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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Lee

La Plata Peak | Southern Approach

Updated: May 12, 2023

July 21, 2022

La Plata Peak

Route: Southwest Ridge Approach (alltrails & 14ers.com)

7.2 miles; 3675 feet elevation gain

Total time: 4 hours 55 minutes


The southern approach to La Plata is not the standard route due to the trailhead location and the increased difficulty of the trail, this makes it the less trafficked route. It was less trafficked, insanely beautiful but also a very hard climb. I severely underestimated how difficult it would be but also throughly enjoyed it...once I reached the summit ;)


Trailhead: the trailhead is a little rough to get to after you turn off 390 at Winfield Mine. I think most SUVs with 4WD could do it but it's a bumpy ride with a couple of water crossings. The actual trailhead is a couple more miles past where AllTrails says it is so account for that in your timing, 14ers.com is correct.


The Hike: I started just after 6am from the trailhead. The first mile is a steady climb through the trees. I started quickly, completing the first mile in 25 minutes. The trail then opens up into the most beautiful basin I have ever seen. I had 360 degree views with the morning glow hitting the top of the peaks. You hike through the valley for about 3/4 of a mile with not much elevation gain. It is wet and muddy in here but doable in hiking boots. Then you start climbing very significantly. You head straight up a gully filled with loose rock and dirt. It is a short climb but takes a while because of the steepness and poor footing, because of this section mile two took me 47 minutes. I was thinking, okay this has got to be most of the climbing and the hardest section...you guessed it, I was wrong. Once you reach the top of the gully you get a little break before the rest of the climbing. When you reach the bottom of the boulder field face, stay right. There are two sets of cairns and I followed the wrong set. I headed left and ended up in some difficult class two scrambling and boulder hopping, at which point I contemplated bailing. If you stay right and follow cairns there is a loose dirt trail mixed in with a little boulder climbing, much easier! The two cairn trails are so close together that my GPX map didn't even recognize that I was off route. So if you end up scrambling like me, know there is an easier way to your right. Once you defeat this climb you can see the summit and just have a little more elevation gain along a ridge. Mile three took me 58 minutes and the remainder of the distance to the top was 30 minute mile pace. I was on the summit in 2.5 hours. I met people who came up the standard route and their timing was similar, that route is longer in mileage but an easier hike overall. Thinking about dogs on this route. Nyx did great and had zero issues even when we ended up in more difficult terrain. But it is a very rocky route so if your dog has sensitive paws, booties are a must. I would also recommend they are confident navigating rocky terrain and able to scramble. Nyx lost her footing a few times and also needed a few boosts up boulders. Know your dog & what they can handle. The standard route definitely seems more dog friendly.


I definitely earned this summit and while standing up there realized that while challenging, it might be my favorite 14er yet. The views on the summit are probably my favorite of any peak I've climbed. They are 360 degrees of absolute beauty and Huron/surrounding peaks stand out in all their magnificence!


It was on the descent that I realized that there was a trail on the boulder field section, which made the down climbing much easier and less stressful. The hardest part of the descent was the loose rock in the gully, it was very slippery. After this you get to enjoy that lovely basin again! I was thankful for the climbing partner I met on route today, we helped each other navigate route finding on the way down to avoid the difficulty we both faced on the way up. We also had great conversations and she was a truly inspiring lady! Thank you Charlotte, if you come across this :)


La Plata, I will be back. You were worth the effort today & will be again in the future!




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1 Comment


Marty Cowan
Marty Cowan
Aug 03, 2022

wonderful field notes - I'm headed to La Plata soon and appreciate the tips!

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