This climb was significant for a couple of reasons. First it reunited the Tom Vervaeke and Bob Broeking climbing team after a 6 week hiatus due to Tom’s minor surgery. Secondly, it was the 2nd chance for my office mate, Tom Millard to climb a 14,000 peak in Colorado. We had climbed Mt Huron in July, but he had stopped at about 13,000 due to not feeling well. Since that climb, he had conducted some conditioning training and was ready for LaPlata Peak.
We left Colorado Springs early and arrived at the trailhead with me driving Tom’s 4wd Mazda pickup down a road from the ghost town of Winfield. We started up the trail with our headlamps at 6:00am toward LaPlata Peak. We had chosen this approach over the more popular northern route for a change of pace. There is a good steep trail (but not a climbers trail) that follows the stream up into the valley into a cirque on the south side of LaPlata peak. There is an impressive SE ridge that can be seen from the valley and at first we mistook it for the famous Ellingwood Ridge.
At the head of the valley your only choice is to climb up and a steep climbers trail takes you to a saddle on the southwest ridge. Tom Millard was doing fine on his second attempt with no signs of the nausea and pounding head that accompanied him on Huron Peak. Tom Vervaeke was hiking at his strong normal pace showing no signs of being worse for the wear due to his six weeks off. The sun was just hitting the ridge as we topped out and made for a pleasant level ridge walk to want we thought was the south face of LaPlata. Following the cairns, we traversed up the face, boulder hopping to the top. When we finally got to the top, it was obvious that this was a very large false summit.
We could see the ridge to the summit to the north still 400-500 feet in altitude away. Tom Millard was starting to tire a bit at this point but he kept at it, slowly working his way up the ridge. I prefer when a climber is physically ok, just to let them mentally gut it out pulling on their inner strengths. Tom Vervaeke had brought up the rear on the saddle climb to ensure Tom Millard was doing ok, so I asked Tom V. to take the lead up the ridge. I followed Tom V. up the final ridge, climbing one more false summit before the final few feet up to the summit. Tom V went on up and I waited for Tom Millard and we walked the final few feet together. He had summited his first 14er… a grand accomplishment!
We all congratulated him and signed the register that was in good shape. I studied the Ellingwood Ridge while drinking a Coke I had brought up… the two Tom’s thought I was nuts. Tom V. kept his clothes on this summit (see his Massive trip report), an act that we were grateful to him forever. After about 30 mins on top and watching the clouds we headed down by taking another tougher way than we should have – my fault and boulder hopped back to the southwest ridge. Down the scree like we were on skies and we soon found ourselves in the valley we had entered that morning.
As usual we were able to see an easier trail back through the valley from above and took it as it wound through the willows. Down at timberline we spied a deer with spike antlers watching us as we hiked down the trail. We made it back to the truck in good time and noticed a bright yellow patch of aspens that were already changing color. Much to our dismay we found the Dairy Delight in Buena Vista was now closed during the week after Labor Day. 🙁 A successful and fun trip with good friends on a work day; what else could you ask for?
On Saturday, rec.backcountry folks, Steve Helle, Tom, and myself will be climbing Harvard and Columbia from Frenchman Creek doing the ridge traverse with two other climbers, Denise and Connie. If all goes well, there will be another trip report real soon…
Beta: Southwest Ridge Route II, Class 2 West Winfield Trailhead, 9.4 miles 4,000 elevation gain – (4wd can shorten this by about 1.8 miles) 6 hours 14 minutes