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getting in touch with my inner colorado girl

How to not hike a 14er

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When my original Memorial Day weekend plans of road tripping to New Mexico with my friend Melissa fell through due to boring, responsible reasons like work, I quickly made alternate plans to camp and hike a 14er with two fellow Colorado bloggers, Heather and Heidi.  They were planning on trying to climb La Plata Peak, a 14er in the Sawatch Range, and I wanted to do something fun and outdoorsy to redeem my Memorial Day weekend.  It seemed like the perfect plan!

After a flurry of tweets and emails about plans for the weekend, a group of six of us met in the Dinosaur Parking lots outside of Golden to carpool to the campsite. The group also included Heather’s friend’s Cindy and Craig, and Craig actually won one of the Ford Explorer adventures last year and got to go climbing in the Sierras. The funny thing about this contest was that it totally inspired my friends and I to go to Crested Butte for spring break last year. Seriously. I remember watching the Ford commercials last winter and deciding to plan a spring break adventure with my friends. Small world, right?

Adventure time

We had a great group for camping and climbing La Plata. After a pretty drive through Leadville and the Twin Lakes area, we set up camp just outside of what we thought was the La Plata trailhead, and enjoyed an awesome campfire dinner of fajitas on Friday night.

View on the drive up to the mountains. Looking good CO!

Stranahan’s is definitely the most essential thing pictured.

The next morning we woke up and headed out of camp after a breakfast of protein pancakes. I keep mentioning our meals because I definitely ate better food while camping than I do in my normal, every day life. My sleeping bag also cost more than the comforter on my bed at home. Colorado problems.

Normal 14er trailheads tend to start a ways up a 4×4 road, and since we were camping off of a 4×4 road, our group all assumed that we just needed to continue further up the 4×4 road to find the trailhead. We were a little confused when the directions didn’t match our surroundings at all, but we ran into some sort of trail that we thought was the trail to La Plata. I mean none of us had spent a lot of time scrutinizing a map before we headed out, but between everyone in the group we had all done some serious climbing and hiking. I mean Heather has done some 40 of the 14ers (hero!). 14er trailheads just usually aren’t that hard to find.

We were all becoming a little concerned when the trail we were following didn’t match the description of the route at all. I think we had stumbled upon one of the different approaches to La Plata, but since we had left our 14er book in the car, we decided to just continue hiking and hope for the best. After the trail we were following disappeared into the willows, naturally we decided that the best decision was to just head up. Who needs a trail when you can make your own way?

Pretty right? We hiked directly UP this.

Our moderate hike to a 14er quickly turned into a challenging, off-trail adventure. At one point Heidi and Chris measured the slope of the incline we were hiking up with an iPhone app, and the slope was apparently 80% grade. It was kind of nuts. I was making my own switchbacks up the trail to lessen the burn, but it was still intense.

The brave group.

I’m suppose to PhotoShop myself into the picture but I’m too lazy.

You know how in movies like Saw you realize at the end of the movie that the killer has been right in front of you the whole time?  At the top of the mountain face that we decided to climb up, we had a Saw moment where we all realized that we were definitely not hiking La Plata. Instead of hiking a 14er, we had been blazing our own trail up a 12,500 foot mountain. At that point we decided to take a lunch break, because the windy ridge of a 12er is clearly a great place for lunch,

Eye level with mountains, always cool.

 I was a little bummed about missing the real trail for La Plata at first, but I got over it pretty fast. I mean hundreds of people hike La Plata, how many people hike the mountain we ended up hiking? Probably not many. Hiking is kind of like skiing: there’s no such thing as a bad day in the mountains. Failure is kind of just part of the package in outdoor adventures. Sometimes you fall, sometimes weather forces you to turn around, sometimes you miss the trailhead, but at least you’re out there trying.

After hiking the 12er, four of us hung out at camp for another night. The camping trip was far from ruined, despite the failed 14er attempt. I learned the art of peanut butter s’mores (why have I never thought of that?), shot a gun, and had my morning coffee by a pretty mountain stream.

Waking up to this view? Not a bad life.

La Plata Peak isn’t going anywhere. I’m sure I will climb it sometime in the future. I know where the right trailhead is now because we passed it on our way back to Denver. And in the meantime, I got to go on a really rad camping trip and make my own trail up a 12er. How many people can say that?

There’s no such thing as a bad day in the mountains. Even when things don’t go as planned.

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Author: paulamahla

Typical Colorado girl that can't make up her mind. Trail running, hiking, climbing, camping, CrossFit, ultimate frisbee, and skiing? E, all of the above.

10 thoughts on “How to not hike a 14er

  1. you were definitely not ascending an 80 degree slope. draw a picture.

  2. Great recap friend! I keep laughing when I think of all of us on our hands and knees, crawling up the mountain 🙂

  3. Damn, I love this recap. The pictures are beautiful, I love that sights like these are within driving distance of Denver!

  4. dude. this ended up being a “funny” bonding experience and you still kicked butt with this hike!! Next time I’m tagging along to complain all the time!

  5. ‘no such thing as a bad day’ – TRUTH!

  6. this happens to me when i drive around denver. i take the road that i think takes me to safeway on downing and evans, but instead i end up at king soopers in east jesus. but i totally fake like i meant to go there when i come home with groceries from the wrong store. it’s never a bad day…when you have food? (and i swear, once i live here a month i will have it down!)

    in all seriousness, looks like a beautiful hike no matter what!

  7. Wrong mountain or not, it was beautiful! At the very least I’ll back again to give it another try! And now I’m kind of bummed I didn’t call in sick to work just to spend another night out there!

  8. Pingback: Mount Evans: An electrifying experience | return to the motherland

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  10. Pingback: lgsmashFitness: Memorial Day Weekend Hiking » lgsmash

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