La Plata Peak 14er – Northwest Summer Route from La Plata Gulch Trailhead
After camping two nights at Twin Lakes, we opted to hit La Plata Peak before the return trip home. We had done Mt Sherman the previous day, and wanted to bag 2 Colorado 14ers this weekend.
Spanish for “The Silver,” La Plata Peak is the fifth highest 14er in Colorado, standing at 14,360 feet. The wake-up call sounded at 3:30AM, just enough time for us to pack up all the camping gear and get to the trailhead by 4:45AM. The parking lot at La Plata Gulch Trailhead is small and was already full when we arrived; I suspect many hikers were car camping.
Northwest Summer Route La Plata Peak
- Date Hiked: July 19th 2020
- Total Distance: 9.6 Miles
- Total Elevation Gain: 4,370 ft
- Moving time: Just under 6 hours
- What we Liked: Amazing views the entire hike, not very crowded, challenging.
- What we Disliked: Parking lot was small and nearly full at 4:45am
Check Out the Cinematic La Plata Peak Hiking Video We Made
The first 0.3 miles of the trail follow a dirt road on private property before veering off to the left. A sign that says ‘Attention’ indicates the turn-off. The trail continues through private property for another 0.4 miles – we made sure to stick to the trail. It had been a while since we needed headlamps, and it took some time to grow accustomed to the lack of visibility.
Walking along a Creek
For a little over a mile the trail borders a tributary of South Fork Lake Creek, and the sound of the running water was relaxing. We did gain quite a bit of elevation on this stretch, but it was nothing compared to what was in store. At the 2.3 mile mark, the trail branches off from the creek into seemingly endless switchbacks up through a gully to the ridge. As we traversed the switchbacks we passed treeline.
The winding trail up to the ridge boasted some beautiful views of the surrounding peaks, and the sun rising created spectacular light. We stopped often to capture the beauty. Another mile further brought us to the ridge, but another two miles and just over 2,000 feet of elevation gain lay between us and the summit.
Amazing Views at the Ridge of La Plata Peak
From the ridge, we were greeted with a commanding view of Ellington Ridge which was well complemented by surrounding mountains.
We hiked along the ridge for a spell before continuing upward. The trail here becomes increasingly rocky and at times it’s hard to discern where the actual trail is.
Once you make your way up the ridge begins the Class 2 scrambling. It’s not that difficult if you follow the cairns and has very little exposure.
We made sure to follow the cairns on the ascent to stay on track. There was much wildlife to be seen en route to La Plata Peak summit. We had the pleasure of seeing several Pika running through the rocks. American Pika populations have suffered recently, as climate change has brought higher temperatures to their mountain habitats but they are not yet on the endangered species list.
Summit of La Plata Peak
Another 2.2 miles was spent switch-backing through rocks and boulder hopping to the summit of La Plata Peak. At the summit there were roughly 10 other hikers. Everyone was enjoying the backdrop of other collegiate peaks and Ellington Ridge. We engaged in typical summit activities for half an hour – summit beer, lots of pictures and small talk with other hikers. The distance point to point was 4.9 miles, with an elevation gain of 4,370 feet. With lots of stops for pictures we still made it to the summit under 4 hours. At 9AM, we started our descent back to the trailhead.
Descent from the Summit of La Plata Peak
We passed several other hikers pushing for the summit and at times it was hard to maneuver around each other with the boulders. We were sure to take our time going down as the trail was slippery. After the descent of Mt. Sherman the previous day and the copious switchbacks on La Plata Peak, our knees and toes were taking a beating.
Once we rejoined the creek, we were able to see the water formations that were previously veiled in the dark. We chose not to expend our energy on water photography at this junction because we were exhausted and a storm was rolling in. With roughly a mile left in our journey, dark clouds covered the sky and we could hear distant thunder. We fretted over the safety of those still on the mountain and hoped they got down without trouble.
We had picked up the pace, but despite our efforts we got caught in a hail storm just before reaching our vehicle. The hail stones were decent sized and were painful – we had to endure them for another 0.2 miles. The parking lot was still crowded with cars when we returned and there were more spilling out onto the shoulder of Independence Pass.
This was our fifth 14er as a hiking duo and we both agreed it was the best we have done to date. The views were excellent the entire trip and the trail itself was exciting and versatile. The Collegiate Peak Wilderness is unfailingly beautiful and I can’t wait to complete another 14er in the area.
Have you hiked La Plata Peak before? Any questions regarding the hike up to La Plata Peak? We would love to hear your thoughts by leaving a comment below! 🙂
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