RT Length: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 4524’
I have a goal of completing 5 winter 14ers this season, but that’s going to be more difficult to accomplish than it sounds. The weather hasn’t been cooperating on my hiking days, so I’ve been highpointing and sticking close to home the past couple of weeks (Manitou Incline over and over again & summiting the 9K mountains behind). I’ve only done one other winter 14er (Quandary) and my time is about to get seriously limited. This happened on Friday:
I volunteer as a cookie cupboard from mid-January through mid-March. This means Girl Scout Troop leaders come to my house to get cookies for their girls to sell. I have 2 semi trucks full of cookies delivered to my house twice a week, and those cookies are all gone by the next delivery date. (Think 20,000 cases of cookies, twice a week, in my living room, that have to be unloaded, sorted, and then loaded again when Troops come to pick them up). It’s intense, insane, and a full time job on top of my already full time job: I love it! Oh, and my house smells amazing right now! The only downside is it seriously limits the time I can allot to hiking. I had to give up my Friday hike for a delivery but the weather looked good for Sunday so I just switched days. I’m hoping to get in one more hike before sales start on February 3 (crossing my fingers).
OK, back to business. I arrived at the trailhead at 5:30am, a little later than expected. The drive in on Colorado 82 was a bit icy but manageable with no one else on the road.
La Plata Trailhead was full when I arrived. I’m pretty sure I got the last spot. It looked like several groups had slept at the trailhead overnight and were just now getting ready to hike (brave, brave souls to sleep at a trailhead in this 10* weather).
I was on the trail by 5:45am. The trail follows FSR 391 over a bridge and to the left. The bridge was covered in at least 2 feet of snow, making the railings irrelevant.
I passed an abandoned utility truck along the way and thought “that’s unfortunate”. I’m not sure if it was left here on purpose but it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’m fairly certain several rodents and small animals have taken up residence under the vehicle.
I continued on until I came to the trailhead on the left.
If you see these signs, you’ve gone too far
It was still dark, but knowing exactly where the trailhead was made finding it so much easier this time. The last time I took this route I’d missed the trailhead and ended up hiking at least a mile in the wrong direction. The trailhead was also easier to find now because of the fabulous trench already in place. This trench went from the parking lot just about to the summit, and made route-finding very, very easy.
I crossed another snow-filled bridge
And shortly thereafter a snow covered log bridge. I remember this was very difficult to find in the early summer when it was overgrown and filled with new leaves. No problem this time!
From here I never saw the log/stone steps as they were most likely covered in snow. I followed a trench that went straight up the ridge. About halfway up the slope I smelled smoke and got a bit nervous (forest fire?) until I ran into two hikers taking a smoke break (no comment). The sun started to rise just as I was exiting the trees, but I wasn’t yet high enough on the mountain to enjoy the alpenglow.
The trench up this part of the hillside was a bit sketchy at times because it was on a steep portion of the mountain, but it did lead me here
From here I had to gain the ridge. I hadn’t expected a gully? This wasn’t too terribly difficult, but it had been unanticipated. Here’s the route up
The gully was much steeper than these pictures make it look. Here there was no trench, but instead a mixture of scree, snow, and unstable rocks that didn’t provide much traction. Wearing my snowshoes helped.
Here’s a look back down from the top
And my view as the sun continued to rise
The sun never fully rose today, as it stayed behind La Plata and the ridge for hours after sunrise and then hid behind clouds. From the top of the gully the ridge was just beginning. Here’s the first obstacle
And from there the rest of the ridge
Here’s the route
This ridge is much longer than it looks, with a few ups and downs along the way. Besides the trench there wasn’t a visible trail, but luckily it is very straightforward and all you need to do is follow the top of the ridge.
I came upon some spots where my ice axe and the crampons on my snowshoes were helpful (side note, the straps my snowshoes are still a major pain).
At about this point the wind started picking up. I wasn’t physically tired but I was having trouble breathing. Because my balaclava was covering my mouth I wasn’t getting a full breath of air, making each breath only half as effective as it normally would have been.
I kept trudging on, knowing I wasn’t in a hurry today so I could take as much time as I wanted. When I reached this cairn I turned left and wondered if the hill to the right had any significance?
From this point the wind really kicked into high gear. I was having difficulty standing up at times but wasn’t worried about falling (there was no real danger of falling anywhere that would send me very far)
I headed up this small rocky stretch
And came to a flat(ish) summit area
I’m not sure what time I summited because I’m doing this new winter hiking thing where I don’t take out my phone unless it’s an emergency, but it was most likely between 9-10am.
I’d thought about summiting East La Plata today but once I got a good view of the way there and considered the current wind conditions I thought twice about my intended second summit. It’ll have to wait for another time.
The views from the summit of La Plata were breathtaking
Because of the wind I didn’t stay too long at the summit. It also looked like snow was coming in: Not on La Plata, but the surrounding mountains. Here’s a view from the summit of the ridge
OK, time to head back
Just for fun I decided to climb the little hill before heading back down the ridge
Here’s a look at the summit of La Plata from that hill
Here’s a better look at the ridge and my way back
The sun never quite made it out all the way: it kept hiding behind thin clouds. It was about here I caught up with the two hikers (now a party of 4) I’d seen taking a break on my way up. They only had on microspikes but seemed to be doing just fine (my snowshoes were most likely overkill on the ridge). A little bit further down I saw where they’d stashed their snowshoes.
As I kept descending I started running into more hikers. I thought this was a cool pic of a young man starting his trek up to the summit
The rest of the way back was fairly straightforward. The ridge had a great trench by this point and I could tell where those who’d ditched their snowshoes or hadn’t worn them had post-holed up to their waist on several occasions. The short descent down the gully made me wish I’d brought a helmet, as now bowling ball sized rocks were set loose both above and below me as I made my way down. I breathed a sigh of relief when that was over and I followed the trench back to my truck.
Once I made it to treeline the sun stayed behind the clouds and I could tell it was snowing on nearby peaks. Despite the summit wind it had been a very nice and quiet hike. I didn’t see any animals or very many animal tracks in the snow. I made it back down to my truck at 1pm, making this a 9 mile hike in just over 7 hours. Oh, and total bonus for today: My hands didn’t freeze! They didn’t even get cold. In fact, they were sweating in my mittens when I made it back to my truck. Two of my toes were blue, but nevertheless I’m considering today a huge success in the ‘cold’ department!
2 winter 14ers down for the year, 3 to go!
Just because they’re fun… here’s my Relive (I thought it was interesting this says my elevation was at 14,338 when La Plata’s elevation is 14,336): https://www.relive.cc/view/2107811469
The views from winter 14ers never disappoint