I was supposed to have a meeting at 8am today, but at around
10pm last night the meeting was cancelled, so I got out my spreadsheet, checked
weather, and thought La Plata Peak would be a good idea for a 14er
I got up at 2am to head for the trailhead. Rebecca was in the shower (she takes 2am
showers because she has an off schedule), so I was able to say goodbye to her
before I left. We only seem to catch
each other coming and going these days…
The drive there was uneventful, except for 3 cars all
hauling boats on HWY 24. It looked like
they were travelling together. It was
3am and I couldn’t pass them because they were driving too close together and
they were all doing 40 in a 60. When I
was finally able to pass them because they veered right they chose that time to
turn left, and I had to honk really loud and probably looked like a jerk, but
come on guys!!! We were the only ones on
the road! Pull over and let the only
other car on the entire highway at 3am pass so she can go the speed limit!
The trailhead parking lot was super easy to find. It was well marked and several other cars
were already there. I forgot my high beams
were on and probably made a few car campers upset as they were getting ready to
hike. Sorry! I turned them off as soon as I realized the
It was almost 5am and I’d gotten there half an hour earlier
than I’d expected. Very cool! So I got out my stuff, folded my map and directions
and put them in my pocket, and headed out on the trail. My directions said to walk down the dirt
road, cross a bridge, and the trail would be ¼ of a mile down on the left. It was really dark as I was hiking. I had my headlamp on and swayed it from side
to side, looking for the trailhead.
I passed a couple hiking towards me. I figured they’d been out for a moonlight
hike to the peak and were on their way back down. I apologized for shining my flashlight in
their eyes (I’d thought they were animals at first) and I kept hiking. And hiking, and hiking. I’d gone much farther than the ¼ mile, so I
got out my directions. Nope, I was on the right path. I just had to keep going and look for that
bridge and then the trailhead would be ¼ of a mile on the left. I was following the river however, and I figured this was La Plata Peak ahead of me?
So I kept on hiking for about 2 miles and eventually got to
thinking how there was virtually no elevation gain on this hike so far, and it
was supposed to have 4500 feet in elevation gain in 4.75 miles. If I’d already been 2 miles without much
elevation gain this didn’t make sense.
All I was passing were car campers, and I kept thinking I should have
been allowed to drive on this road to the trailhead. That thought made me turn back.
About 1.5 miles on the way back I ran in to a guy who was
hiking towards me. I asked him where he
was headed, and he was going the same place I was. He didn’t have a map (what is it about hikers
not carrying maps???) but his directions
were the same as mine. We talked a bit
and he decided I was probably right and walked the last half mile back with
me. It was a bit awkward to hike and
talk with someone you didn’t know, but we made it work. And yes, I’d missed the trailhead. It was hidden behind some trees, but very
visible to me now in the light of day.
In the dark there’s no way I’d have seen it. I did remember seeing the ReMax sign though,
probably because it glowed in my flashlight.
It caught my attention and probably diverted my attention from the
trailhead. Oh well. I looked at my watch. I’d lost an hour and 15 minutes of time and
gained 4 miles on this trip. Drat!
In any event, I said a quick goodbye to my current hiking
partner (I now had 4 miles and over an hour of hiking to make up for) and was
on my way. He thanked me, but I never
saw him again on the way up or the way down.
I’m pretty sure he got lost by accidentally taking another trail.
At this point I was only about 50% sure I was on the right
trail. You see, I’d found a trailhead,
but it didn’t indicate what trail it was for. All the sign said was pick up
after yourself, put fires completely out, etc.
So I could have been on just
about any trail. And my directions didn’t
match up. Several small details were
wrong (I was supposed to hike 100 yards before seeing a turnoff I saw in 10
feet, and it took much longer than anticipated to find the gulch), but I kept
hiking anyway because several details were right (crossing the bridge, then the
makeshift log bridge, then following the gorge).
I’m stubborn this way and it’s usually one of
the detriments to my hiking: I keep
thinking what I’m looking for will be right around the corner, and since I hike
fast I can get far off my intended goal quickly. Like I had this morning.
