My experience of La Plata Peak was somewhat different than the rest of my hikes to this point. This time I had company! Part of my mission is to inspire others to achieve more that they think is possible. I was able to inspire and share this 14’er with my weekend visitor from Nashville, Emily. After reading about my experiences and seeing my photos, she made tackling a 14’er a goal while here in Colorado. Fortunately she had some opportunities to physically prepare somewhat for our adventure.
We woke up at 5:00 am and quickly hit the road to the trail. As the sun peaked out over the mountain tops, the light of day revealed the newly changed aspens. The trees sparkled yellow and orange amongst the evergreens, delivering beautiful views all the way to the trail head, and as we arrived, the moon still hung over the mountains. We began up the mountain around 8:00 am, starting in the covering of the trees and hiking along a fast-moving creek, making our approach to the tree line.
As we hiked along the trail, the trees began to thin and we were spat out into a field at the base of the first false peak of La Plata Peak. After 2.5 miles from the car,we approached 11,500 feet, aware that the hike was about to jump in difficulty. We happened upon an eroded mining cave with a portion of its original tracks in tack. After a snack and a silly picture of me pretending to ski jump from the remaining tracks, we hit the slopes to the first ridge of the climb. The dry, loose rocks and dirt continuously slipped out from under our feet, causing us instability as we scrambled up the mountainside at a 45 degree angle. With every two steps up the mountain face, it felt as though we were sliding back down one. This made the 400 foot climb extremely frustrating and mentally exhausting. With a little coaching and encouragement, we made it to the saddle and got the first glimpses of the mountain ranges all around us and our first real taste of wind.
Just as I encountered on previous climbs, the chilly autumn winds swept over the top of La Plata and the surrounding range in 10-12 mph constant currents. We stopped at the saddle for water and to layer up before we attacked the boulder field that led to the false peak we would need to overcome before eventually making it to our final destination. The view back down the hill from our stop gave great perspective to what distance we covered and what we accomplished thus far.
Emily quickly learned how to find and follow cairns as we boulder hopped around and up the mountain. We took short 10-30 second breaks every few minutes in order for her legs to recover from the lack of oxygen and amount of work they were doing. Even with frequent breaks, we were making decent time. We approached and mounted three false peaks before we finally reached La Plata. Muscularly tired and somewhat mentally exhausted, Emily made it to the top of the 14’er on her first attempt. However, fatigue could not stop her from taking in a 360 degree view from the top and expressing joy and amazement at what she found. After a break for food, pictures, and enjoying the view, we headed back down the mountain the way we came, knowing exactly what lay between us and a big lunch. This mountain challenged our patience with the multiple false peaks, loose dirt and gravel on the initial climb, and the last 3/4 mile stretching out at 14,000 feet. However, the gratitude and feeling of success we both felt from the first half of our journey allowed us to tackle the way down with confidence.
I thoroughly enjoyed guiding and coaching Emily up the mountain. I look forward to conquering the remaining peaks and guiding more individuals through the process. The accomplishment of reaching a summit is a rewarding experience that I think everyone should get the chance to have. We finished the hike strongly, mastering 10 miles and 9,000 feet in elevation change in approximately 5 hours. As we enjoyed our lunch in town, we rehashed and celebrated our accomplishment with a cheers and a delicious and well-deserved meal.