The Narrows - LaPlata Peak via the SW ridge
The Narrows - LaPlata Peak via the SW ridge
“The Narrows pizza to go please and a pint of your pale ale,” I responded to the bar tender.
These could have been my last spoken words of the day had it not been for the happy conversationalist on the stool next to me at Eddyline’s outdoor brewery and restaurant in Buena Vista. By “happy” I mean “one who has had one too many suds for the day and probably won’t remember our conversation”. Although, to be fair, I will curve my criticism of the man by mentioning that his life deserves the balance of respect in that he is a well accomplished climber, having finished all 53 (or 58) 14ers in Colorado and several higher peaks in South America. In one budding climber’s opinion, this is an impressive note in anyone’s memoirs, in spite of perhaps a mention or two of public drunkenness. That is, if we can believe stories of the intoxicated.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Heading west taking any route from Denver on a Friday after work is not a great way to start the weekend. The traffic does not encourage a swift trip. The goal was to set up camp somewhere along Chaffee County road 390, a solid three hour trip, before dark. The road is gravel and starts out smooth along Clear Creek Reservoir, but 11 miles in and a couple miles past Winfield the road requires 4wd low. The rocks and general terrain turns the road into just slightly more than a path and challenges the determination of the traveler with one dicey creek crossing. The sun had already set and the light of the day was quickly fading. This made for a hasty camp set up a couple hundred yards from the trailhead. Dinner was a rehydrated home-made vegetable rice dish.
As if to reward the day’s work, as I finally lay in my hammock for a night’s rest, I watched a full moon rise over the surrounding hills to the south as a doe mule deer casually strolled by me looking for a little snack among the pines. Gorgeous night! The sound of a nearby creek lulled me to sleep as I thought about my destination come sunrise: LaPlata Peak via the SW ridge.
The cool damp mountain air at 5am is not the situation for a lazy beginning to the day. Moving generates heat, preferred to the opposite in this case. Within an hour of starting my trek and after following a rushing mountain creek I had reached timber line. This took me into a vast and beautiful valley surrounded by a diverse granite ridge. The trail would take on the ridge, a steep experience of undesirable scree along an eroded path near the top. On the way down it was even less fun.
A brief plug here for Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. This is a non-profit organization to help fund volunteer trail construction, maintenance and restoration projects since 1994. With an increasing volume of people hiking in Colorado, the trails have begun to negatively impact the fragile alpine environment and make for unpleasant hiking in some cases as mentioned above. The project needs millions to bring these trails back to the desirable condition. Please donate if you can; every Colorado hiker should give back something for the privilege of using these trails.
At the top of this ridge is an amazing view of the valley, Huron Peak, and the Apostles in the distant SE. To the SW is Seyres Benchmark (13,738 ft peak) and to the NE is LaPlata Peak, not yet in view. The second and most challenging part of the route is the talus face ahead where the trail is scarcely marked with cairns – at times necessary to forge a private trail. The top of this face is the first of two false summits before gaining the real summit at 14,336 ft above sea level.
I was joined on the summit by 20 other hikers; a nice friendly bunch. Happiness is the most dominant emotion on 14er summits. It was tough like most of these climbs, a physical and mental challenge – mostly mental in my opinion after mastering how to breathe in the thin air.
I called my wife and sister from the summit. Most of the time cell coverage is available from atop these hills, not so much in the valleys. I like to tell Bobbi (wife) I made it safely to the summit and to let her know I’m on my way back. It was my sister’s birthday a couple days prior – so, for an extra special birthday call back to Michigan I decided to make it from this place; anyone can call from the recliner, right?
On many of my climbs I meet an inexperienced and ill prepared person. On this day I met a slightly overweight gentleman whose knees were already near spent as he started his descend. This is the wrong time for knees to be so far exhausted. I gave him a couple pointers to help lessen the impact on his knees, but since he didn’t have trekking poles his day was about to become far less enjoyable than what he was experiencing on the summit. He was with several friends, so I left him in their care. A word to the wise (present company included): know your limits and know the extent of the challenge you are about to take on before you find yourself in an unpleasant situation. I hope he made it down OK.
After seven hours, seven and a half alpine miles, and 3600 feet of elevation gain a storm was threatening as is often the case mid-day in the Rockies. I had to break camp even quicker than I set it up – no problem with the snake skins on my Hennessy Hammock. Then I was back on the road.
First destination point: Eddyline’s in Buena Vista for a beer and pizza, and maybe some interesting company to add to the story of my summit of LaPlata Peak.
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