost there. And like crossing a line, into the last 100 feet, we walked onto dry rocks and sunlight up to the 14336 summit. I was really standing on top of the world after this climb. It was so awesome and surreal. I was surrounded by a blue sky while looking down at a grayish cloud 100feet below my boots. Looking across the landscape, I recognized other 14ers. We did a round of high 5's, took pics, refueled and exchanged stories while watching the cloud loosen its grip on the side of the mountain, breakup and melt apart.

Descending lead to spectacular views, Ellington Ridge and the moisture from the melted hail glued the loose dry dirt together, which helped with traction going down. It was an easy descent down the class2 trail. I used my poles to lessen the impact on my knees. Someone going up had torn their sleeve on a tree and you guessed it-asked if I had any safety pins which I happily obliged. I don't watch the clock, but was back to the car for lunchtime.

In sum, what a beautiful hike! The trail was exceptionally maintained, visually appealing and self-instructive; both by man and Mother Nature's hands. The weather was near perfect with a decisive moment. Fixing a breaking day with safety pins and raingear to walk through hail was adaptive thinking. The day was about getting outside, discovery and experiencing. And that I did. This will forever be my favorite architecture walk through the forest.

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Comments or Questions
10/30/2017 20:27
Glad the weather worked out for you. I ll save it for summer climbing according to your description to enjoy the trail, too.

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