In any event, after about 2 miles of hiking I pulled out my
altimeter and verified I was indeed on the correct path. I hadn’t done this before because I didn’t
want to admit the directions could have been wrong. In my mind I’d already done 6 miles and if I
was wrong at this point I’d just see where the trail went and try again another
But I was right.
Woohoo! So I kept on hiking.
I was absolutely positive I was on the right trail when I
hit these switchbacks (the picture is from the way back down). As far as I’m concerned, “switchback” is a 4
letter word. They’re dreadful and go on
forever without much elevation gain.
These switchbacks lasted well over a mile and seemed to go straight up
the gully, turning every 20 feet or so.
My calves were screaming when I finally reached the ridge. On a positive note I saw several chipmunks
Oh, and most of the trail was in the shade, which was great
because it would have been miserable to hike in the heat of the sun!
I kept looking back to see if my lost hiking buddy had
caught up, but never saw him. At this
point I figured he’d taken the wrong trail (there were several trail junctions,
but my directions said to always veer right.
I’m not sure he had that information).
At the top of the switchbacks I reached a ridge and could
see the summit (covered in a low lying cloud).
I was now on the ridge, and it was now I started passing
other hikers. I passed two ladies in
their 20s hiking in shorts (and freezing!) and the couple I’d passed earlier
this morning headed towards me on the trail.
We chatted for a bit (she worked last summer in Salida as a trail guide,
but this was his first 14er) and I took a picture with La Plata Peak in the
background. They offered to take it for
me, but I’m getting pretty good at this automatic portrait thing (I think?).
From the ridge it’s a 1.25 mile hike to the summit, much of
which isn’t marked by a trail, but that’s something I’ve gotten used to. I’m pretty good now at just pointing towards
my goal and hiking to meet it, even though large rocks and scree.
I didn’t see anyone else on the trail until I reached the
summit, which is a complete win as far as I’m concerned! For a Friday this peak was deserted!
There was one guy there that looked to be
about my age. We had a great chat about
14ers (he’s from Denver) and summits that require weekends. He said his friend has made the same mistake
I’d made (missing the trailhead) so he was able to avoid it because he knew
what to look for. While we were chatting
an older man summited as well from a different route. He asked to borrow my sunscreen (absolutely!)
and I was offered whatever was in flask of the guy I was talking to. I told him he carried it up so it was all
his, let them know I had a drink waiting for back at the trailhead in my truck,
and was off down the mountain.
I made it about ¼ of a mile before I realized the guy I’d
been talking to was behind me heading down as well. He stayed about 20 yards behind me the entire
way down, which was awkward. Not in a
creepy way (we’d gotten along well) but in a “I have to pee and I can’t because
he’s too close” kind of way. I’m sure
the ladies can appreciate this. 5 hours
above treeline is a lot when you need coffee to get you going in the morning
and you bring water to drink on the hike…
I’d rather he just hiked WITH me and we talked than he kept
his distance. We were about 20 feet
apart by the end of the hike, and I’m not sure if that was intentional or
not? I hike really fast and don’t take
breaks, so he had to book it to keep up with me. Either way we didn’t talk again, even though
we were parked close to each other at the trailhead parking lot.
I took a few pictures of the correct bridge (there were
several, but this one was kind of cool).
Oh, and as I reached the trailhead there was a girl there
walking back towards the trailhead. I
told her “If you’re looking for La Plata, this is it, even though it doesn’t look
like it is.” She was very
appreciative. It seems she’d hiked 6 or
7 miles further than I had in the wrong direction and had just made it
back. She indicated she’d try the peak
tomorrow and we both agreed they need better signage/directions.
Total (correct) hiking time was 6:15am-11:30am, so just over
5 hours for a 9.5 mile, 4500’ elevation hike (or just over 6 hours for a 13.5
mile hike if you take into account my going the wrong way)
Here’s the view from the summit:
The La Plata Peak summit sticker can be found here