Peak(s):  La Plata Peak  -  14,336 feet
Date Posted:  09/02/2020
Modified:  09/03/2020
Date Climbed:   08/29/2020
Author:  jillianju
 La Plata Peak - Northwest Ridge   

A hike of La Plata Peak told from the perspective of two South Dakotan flat-landers.

My dad is an avid hiker at 47 years young, last year he bagged two 14ers and hiked Kilimanjaro with his brother in August. I never realized what all the hype was about until I hiked Mt. Elbert with my family over the 4th of July this year and absolutely got hooked. This time we had our sights set on La Plata Peak. We made the drive to Colorado starting bright and early at 5 am and getting there around 8 pm just in time to pitch our tent at the dispersed camping at the base of Elbert. We decided to take all of Friday for acclimatization since we were going from around 1,500 ft of elevation to 10,000.

On Saturday we woke up bright and early at 3:20 am and made the drive to the trailhead. We were on the trail by 3:45 and it was absolutely pitch black which made finding the trail at times rather difficult. We neglected to download the map of the trail because we figured we would have service for the majority of the time on the mountain... that was one of many mistakes for the day.

I had watched quite a few videos and read a lot about the northwest trail in the month before we hiked La Plata and the trail seemed straight forward... in the daylight. There was a spot we reached in the treeline where there were reflective markers everywhere and you couldn't tell where the actual trail was so we had to search quite a bit. No worries though! We did get back on track. One of the views I was looking most forward to was the one when we got into the valley, however since we decided to start so early due to the impending thunderstorms at 10 am, it was dark when we reached the valley. I had to settle for the views on the way down which were still incredibly beautiful.

Unfortunately, it was raining the whole way down but it was still a wonderful view.

We were aiming to get into the rocky part of our hike in the daylight since we both had never done a class two 14er and we wanted to be able to see the rocks we were climbing on when we got to them. Now one would think after all of the reading I did about this trail we wouldn't have any problems finding the trail at all, especially the one spot where you need to go left when you get to the buttress. I had informed my dad that when in doubt we needed to go left and unfortunately I didn't listen to my own advice. There is a section where someone has stacked carins to the right on the talus and the trail is to the left. We followed the carins. Instead of going along the easier east side we went up the west face of that section of the trail and turned our class two hike into a class three rock climb. My advice here is to not follow those carins. Go left. I know what it looks like but go left.

Taking a moment to catch our breath after our rock climb. I was happy to see the trail kind of flattened out at this point!

After our exhausting ascent up the talus, we met some other hikers who were on their way down and they informed us we probably had 45 minutes to the summit left and that it was pretty cold and hazy up there. At this point when we would stop my legs were shaking and I was pretty beat but we drove 12 hours and had a thunderstorm to beat. I'm pretty stubborn, I wasn't about to get beaten by a massive hunk of rock jutting out of the earth. We pressed on and just when I thought the hike couldn't get much steeper, it did. It was about at this point when I started to worry about how difficult it was going to be to get down, but again, I'd made it this far and there was absolutely zero chance of me turning around.

Nearing the summit! Took this photo just to show my mom how steep this hike was!

We stopped again to put on another layer of clothing as the temperatures dropped and it started to sprinkle some and we continued on. After about 45 minutes we finally reached the summit! La Plata Peak does not disappoint! I was blown away by how tiny the Ellingwood ridge looked from the top! We got the summit all to ourselves and the weather had just cleared out enough for us to get a pretty good view and there was almost no wind! We face-timed my mom from the top and she could hear us perfectly! We couldn't have asked for better weather on the summit! We searched all over for a medallion but couldn't find one (I assume La Plata doesn't have one then? Was it stolen and never replaced?). After about twenty minutes on the summit, we got our photos and started our descent as the clouds started to come back in.

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On our way down I kept saying I couldn't believe how steep this hike was! I knew it was steep on my way up but going down it in the daylight really showed me just how much it was! We got rained on the whole way down and we were both soaked and cold by the time we reached the bottom but that didn't matter, because we did it! I have to wait until next summer to hike my next 14er but I'm eagerly awaiting the day I get to go back. I cannot believe that places this beautiful exist on this earth and go unenjoyed by so many people!

Link to the ramblr app my dad used to track our hike (you can see exactly where we got off in multiple places!):

I didn't realize that the creek was that you cross over at the beginning of the hike was orange! I remember reading somewhere that there is a high concentration of metals in the water at La Plata, is that what causes this orange tinge to the water?

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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