Standing at 14,336′, La Plata Peak is a 30-minute drive southwest of Leadville. This climb was more challenging than my previous two climbs; I’d give this 10-mile hike a 5-to-6 on a scale of difficulty.
I was joined this time by my friend Jennifer (and her dog!). Finding the large trailhead parking lot right off the main road was no problem. We hit the trail at 6:00 am. Dawn was just spilling over the horizon as we crossed the Arkansas River and made quick work of the flat, first mile (caution: be careful to look for the trail signage to the left just after crossing the river and walking up the dirt road a few hundred yards). It was chilly but evolving into a beautiful, summer day.
The challenging thing about this climb is you are faced with over 4,100 elevation gain in the space of the remaining 4-miles to the summit. After the first mile, we climbed a steep set of stairs and switchbacks, exiting La Plata Gulch, before cresting out on top of the so-called Northwest Ridge. This open ridgeline points to the south/southeast for about a mile. You then begin the true work — a steeper, Class 2 grind through talus up to the not-quite-visible summit. The trail braids and meanders in many places here so just be patient and find your best route up. Once to the top, ignore the false summit to the right, look to the left, and head that way. You will soon see breastworks marking the true summit.
Jennifer and I munched on a snack briefly, took pictures, and headed back down. Care must be taken on descending, not just across the talus field, but on the trail as well since there are steep stretches scoured bare and it is easy to take a “sit-down”. We did the entire hike comfortably in under 6 hours (Jennifer is a runner and in very good shape).
If you are looking for a 14er that is a more difficult challenge, located in some gorgeous, yet accessible, country, and with a tolerable amount of people, then I suggest you give La Plata Peak a go. Be sure to stop in lovely Leadville for some good coffee from the fine folks at City on a Hill Coffee 🙂