Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Durango's Silver Mountain, 12,496'; Deadwood Mountain,12,285', From La Plata City

Essence: The La Platas are the "Silver Mountains." A straightforward but somewhat arduous route topped by a peaceful, tundra/talus ridge, culminating at the La Plata's namesake mountain with a view of Durango. An essential climb for those who enjoy assembling a landscape puzzle that solidifies a sense of belonging to Place. 2023 Note: LiDAR has increased the elevation of Deadwood to 12,290' with a rise of 282 feet. Silver is adjusted to 12,486' with 1,336 feet of prominence.
Travel: From the US 160/550 intersection in Durango, travel 11.0 miles west on US 160 to Hesperus. Turn right/north on La Plata Canyon Road, CR 124. Zero-out your trip meter. Just after passing the hamlet of Mayday, the road turns to smooth dirt at 4.6 miles. There are several established campgrounds in this area. The trailhead is at 7.8 miles. Park on the right at placard displays for historic La Plata City. 2WD vehicles should be able to reach the trailhead.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 10.1 miles and 4,350 feet of climbing
Time: 6 to 7.5 hours
Difficulty: 4WD road, social trail, off-trail; steep slopes; navigation moderate; Class 2; short stretch of mild exposure
Map: La Plata, Colorado 7.5' USGS Quad or Apogee Mapping
Latest Date Hiked: September 4, 2023
Quote: To see the greatness of a mountain, one must keep one's distance; to understand its form, one must move around it; to experience its moods, one must see it at sunrise and sunset, at noon and at midnight, in sun and in rain, in snow and in storm, in summer and in winter and in all the other seasons. He who can see the mountain like this comes near to the life of the mountain, a life that is as intense and varied as that of a human being. Such is the greatness of a mighty mountain. Lama Govinda

Silver Mountain, left, as seen from Durango's Rim on February 20, 2014.

Route: Switchback east up a 4WD road located south of Neptune Creek. At the end of the road, take a social trail up the west ridge of Deadwood Mountain. Off-trail, follow the S-curve ridge to Silver Mountain. Retrace your steps.

From the parking area, 9,140 feet, wade across the La Plata River. To find the proper place, walk down the road a few paces, bear right, pass a primitive campground, and make for the river. Ford directly across from FSR 797 (Neptune) that punches up the other side. Note: You will be crossing the river boots-off; either barefoot or in sandals so don't attempt this in the spring run-off or after a monsoon.

In July, 2018, 20 yards downstream from the ford was a substantial, stable log. If present, cross it. Note: This log was washed away in spring runoff, 2019.

Walk up the steep 4WD road. Occasionally it is clear; often trees are strewn across. Frankly, this eternal segment is rather tedious and you will welcome the company of a friend. Or, enjoy the rhapsody of  woodland flowers such as sunny and sprightly heart leaf arnica.

Old mining tracks branch off. Stay on the main road for 1.5 to 2 hours. At 3.3 miles, 11,660 feet, the road splits and there are US Forest Service signs prohibiting further vehicle travel in both directions. The ridgeline social trail begins here and is serviceable all the way to Deadwood's crest. The rounded, wooded ridge is somewhat steep but pleasant.

Rise through the krummholz and bust out into the alpine. Thus begins one of the most exceptional ridge hikes in the La Platas. The sight lines are limitless and the route to the summit is obvious on broken talus.

Crest Deadwood Mountain at 3.8 miles. Net elevation gain is 3,200 feet thus far so a big chunk of the day's climbing is accomplished. Look southwest to appealing Ohwiler Ridge and directly south to Baldy Peak, 10,868'. It is the shortest mountain in the La Platas but one of the most difficult to achieve because of private property issues. Below, the summit cairn on Deadwood Mountain is image-right. This electrical storm blew up in minutes. (THW, photo)

Silver Mountain is commanding and the next 1.25 miles are pure pleasure, taking 45 minutes to an hour. Below, hikers walk southeast following the ridge.

