La Plata Peak in Winter – 14,336

RT Length: 10.93 miles

Elevation Gain: 4620’

Detailed La Plata in Winter Report  

I’ve already done a detailed trip report on this route, so I’m just adding pictures and some notes/a story for today’s hike.  Funny thing:  It’s been almost exactly 2 years since I’ve done this hike. The end of January seems to be a good week for La Plata in winter.

I was really, really tired on the drive in, so when I got to the trailhead I decided to take a 20 minute nap before starting.  I was also hoping someone else would arrive so we wouldn’t be the ones doing all the trenching:  no dice.  We started out at 6:30am, and were the only ones in the parking area, so we had no hopes of anyone trenching before us. 

I put on my snowshoes at the truck, knowing I’d eventually need them and not wanting to take off my gloves to put them on.  It was -2 degrees when we started hiking.  I kept the snowshoes on for the entire hike.  We started out following road 391 to the trailhead.  This was a well packed down road, but not in the beginning.  It looked like someone had tried to drive the snow packed road.  They made it across the bridge, then obviously backed up.  Funny:  that was probably the hardest part of the road.

Here’s the trailhead.  Note, there’s private property all around:  stick to the trail

The trail was trenched!  Woot!  We followed the trail a short ways, and check this out:  An old cabin!  This is my 5th time on this trail and I’d never see the cabin before.  On our way back we spent some time trying to figure out how old it was by looking at the boards, logs, chinking, etc. 

On we went, following the trench as it wound through the trees and across the log bridge/through the willows. From here, it’s all uphill. 

We were following the summer route, and I kept looking for a trench indicating the winter route, but we never came across one.  It’s my goal this year not to let a good trench go to waste, so we decided to follow the summer route to the basin and see if we’d be able to summit this way.  We hiked on some seriously steep slopes below treeline, where a slip off the trenched trail would send you sliding quite a ways into the drainage below.  The trench ended as soon as we made it to the basin, so we decided to make our own trench up the ridge to the headwall.  Here you can see our basic route

Also, I don’t recommend this route in winter:  there’s avy danger.  Today however we didn’t see enough snow to be worried.  I’d wanted to teach SkydiverHiker how to use his ice axe, and there didn’t seem to be enough snow/ice to make it relevant on the way up.  Here’s our route up the headwall.

I should also note it was really, really cold in the morning before the sun reached us.  Several times we considered turning back, but in the end we knew the sun was just over the ridge:  all we needed to do was make it up the headwall and we’d be fine.  This part was slow going and slippery.

Once we made it to the ridge and I felt the sun warm my face I was ecstatic!  Also, I screamed.  Raynaud’s attacks are no fun, and now that the sun was warming my fingers and toes the blood rush felt like I was picking up a hot pan I couldn’t let go of.   Not fun.  Luckily SkydiverHiker is used to this and let me scream as loud as I needed without judgement.

It’s a really long ridge hike to the summit of La Plata Peak.  My route says about 2.3 miles of ridge work.  I don’t have a lot of pictures of the hike in due to my frozen fingers, so all of these pictures are from the hike out.  Here’s a look at the ridge today

We trudged up this ridge, but it was such a nice day we didn’t mind much. 

I kept looking back to see if anyone was poaching our trench, but never saw anyone.  Such a shame!  There were some small cornices forming on the ridge. Nothing too dramatic, but we stayed away from them.

At one point we stopped to get a shadowselfie and a picture of Sayres Benchmark

We summited in bluebird conditions:  no wind, no clouds, just a nice, sunny day. There were some small cornices at the top.

Here’s a summit photo and video of the summit

NE La Plata

We actually stayed for a but at the summit because the weather was so nice.  The views were amazing, and demanded to be appreciated.  I should have put on sunscreen, but didn’t.  I have much better pictures of the route down because:  warmth.  Check out that ridge!  Here’s the overall route.

And some step by step to the headwall

Here’s looking down the headwall

I decided to go first to blaze a trail.  Here’s looking back up at SkydiverHiker, waiting patiently

I spent a long time gingerly making a nice trail for SkydiverHiker to scree surf down

SkydiverHiker decided to glissade down instead (smh).  This was his first real time, as I’ve had him practice before, but never where the run out was so long.  He learned first hand about hitting rocks, keeping his feet up, and how long it takes to stop once you place your ice axe. He may have rolled a few times (on purpose, of course).

The snow was getting dangerously soft:  we were booking it out of there, but I got a final shot of our paths down (lots of rollerballs).

We made it back to the trench and started our hike out

This part was pleasant, but my feet were thawing out, so every once in a while I’d get a sharp pain in my toes (note:  two days later, I’m still having pain.  Raynaud’s sucks).  We saw our first people of the day; snowshoers who were just following the trench as long as it went.  We let them know they had another 20 yards or so to go, and continued on our way.

We took some pictures of Lake Creek as we crossed

And made it back to my truck at 3:15pm, making this a 10.93 mile hike with 4620’ of elevation gain in 8 hours, 45 minutes.

Some final thoughts:  It was a shame we were the only ones on the summit today, as it was a beautiful day. Also, if possible, take the standard winter rout that goes up the ridge sooner:  our route had more avy danger than is recommended. 

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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