La Plata Peak is the fifth-highest summit of the Rocky Mountains and is considered one of the more challenging hikes in the Sawatch range. The Northwest Ridge trail starts from Highway 82 and follows the northern ridge that divides the La Plata basin from La Plata Gulch. Being winter during this hike, I headed for higher ground sooner than you would in the summer to avoid avalanche danger.
- Trailhead: La Plata Peak (Northwest Ridge)
- Round trip: 9.25 miles / 14.9 km
- Elevation: 10,000′-14,336′ (+4,336′) / 3,048m-4,370m (+1,322m)
From the trailhead hike east into the woods crossing South Fork Lake Creek. Turn right after the bridge and hike a small distance to cross La Plata Gulch on a smaller bridge. Head right and reach a small clearing almost 100 yards after the bridge crossing. In the clearing, there is a smaller trail that heads off to the east – stay right on the main trail. Eventually the trail has log and stone steps making a steep climb through the forest
Climb briefly to a small, level area above 12,000′ where you will find a large square boulder near the trail. Turn left and climb to the northwest ridge. Next hike to the base of a large buttress and follow the trail as it turns right and climbs around to the west side of the ridge. If you lose the trail, turn left and climb directly up to the top of the ridge. As you near the top ,curve around to the west side, turn left and follow the trail to the summit.
- The road to the trailhead is open in the winter despite maps indicating that HWY 82 is closed in winter.
- The Hayden Survey Team first climbed the peak on July 26th, 1873, naming the peak La Plata, which means “silver” in Spanish.
Know when to turn around. I turned around near 12,000′ due to heavy winds and low visibility despite what initially appeared to be a picture perfect day.