Courtesy of 3DFlags.comLa Plata Peak (14,336 ft), Everett, Colorado

La Plata Peak (14,336 ft), Everett, Colorado

Journal of a Mad Hiker (Part 2, continued)

Hike Stats Date: September 6, 2002
La Plata Peak: 14,336 feet Base: 10,080 feet Vertical Rise: 4,256 feet
Start: 09:05 Summit: 12:45 Return: 15:46
RT Dist: ~11 miles Conditions: sunny with afternoon storm

All good things eventually come to an end. With that sad note on my thoughts, I bid farewell to my good friend Annette who so graciously hosted me for both of my summer trips while I trampled all over the state of Colorado. I left extra early this morning (before sunrise) from Superior because it's a long way to my next hike, La Plata Peak, which was the first of my on-the-way-home hikes.

While hiking Shavano, I overheard a conversation between two veteran peak baggers that La Plata was one of their favorites. After today, I'd have to agree with them. The La Plata Gulch trail goes through some of the most scenic forest areas I've encountered during my hikes. The mountain brook with foot bridges, the deep forest with golden aspen and dark evergreens, the open meadows, and challenging ascent to the summit all make this a fabulous hike. The only small complaint I have is the numerous switchbacks you must traverse to get from the meadow up to the summit ridge.

The word La Plata means silver in Spanish. The peak was no doubt named during the mining craze during the mid to late 1800's. Unlike most large gentle slopes of the peaks in the Sawatch Range, La Plata has some very rugged features. Its infamous northeast ridge, named after Albert Ellingwood who first climbed it in 1921, boasts 2 miles of relentless class 3-5 scrambling across some spectacularly exposed ledges. Needless to say, I chose to avoid this route and opted for the much easier standard northwest ridge approach. Ellingwood Ridge would have to wait until I'm a little more experienced at rock climbing.

Make no mistake about it though, even the standard approach is a challenging hike. Almost from the start, you get a steady dose of elevation gain. You'll immediately start huffing and puffing as you scale the steep "stairway to heaven" and climb up through La Plata Gulch. Once you reach tree line, there'll be a brief flat jaunt through the meadow. Then, it's off to the races again up steep switchbacks to the summit ridge. A long but very satisfying day with spectacular views of some of the biggest mountains in Colorado, including Massive, Elbert, and Oxford / Belford.

The Old Testament (my nickname for Dawson's Guide to Colorado's Fourteeners, Volume 1) says 8 miles roundtrip, but with all the switchbacks and judging from my time and pace (I've learned to gauge my speed quite well now), I figure it to be more like 11 to 12 miles. By the end of the day, I was pooped and sore but glad I made La Plata my choice for today's hike.

After the hike, I decided to find a nice hotel for the night to rest up because tomorrow, I've chosen the toughest challenge of my trip yet -- Oxford, Belford, and Missouri -- a triple banger that puts Lincoln, Democrat, and Bross to shame. I settled into the little town of Buena (pronounced BYEWna) Vista for the evening.

Two significant things happened this evening worth noting. I noticed my RF tire low on pressure as I pulled into town. While airing it up, I found that the chords were poking through. I guess the unkind miles on some of these dirt access roads had taken their toll on my little car. (Did I mention I hate the dirt roads?) I was hoping that the tires would last until I got home, but was very thankful that I found the problem that night instead of in the morning. I got to the only tire shop in town 5 minutes before they closed. Whew!

The other significant event was that after a hot shower (no hot springs in town) and a filling dinner of steak and potatoes, I felt really feverish that night. Also watching the news, the evil weather lady forecasted snow in the mountains for the next day. These events dampened my spirits for the night, but I felt determined to make an attempt on the triple banger the next day. As luck would have it, I felt much better by the time my alarm went off at 4:30 am.