I didn't find any silver on La Plata yesterday. Just a lot of frustration and realization that I'm old and a purist.
A little background on La Plata and me. I first attempted to climb La Plata 3 years ago from Winfield without a map (or a clue). I was camping with Meg at Winfield and forgot to bring a map or 14ers.com route description. I ended up not finding the SW Slopes trailhead and bushwhacked for hours. I ended up climbing ridge line that looked out at La Plata, but was in fact not La Plata. Oh well.
Last summer I was prepared and set out to climb the SW Slopes route again with Zena. Zena and I spent the night in the truck at the trailhead and at 0400 we headed out. Unfortunately Zena lost her $60 Ruff Wear paw booties in the darkness (again). I figured, oh well, she'll probably be fine. Big mistake. All was going well until we were within a 1/4 mile of the summit on talus when I noticed blood stains on the rock next to me. Turned out Zena's paws were all bleeding from the snow and rough talus. Uh, oh. Feeling horrible that I dragged Zena up there, we immediately turned around. I hoped nobody would notice Zena's bleeding paws. Zena made it back without needing to be carried, but I imagine she was not happy. Needless to say, I don't like La Plata at this point.
Fast forward to 2015. Much to Meg's dismay I woke up at 0230 in Westminster and made the 3 hour drive to the La Plata TH on CO-82/Independence Pass. Everything seemed to be going great until I arrived at the trailhead. No parking. That's never a good sign. The weird thing is that I noticed at least 8 Summit Express vans mulling around the lot. Ultimately I ended up parking on the side of CO-82 down the road and headed up the trail at 0600. It appeared that some type of event was taking place as there was an aid station/checkpoint not far from the trailhead. Little did I know what I was going to experience.
The first thing I noticed (about an hour in) was that this trail was steep. I remembered that most of the Sawatch Range is steep for the first section, but this one didn't seem like it was ever going to get easier. It never did.
This is where things got interesting. Around 0700 I run across a group of about a dozen folks moving very slowly up a steep section below tree line. The funny thing was that they all were wearing the same backpack, a black Osprey Talon 33 with a DISH Networks logon on it. Eventually I was able to pass them, but they all looked like they were about to die. It appeared there was a guide with them, but even he looked winded.
Fast forward an hour and I come across 4 more similarly sized and equipped groups. I notice they all have a yellow bandana tied to the back of their packs. While passing I ask what the yellow bandana represents. They tell me that they're all interns with DISH in Greenwood Village and that this is the company's annual intern camping trip and 14er climb. Wonderful. Apparently the yellow bandana means that this is their first time. There had to be at least 200 of them on the route in various states of fitness and preparedness. A couple of folks were wearing Chaco sandals. Now I'm all for going ultralight, but that's just stupid.
This made for a long, leap-frogging slog to the summit on the NW ridge. Speaking of the NW ridge route, it was a real tough one. Tons of switchbacks, 4,500 ft of elevation gain, and quite a but of talus hopping. Much, much more difficult than the SW slopes route I attempted with Zena last summer. I chose the NW ridge today because I wanted to avoid the willows area and figured it would be easier to access the 2WD TH in the early morning hour. I regretted that decision all day.
It took 4 hours to get to the summit. Way longer than I planned. I was originally hoping for a 4-hour round trip. Oh, well. The summit was an experience in itself. There were at least 100 inconsiderate college kids up there. Needless to say I didn't stay very long. A 31-year old woman was killed by lightning on Yale the day before so I wanted to get down as quickly as possible, especially since there was a 60% chance of storms in the Sawatch that afternoon.
2.5 hours back to the trailhead. Leap frogged a lot of tired college kids who were remarkable quiet on the descent (funny how that happens). The Darwin Awards were screening contestants as multiple interns and adult supervisors glisaded down a stretch of snow below the summit. Who needs an ice axe or even trekking poles? Fools. Then some goober launched a small boulder down a steep switchback gully that was loaded with people. Somebody actually almost got clocked in the head. Needless to say I sat down and waited for all 50 of them to pass before I descended that section.
I was pretty fired up for most of the trip, but then I started thinking back to how I would have acted in college. Now that I'm 38, a dad, and what I consider to be a somewhat experienced backpacker and aspiring mountaineer I realize I have much higher expectations. I also admitted to myself that I'm now a crumudgeon.
Thanks DISH Networks for ruining a perfectly good day in the backcountry.
Enjoy the photos.