Alpine flowers delight along the way. Mid-summer, magenta paintbrush are profuse as well as mouse ear chickweed, old man of the mountain, moss campion, deep rooted spring beauty, sky pilot, purple fringe, alpine sage, and even a tiny patch of forget-me-nots. In this early-season image, phlox is having a very good year. Get down and sniff this plant for an explosive whiff of euphoria.

Scrutinize Silver Basin on the east side of the ridge for the local elk herd grazing in the tundra.

Clamber over a roller to the low point between the peaks at 12,020 feet. Below, hikers are on a mildly exposed social trail on the north side of the ridge with views of Baker Peak and Lewis Mountain. There is 500 feet of climbing remaining from the saddle. (THW, photo)

The final push up Silver's west ridge is on small talus and tundra with a developing social trail. It will take anywhere from 2:40 to 4 hours to reach the crest from the trailhead with 3,850 feet of gain over 5.05 miles. The summit of Silver Mountain is as broad and welcoming as you imagined it to be when seen from town. Durango is clearly visible from the peak. Below, friends are contemplating the West Block of the La Plata Mountains across the canyon. In the center of the horizon is the West Babcock to Spiller ridge, The Knife. The five ranked La Plata thirteeners are all visible from Silver Mountain.

Your gaze is likely to be pulled back to the beautiful S-curve you just walked upon, shown below. Across the valley is the Four Peak Traverse. If your goal is simply to experience Silver's summit, the easiest way home is to go back the way you came.

These hikers are returning to Deadwood. It looks and feels like a ranked peak but doesn't quite make the 300-foot cut with just 265 feet of prominence. However, given the rollers there is over 400 feet of climbing back to the Deadwood summit. (THW, photo)

Friends walk down the road returning to the trailhead in La Plata City.

Traverse to Baker Peak, 11,949'

For years we tacked Baker onto our Deadwood and Silver climb. We’d start in La Plata City, climb the three peaks, return to the Silver-Baker saddle (11,700 feet) and descend Tirbircio Creek. Now that bailout is off-limits because of a small strip of private property at the confluence of Tirbircio Creek and the La Plata River. Therefore, if you want to climb Baker Peak, lovely but not ranked, you will have to do it as an out-and-back from Silver Mountain.

The traverse adds two miles total and 1,200 feet of vertical: 350 feet going over and 850 feet coming back. Alternatively, climb Baker Peak from Eagle Pass and Puzzle Pass and throw in the traverse to Silver. Follow the link for a description of the traverse.

This image was shot from the south ridge of Baker Peak. The crux of the traverse is the north face of Point 11,818', image-center. (THW, photo)

Baker Peak from Silver Mountain, image-center-left.

Historical Note
La Plata City was founded in the early 1880's. As the residential and commercial hub of the La Plata mining frontier, it had a peak population of 1,000. Ore deposits were low grade and limited so mining operations were not profitable. By the 1930's, the humble homesteads, post office, school, and grocery were boarded up or destroyed and the people moved on. (Courtesy, John Sanders)

Following are some of the flowering plants I have seen on this hike: wild iris, lupine, delphinium, white violet, purple violet, red columbine, white peavine, purple vetch, nine bark, Jacob's ladder, senecio (pakera), heart leaf arnica, false Solomon's seal, valeriana occidentalis, ball-head waterleaf, baneberry, Richardson's geranium, elderberry, thimbleberry, native honeysuckle (twinberry), strawberry, whiplash daisy (fleabane daisy), Brandegee's clover, mountain parsley, kittentails, candytuft, draba, king's crown, bluebells, alpine avens, sky pilot, wall flower, alpine sage, tansy aster, mouse ear chickweed, deep rooted spring beauty, snowball saxifrage, alp lily, American bistort, geyer onion, old man of the mountain, rosy paintbrush, moss campion, and alpine clover. Harebell were having a banner year in 2018. (THW, photo)

1 comment:

  1. Yep, saw an elk herd in that same area in July 2015.