Peak(s):  La Plata Peak  -  14,344 feet
Date Posted:  09/27/2022
Modified:  09/29/2022
Date Climbed:   09/25/2022
Author:  Flatlander_09
 La Plata Peak via Ellingwood Ridge   

La Plata Peak via Ellingwood Ridge
Time: 14.5 hours (5:00am to 7:30pm)
Distance: 12.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,676
Distance and Elevation based on Garmin GPS watch

It all started in 2018 on my dad's (Lee) 60th birthday as he, my sister (Carina) and I (Shane) summitted the tallest mountain in Colorado (Mt. Elbert - 14,438') - A monstrous task for us Minnesota folk and a bucket list item for lucky Lee.
3 years later, Carina and I went back to knock off a few more 14ers (Gray's/Torrey's Peak Combo and Mt. Bierstadt West Slopes).

After the first few tastes of the 14er world, I was looking for more.
Two days ago, my old wrestling teammate (Wade) and I summitted La Plata Peak via Ellingwood Ridge.
This was Wade's first 14er, but he is an endurance athlete and likes to climb trees - which made me confident he was the right climbing partner for this one.

Based off previous trip reports and the route description I knew the route reading was going to be crucial to our success. Therefore, we went out the day before to hike in and scout the first leg of our journey. We scouted the trail to the final creek crossing at the beginning of the gulch. This turned out to be a great decision as it was not a clear trail to follow through the forest before heading up the gulch.
We went back to Leadville to eat and have a beer and then to the motel to finish prepping our packs for the morning. I got minimal sleep as I laid awake most of the night with my mind on the task ahead of us. Wade who chose not to read the route information I sent him, slept like a baby.

We got to the trailhead around 5:00 AM - I would not recommend starting any later than this if you plan to do this route.
The stars in the sky were brighter and more visible than either of us had ever seen before.
It was an exciting walk through the dark woods as we were frequently yelling to frighten any possible mountain beasts away from our path.

The initial climb from the bottom of the gulch up to Ellingwood Ridge is very steep, but comes with rewarding views once reaching the boulder field above the tree line. It took us just over 3 hours to reach the ridge from the trailhead.
From the beginning of the ridge it is roughly 2 miles (as the crow flies) to La Plata Peak and mostly, if not all, above 13,000'. Those "2 miles" took us roughly 9 hours to complete due to the amount of problem solving involved. The difficulty and the intimidation increase as you progress along the ridge.
Wade, who lives in CO, was feeling better at the higher altitudes. Therefore, he did more of the scouting in this section which involved getting "cliffed out" at times before finding the right line to keep us moving forward.
It is hard to tell exactly which parts of the route are Crux #1 and Crux #2 as it all seemed to blend together with lots of climbing up, down or around many boulders and high ridge points.
After making our way up to the "buttress", Wade was feeling fatigued from putting the extra work into scouting. From here I found the lines and kept us moving very slow and steady.
The final two climbs include going up and over East La Plata, then back down to the saddle before heading up La Plata - It is a shame that East La Plata (14,180') does not count as an official 14er because its looks are haunting before climbing over it.

Summitting La Plata Peak took us roughly 12 hours from the trailhead. The emotions at the top of this one were very intense as I knew we were "home free" at this point. The view from the summit looking back over the ridge that we just traversed was unbelievable. We did not get to spend much time at the summit due to some rain forming across the valley and the time that it had already taken us to get there. We decided it was best to carry our victory beer with us back to the trailhead.
The descent on the Northwest Ridge Trail was just what we had hoped for after spending most of the day on Ellingwood Ridge. After getting out of the Boulder field it turned into a nicely packed dirt trail (for the most part). Once getting towards the bottom of the valley the trail runs alongside the creek for quite a while before getting back to the bridge crossings leading to the trailhead. We reached the trailhead in the dark again around 7:30 PM.

After completing it, we agreed this route was both incredible and confusing.

Ellingwood Ridge was such a great test to our physical and mental thresholds. Do your research, take caution, plan for a long day and be ready for battle if you plan on attempting. Also - cell phone service was bad every time we checked.

Where to go next?


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Nice report and photos
09/27/2022 16:08
Did you go over the summit of Ellingwood Ridge (13,222') itself? Based on John Kirk's LIDAR project, Ellingwood Ridge is a separate 13er (rank #464).

Nice work
09/28/2022 08:44
Nice job guys. My brother and I did Ellingwood the day before you and found similarly beautiful weather and conditions. We also share in the intense emotion on the summit after having had such a long day on the ridge. What a test of mental fortitude!

10/02/2022 17:25
Yep, that's a neat but challenging route - quite a workout for sure!

FYI, East La Plata is an official 14er Sub-Summit, so if you ever decide to chase the list of 73, you'll have that already...

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