September 11, 2016

La Plata Peak – 14,336′

14er rank:

# of climbs:
First climbed:
Last climbed:
Routes climbed:


1,836' (Mt. Elbert - 6.3 mi NNE)
Chaffee County
17.2 mi SW of Leadville
20.1 mi SE of Aspen

Ellingwood Ridge (Class 3)

Google Maps


*This is NOT the standard route up La Plata Peak!

This is the 21st 14er I've climbed, back in August 2015 with my friend Tim. It is the 5th tallest in Colorado but only the 4th tallest in the high Sawatch Range, behind Mount Elbert, Mount Massive, and Mount Harvard. La Plata Peak can be easily seen from many vantage points, especially from the northwest at Independence Pass along CO Rt. 82 between Twin Lakes and Aspen.

The standard route goes south up La Plata Gulch and takes La Plata's northwest ridge to the summit, a 9+ mile roundtrip Class 2 hike that gains 4,500' of elevation. Whenever I hike in the Sawatch, I always like to try and find alternate routes since the standard routes are often long trudges up a steep slope or a boring ridgeline. The route we took, up La Plata's Ellingwood Ridge, is nothing like that. While it is in fact a ridgeline, it is chock full of interesting rock obstacles that are rated at Class 3 or Class 4.

The Ellingwood Ridge route begins at the same trailhead as the standard route, the Lake Creek Trailhead at 10,160' just off of CO Rt. 82, about 9 miles east of Independence Pass. The route description on (see above) is probably not as detailed as it should be for such a long and arduous hike, although once you get to the ridgeline it's hard to get "lost" since you can see the finish line (i.e., the summit) the rest of the way.

This route is not for beginners by any means, as it requires hiking near or above 13,000' for over 2 miles across rugged terrain. If descending from the summit via the standard route, the total mileage is only about 10 miles, but the elevation gain is ~5,400'. If you get caught in a storm while on the ridge, the only safe way back to treeline is back the way you came, not down the steep, loose sides of the ridge. Do not use this route description if you are attempting this hike. Instead, see the description or the one found in Gerry Roach's book Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs*.

You begin by following the Northwest Ridge route south from the trailhead for about 0.6 miles before turning left (east) on the faint trail toward La Plata Basin Gulch (not La Plata Gulch!). The trail rides along the north side of La Plata's northwest ridge and enters La Plata Basin Gulch on the other side. There is a creek that runs through the gulch. Eventually, the trail disappears in the forest and you must bushwhack south up the gulch for a bit. You will be looking left (east) for the easiest way up the slopes to the northern end of Ellingwood Ridge. Once you find a way up, leave the gulch to the east and begin ascending the steep slope toward the ridge.

The northern point of Ellingwood Ridge is at 12,600'. From here, it is 2+ miles to the summit. The route you choose from here completely depends on how much climbing you want to do. If the weather does not look promising, this is where you want to turn around! In the most simple terms, follow the ridgeline almost all the way to the summit, avoiding more technical rock obstacles by descending a bit down below the ridgeline to the left (east) and finding the easiest passage around them. For more adventure, and if you have experience with Class 4 or Class 5 climbing, you can stay close to the top of the ridgeline the entire way. This will, of course, add time to your hike, but will also cut down on some of the elevation gain required if you were to seek the easiest path.

Again, do not use this rather vague route description if you are planning to hike Ellingwood Ridge. Please see more detailed accounts from or Gerry Roach's 14er guidebook. The route eventually reaches and crosses over the 14,180' sub-summit "East La Plata" before finally arriving at La Plata Peak. Here, you can rest and enjoy the views afforded you by the expansive Sawatch Range. It is best to descend via the much easier standard Northwest Ridge route.

*Click here to get this book on Amazon!


Trip Reports

La Plata Peak (Aug 2015)