Itching to take advantage of all my weekdays off, Kris took off a Monday as well and we headed to the Sawatch Range to climb 14,336 foot La Plata peak.
We got to the trailhead early, looking to start as close to sunrise as possible. Deciding to challenge my Ford Escape, we set out on the 4WD road outside the town (3 houses and a graveyard) of Winfield. It was rough going and took us 20 minutes or so to travel 1.5 miles. Either way, soon enough we were on the trail as the only people around. Just the way we wanted it.
The hike started steeply through some trees and follow a beautiful flowing creek. We enjoyed a slow sunrise in the basin:
It was nice having the sound of a creek next to the trail for the start of the hike. It was a tougher trail to be on as there was a lot of trees/foliage hugging the trail, but it was still easy to follow. The first mile was rather steep, picking up 912 feet, but then it tapered off into a willow-filled basin.
Emerging from the trees, we were greeted with a visual of the rest of our route (a steep gully followed by a long ridge hike). The trail was fairly easy to follow in the willows and extremely dry. Especially compared to our last willow-whack through Guanella Pass.
We meandered through the willows for a mile or so and reached the bottom of the gully we had to climb. It looked steep, but not as bad as the one from Guanella Pass to the summit of Evans.
We climbed up the gully on what was a pretty good and sturdy trail. At the top, we were greeted with a trail that followed along the edge of the ridge and offered stunning views down into the basin. We eventually arrived at the bottom of a steep scree/boulder field around 13,000 feet. Life was gonna get hard.
In the last mile, climbed over 1,021 feet of rocks and made our way to the summit in a little over 3 hours. We had made it all the way to the top without seeing a single person…absolutely awesome. There was another person on top who had come up the Northwest Route. We had briefly (foolishly) considered Ellingwood Ridge and on the summit realized just how bad an idea that would have been. Its an impressive route and a long day. No way around it.
I was also greeted to a faraway view of Castle Peak which immediately triggered memories of snowy crossings and long days in the saddle on Juliet (my bike). It’s also amazing what kind of damage mining can leave on mountain sides.
It was such a nice day, we spent almost 30 minutes on the summit. Casey was not happy with this choice and made that well known. We headed down and had a miserable time with the talus. It took us just as long to get down it as it did to get up the rocks.
Once we gained the ridge above the gully, we started making much better time even though my knees were shot. At one point in time, Casey stopped dead in his tracks, and then proceeded to get behind me. He refused to pass me for 5 minutes. Not sure what he saw, but I no longer have faith that he will protect me!
We got back down to the car with a round trip time of 5:33. Not too bad for the amount of time we spent on the summit. The trail was in great condition and absolutely beautiful.
Elevation Gain: 3,760 ft. (10,760 to 14,385 ft.)
Mileage: 7.95 miles