La Plata Peak P1K
East La Plata
Sayres BM P900

Aug 26, 2019

With: Eric Smith

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile


Eric and Leroy had come up from New Mexico to join me for six days of climbing 14ers in Colorado. I had already had four days in the state on my own and was happy to have company for the rest of the week. All our planned peaks were in Colorado's Sawatch Range, just east of the Continental Divide, sandwiched between Interstate 70 to the north and US50 to the south. Today's effort was to La Plata Peak, "Silver" in spanish, though it doesn't appear that much of that valuable mineral was ever extracted from the peak. The day was to be one of our shorter ones, a warm-up if you will, about 7mi roundtrip with 3,600ft of gain. I threw in a few bonus peaks to improve the stats, but overall a relatively easy and thoroughly enjoyable day.

Eric is of the mindset that we should start climbing 14ers around 4a to avoid the chance of electrical storms, but a most ungodly hour in my differing opinion. Luckily I was able to show him the weather forecast had nothing but blue skies for the next three days, and because the outing was short, we'd easily be back in the early afternoon. We used the jeep to get us to the 4WD parking for the South La Plata Trailhead, a few miles west of the old mining site of Winfield, and started off around 6:20a, a far more civilized time.

The trail is a decent one, not perhaps as nice as the CFI (Colorado Fourteeners Initiative) ones, but quite good. It doesn't mess around with switchbacks or long meandering segments, climbing steadily for most of its 3.5mi length. After about 3/4mi, the trail emerges from the forest and enters a delightful alpine bowl filled with a variety of shrubs and flowers. The gradient relents here for about half a mile as it makes its way to the bowl's upper end to the northwest. Here the slope steepens appreciably as the trail becomes sandy and tiring while climbing a headwall, making its way past an old mine shaft with a pair of ore car tracks sticking out over some tailings. It reaches a saddle at 12,700ft and returns to a more steady gradient. La Plata lies another 1.4mi to the northeast and 1,600ft higher. The good trail continues for a short distance before giving way to boulder slopes that necessarily slow one's pace. There are several trail branches that make there way through the boulders, but they are hard to see while ascending, much more visible on the descent. Consequently, we spent far more time clambering over boulders on the way up then we did on the way down.

It was 9:10a by the time we reached the summit of La Plata, making for a little under 3hrs on the ascent. There was only one other person there, having arrived from the North La Plata route about 20min earlier. There are fine views looking north to the Lake Creek drainage, with Mts. Massive and Elbert in the background. To the south is the Clear Lake drainage, with a line of 14ers on the other side, including Huron, Belford, Oxford and Missouri. Those would be on the agenda over the next few days. We rested up at the summit perhaps 15min when I suggested heading over to East La Plata, about 1/5mi in that direction along a class 3 ridgeline. Eric and Leroy declined to join me, choosing to start back down while I went over and tagged it. It would take about 40min for the roundtrip effort. There is little elevation loss and East La Plata has very little prominence, but it's hardly trivial. The first 2/3 of the ridge I would consider class 2, but the last third had some solid class 3. Probably a good thing Eric and Leroy didn't join, because this might have proved problematic.

Upon my return to La Plata, I was surprised to have the summit to myself. I had seen at least three others while I was on East La Plata, but they had evidently already started back down. I headed off as soon as I had arrived, catching up with Eric and Leroy when we were about half a mile from the summit. It was only 10:30a, so I decided to add Sayres BM as a more involved bonus. It lies about a 3/4mi southwest of the saddle we had come up and adds another 1,000ft of gain to the day. The NE Ridge looks complex from a distance with some difficulties likely. The NW side of the ridge is mostly steep cliff but the saving grace is the southwest side that looks to be mostly class 2 if the ridge proved too difficult. Eric decided to save himself for the next day when we had a harder day planned, so I went off by myself once again. The ridge is broken roughly into two halves. The lower half has more difficulties and I wasn't able to stay on it, but it had the better scrambling, with some weaving around pinnacles, high ledges, and some interesting route-finding. The second half proved to be mostly a tedious boulder climb if staying closer to the ridge as I did on the ascent. A short distance off the ridge and there were easier sandy sections with better seated rocks and it made for faster travel on the descent.

It took me an hour to make my way from the saddle to the summit. There is a benchmark at the top and with a bit of searching, I found a register in a glass jar. Ironically, it held only one name and had been placed just the day before. The summit affords a nice view of the Continental Divide only a few miles to the west. There was some colorful orange-red rock on one of the western slopes and I could see old mining roads climbing to over 12,000ft on the divide. After a short stay I headed back down, using the faster upper half route to the right, then pretty much following my ascent route on the lower half. There was a party of three guys descending the trail below the saddle shortly before I returned there. They were a bit tentative on the steep descent from the saddle, so after carefully approaching them, we chatted briefly and then I zipped on down the trail ahead of them, slipping, sliding and falling a few times even before dusting myself off at the bottom. It would be 1:40p by the time I returned to the trailhead. Eric and Leroy were relaxing and reading in the shade nearby, at least one of them was. The other was pretty tuckered out and was already deep into what would become an afternoon filled with napping. We drove back down to Winfield where we were camped and whiled away the afternoon with snacks, beers, dinner and even a campfire shortly before sunset. I wasn't going to be awake much after sunset, which is why the fire got started earlier than usual...


Bronco jim comments on 08/14/23:
Bob, climbed sayres and your name is still up there. Looks like only 10 to 20 people climb it a year. If you look at your benchmark photo you will note the height is 1000 ft off.

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