Peak(s):  Centennial Pk  -  13,062 feet
Date Posted:  11/12/2017
Date Climbed:   11/11/2017
Author:  SurfNTurf
 Exploring a Hidden Corner of Colorado  

Mountain(s): Centennial Peak (13,062')
Route: North Ridge via Sharkstooth Trailhead
Date: November 11, 2017
RT Distance: 8 miles
RT Gain: 2,550'
RT Time: 5.5 hours
Climbers: Solo

I've wanted to reconnoitre the La Plata Range since moving to Durango in July, but other interests or poor weather pushed me elsewhere every weekend. Finally, with no prior plans and a reasonable forecast, I pulled the trigger.

Centennial Peak is one of a handful of 13ers in the range -- Hesperus Mountain is the highest at 13,232' -- and likely the easiest. It's included in The Best Durango & Silverton Hikes guidebook from CMC Press, which I've slowly worked my way through since relocating. In the summer, it's a casual 5-mile stroll on a good trail most of the way. That's why you'll see most dry-season trip reports combining it with other peaks.

The hills around Durango received about 6-8 inches of snow earlier in the week. My AWD Suzuki SX4 is a surprisingly daring little adventure wagon, but a 4WD road with fresh snow is pushing it. I parked at the intersection of FR350 and the 4WD road, adding about 3 miles and a negligible amount of elevation gain to my round trip.

The La Platas are everything I'd hoped. I started hiking 14ers and 13ers in earnest in 2009, and I know that's late compared with many folks on this site. Still, I've witnessed an exponential increase in crowds. I remember summiting Quandary Peak on a summer weekday and only seeing 15-20 other people. Many of the more difficult or remote 14ers I did the first time around, my party was the only one on the route. It's hard to believe that was ever the case.

This isn't to say "get off my lawn." Most of us moved here for the same reason, and everyone has an equal right to enjoy public lands. As I get older, however, I care less about impressing strangers on social media or inflating my peak list or recording a personal-best climb time. The mountains, to me, represent a last remnant of wildness in America. I venture into them to experience the purifying silence, the endless azure sky, the heartrendingly beautiful vistas. Not to dodge hordes from, trail runners yelling "on your left" or people without souls complaining about dogs.

Six hours from the Front Range with no 14ers, no Centennials (well, except the peak called Centennial), and only a handful of 13ers, the La Platas are overlooked by just about everyone. This was my first foray into the range, and I'm giddy at the thought of more thorough explorations. I only saw three other people, on the way down, a group hiking to Sharkstooth Pass. For the majority of the day, it felt like I had an entire mountain range to myself.

The 1.5-mile hike from my parking spot to the summer trailhead was an easy, mostly-flat road with some mild ups and downs. I had consistent, shallow snow from the get-go except for a few short dry patches. Impressive views of Hesperus Mountain dominate the approach.

Walking the 4WD road.

Hesperus, as seen from the Sharkstooth TH.

Still Hesperus...

Two trails begin at the trailhead, but they're clearly marked. Take the option for Sharkstooth Pass. The road transitions to singletrack and continues at a gentle grade as it meanders toward timberline. You'll pass some informative signs detailing the mining history in the area, with optional side trails. Treeline arrives abruptly, along with the realization that you're already pretty damn close to Sharkstooth Pass. The snow got deep enough to be annoying here, but snowshoes would have been extreme overkill. The trail switchbacks in earnest until you reach the pass at nearly 12,000', between Sharkstooth Peak and Centennial Peak. The scene from here is jaw-dropping. You're standing in the heart of the La Platas with views of the Needles and Grenadiers, the La Sals, canyon country, Lizard Head and the Wilson Group. It only gets better as you turn south and follow the ridge to Centennial's summit.

There's supposedly a trail all the way to the top, but it's either faint or it was covered in snow. Probably both. I could see what looked like a trail in spots. It was mostly steep scree covered in a couple inches of snow. I gave up trying to follow a path pretty quickly, instead just picking my way up what looked like the easiest route. Centennial reminds you quickly that even though it's "easy," it's still in the San Juans. Everything is loose and rotten. There is a section of welcoming tundra partway up for a nice mental break. I eventually chose to stay near the ridge proper and some moderate exposure. Combined with the snow, it was fairly slow going.

The route relents once you hit a false summit. From there it's a short, gentle stroll to the top. The setting is majestic, with the views mentioned before plus close-ups of Hesperus. The temperature was colder than forecast and the wind had picked up to a steady 20mph, but I lingered for nearly a half-hour to soak it all in. The pup starting to whine stirred me out of my reverie and we reversed our track back down.

Sharkstooth from Sharkstooth Pass.

Beginning of Centennial's North Ridge, with faint trail visible.

Brief section of tundra between steep, loose scree/talus.

Zia hitting the false summit.


Mighty Hesperus.

Looking back down the ridge.

La Platas.


It's rare for something to live up to the hype you create inside your head, especially after a long build up. The La Platas delivered and then some. What an awesome hidden corner of Colorado!

Thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

 Comments or Questions

Nice write up!
11/12/2017 23:29
Jeff, you are a talented wordsmith. Well written report. Makes me want to come climb the peaks hardly anyone climbs. Looks like you are enjoying that south-west corner.
And I may just have to put that CMC Press book on my Christmas list.


reconnnoittre WTF
11/13/2017 08:17
Nice work, Jeff. Someone told me a joke yesterday about there being 2 Sharkstooths in CO. I get it now. Nice spot back there eh? Looks like you had some better weather than me buddy. Keep it up!!

Two thumbs up
11/13/2017 09:45

I really enjoyed your report. This quote really captured my views as well: "As I get older, however, I care less about impressing strangers on social media or inflating my peak list or recording a personal-best climb time. The mountains, to me, represent a last remnant of wildness in America. I venture into them to experience the purifying silence, the endless azure sky, the heartrendingly beautiful vistas. Not to dodge hordes from, trail runners yelling 'on your left' or people without souls complaining about dogs." Amen, I fully agree.



What they said...
11/13/2017 14:52
I was planning on quoting the "As I get older..." and then I saw that Tom beat me to it. Nice one, Jeff!


11/14/2017 09:14
@Britt: It's a nice little book! Definitely covers most of the best hikes within 1.5 hours of me, from the desert to Silverton

@Dillon: Maybe I should do one of those locals nights at ComedyWorks

@Tom: It's a liberating way to approach the outdoors, and much more fulfilling

@Jay: It's been too long since we've accidentally ran into each other!

Ridge runner

11/16/2017 09:28
One of my favorites in the La Platas, especially with the views it has of Hesperus Peak. Congrats on a fine day out!

Great Report!
03/23/2018 15:17
I'm planning on hiking Centennial this July. Great information and narrative. Thanks for posting!!

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2020®, 14ers Inc.