Peak(s):  La Plata Peak  -  14,344 feet
Date Posted:  10/01/2013
Date Climbed:   09/28/2013
Author:  mlayman09
 Snowy ascent of La Plata's NW Ridge   

I've climbed Colorado peaks almost exclusively during the summer, so I was excited to climb a 14er during the fall. Nathan, Indy, and myself drove out to the La Plata trailhead Friday evening and camped overnight. As we were setting up our tents around 9pm, snow began to fall steadily. We woke up to about 2" of fresh powder as we headed out on the trail around 6:30am. The trail starts down a gravel road, then turns left into the woods at a sign. From here you cross streams then start a steady ascent to a broad valley. We were afforded fantastic glimpses of nearby mountains draped in snow up high and covered with tongues of fiery aspens below as we hiked through the forest. This motivated us to push higher for a better vantage point.

First glimpses of fall color

After a short trek in the valley, we began the steep ascent up switchbacks to the main ridge leading to La Plata's summit. We had been breaking trail the whole way rather easily, but on the slope the snow had drifted significantly, and we encountered snow as deep as 1'. We tried to follow the trail as much as possible so as to avoid as many hidden rocks as we could.

Looking up the gully

Looking NW towards independence pass

A closer look at the terrain going up the gully

Once we reached the ridge, the wind made its presence known and we would feel its wrath the rest of the time we were above treeline. Thankfully, the sun provided some warmth and the views helped distract me from my frozen feet and hands. Since we weren't anticipating much snow, none of us wore gaiters. The rest of the climb up the ridge was laborious and very challenging mentally. The Class 2+ terrain turned into Class 3 thanks to the snow, and post-holing was required in some spots. Finally, around 11am we summited and basked in our accomplishment for a brief time, ate, then headed on down. The views from the top were some of the best I've ever experienced. We could easily see the San Juan range to the southwest, Pikes Peak, Longs Peak, and as far south as the Sangres. Not to mention spectacular, crisp views of the Sawatch and Tenmile/Mosquito ranges. Fall color down in the valleys gave the impression of fire spreading up the mountains.

Summit in view

Doesn't get any better than this!

Looking south along the Sawatch




The descent was much easier, and the wind even stopped for us! We reached the car and I quickly exchanged my wet boots and socks for dry socks and running shoes. Since we were fairly close to Aspen, CO we decided to drive over to see the Maroon Bells as well. We were rewarded with a dramatic view of the Bells, covered in snow, with groves of brightly illuminated aspens framing the whole thing. Then we began the long 4 hour drive home after a quick stop at K's in Buena Vista. Excellent day in the mountains, get out there now for spectacular fall color.

A grove of aspens near the La Plata Trailhead

The Bells showing off

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
10/01/2013 19:01
What a beautiful day! Was it necessary to use crampons at any time, or was it still a walk up in boots/gaiters for those that had them?

10/01/2013 19:07
Crampons weren't needed since the snow was fresh and wasn't compacted at all. Snowshoes would have helped in spots, but we were constantly going from drifts to rock so it was better to just go with boots.

10/01/2013 19:37
...and winter rolled into one! Beautiful pics, especially the one of the Bells - classic!

10/03/2013 01:49
So gorgeous!!

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