Route: Northwest Ridge (Standard)
Distance: 9.5 mi round trip
Elevation Gain: 4500 ft
Date Climbed: 6/23/2012
The trailhead for La Plata is three hours from our house in Castle Rock. I happen to be a fan of actually sleeping the night before a climb, so we decided to spend the night in Twin Lakes. We both had Friday off so we enjoyed a pancake breakfast at Snooze, and then headed to Twin Lakes. We spent the day riding our mountain bikes on the Colorado Trail around the lake, and fishing. We then checked into Wolfsden B&B
for the evening. We enjoyed a relaxing evening with a great view. Liz and James are great hosts I would highly recommend.
We had a 15 min drive to the trailhead so we slept in until 4:45. We were kind of slow getting going so we didn’t get to the trailhead until 5:45. We took the last parking space at the small parking area off highway 82.
The trail starts off with a couple of creek crossings on good bridges. The second crossing has a really cool waterfall!!
After crossing the second bridge we accidentally turned left on the small trail instead of following the main trail. To avoid this make sure you continue straight (not left) after crossing the second bridge. We did not realize our error until we reached a creek with no aid for crossing. We checked a map and gps and decided to bushwhack upstream to the main trail. This turned out to be much easier than backtracking I would recommend to anyone who makes the same error. If you simply follow the trail upstream you will reach this crossing.
Last year I was considering doing this trip as an overnight backpack. There was a couple of nice camp sites approximately an hour in. They were directly on the main trail with little privacy. There was no fire rings, so I would not recommend a fire here. Also at the start of the trail there was a warning about not drinking the water in the area. It is contaminated with heavy metals / minerals from mining. I don’t know if the upper creek has this issue, but it would be worth investigating before camping here.
We knew from the forecast that we were likely to encounter bad winds. As we started up the switchbacks around 11500’ the wind really picked up. For me strong wind is super annoying, and it really saps my motivation. It seems there is a point in many climbs where a seed of doubt creeps into your mind (Am I really going to stand on top today?). A couple of parties passed us on the way down, reporting they turned around at the ridgeline due to extreme winds. As we struggled to stand in the gusts I was thinking if I would write a trip report for a failed attempt. It was very annoying, but not yet dangerous so we persevered. By 9AM the wind had subsided to a manageable level.
I had read a recent thread on how “loose” the La Plata trail was. I would have to agree that the area between 12K and 13K was exceptionally loose. It was dirt, and small gravel. This caused some wasted effort from slipping backward on the trip up. It was annoying on the return, but didn’t pose much of a hazard. When descending this stuff I find it easiest to not fight gravity. I move pretty quickly and just accept that I am going to slide. It is kind of half plunge stepping half skiing motion, seems to work well for me. It is sort of like sliding on ice. If you bend your knees, keep your center of gravity low, an expect your feet to move in any direction you are fine. I you try to fight it and stop from sliding you are going to have a bad time.
After 13K the trail fades, and you climb a large heap of talus. I found this section to be a lot of fun. After the talus hopping the trail picks back up, and continues most of the way to the summit. We made the summit at 9:45 (3:45 minutes climbing time). It had turned out to be a beautiful day. There was no sign of incoming storms, and the temperature was pleasant. The well-constructed shelters on the summit provided protection from the remaining wind. We spent 30 minutes enjoying the stunning views. One of the groups sharing the summit was enjoying a sushi lunch.
The descent was uneventful, but LONG. I expected to be down in two hours or so, it ended up taking more than three hours to get down. As we lost altitude the temperature rose, at 10,500 it was 85 degrees! I stopped and dipped my shirt, and hat in the stream which provided some welcome relief. My feet were quite sore and tired, which made the last two miles really drag. I wanted nothing more than to be done hiking, I knew the only way to make it stop was to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
At 1:40 we reached the parking lot. We cranked up the air conditioning, and removed our hiking boots; both felt AMAZING. We met some friends who were camping at Twin Lakes. At the campsite we cooked up some wygyo beef hot dogs ($10 for 4), which were delicious!!
Overall La Plata was a long, beautiful, and fun hike. My favorite so far in the sawatch range.