Venture to the bulky magnificence of Mount Moss and the mythical towers of Lavender Peak. From the west tower, my favorite prominence in the La Plata Mountains, there are supreme views of Hesperus Mountain, Centennial Peak and the immense Colorado Plateau splaying out to the southwest.
This demanding, off-trail, exposed climb to two thirteeners is suitable only for proven scramblers.
From the trailhead at 9,880 feet on La Plata Canyon Road, walk westerly up Forest Service Road 798 through an aspen forest interspersed with talus flows. In 1½ miles, come alongside the stamp mill built by the Tomahawk Mining Company in 1904. Admire at close range the impressive mining ruins. Exploratory work was done on promising veins in the diorite stock. Recovery of precious metals was poor, at most 0.6 ounces of gold to the ton. Mining operations in Tomahawk Basin concluded in 1911. Incidentally, word of mouth also reports samples of precious amethyst in the upper basin.
At 1.9 miles – elevation 10,950 feet – leave the old wagon road as it makes a sharp switchback to the east at the Little Kate Mine. Heading west, a stairstep series of steep pitches and shallow climbs must be negotiated to reach upper Tomahawk Basin, the finest in the La Plata Range.
The following instructions will help you find the way. If they seem confusing, simply stay north of Basin Creek and let the landscape be your guide.
Follow a reasonable trail up a steep hillside to a bench, staying well right of a prominent rock outcrop. At the next level, the faint path utilizes the bed of a historic steel pipeline.
Next, bypass a waterfall on its right/north. You will then go by a couple of outlier black boulders. Locate a long-abandoned mining road adjacent to Basin Creek. The rocky track is particularly useful crossing a large talus field. The gently rising basin butts up against a highly angled slope at the base of the south ridge of Mount Moss at 12,100 feet.
An unassailable section of ridge flows south from Mount Moss before it is splintered by weaknesses. I have gained the ridge in many locations; they all work. However, it is easiest to climb the steep, grassy slope as far to the right as possible – just south of the upper scree field. With a little luck, locate a wildcat trail, a golden path up the final 100 feet to the ridgetop.
Upon reaching the ridge at about 12,720 feet, turn right/north. Almost immediately bypass a vertical wall on its left/west side. After about 100 yards of traversing on good, trustworthy rock, return to the spine and follow it to the summit of Mount Moss at 3.7 miles, elevation 13,192 feet. I disagree with a friend who thinks the south ridge of Moss is just a walk. Be prepared for some Class 2-plus scrambling and favorable, but endless, chunks of talus.
The crest is topped with great sitting boulders and a view of the wildest terrain in the range. One mile north is Centennial Peak. Amazingly, skilled climbers have traversed the spike-encrusted ridge from Centennial to Lavender Peak and on to Hesperus Mountain. Looking back on the climbing route, the south ridge of Mount Moss terminates at West Babcock Peak. From there, La Plata’s famous Knife connects to Spiller Peak. This is one of Colorado’s finest scrambles, as it crosses a breathlessly exposed serrated slice of stone for half a mile. Two miles east beyond a dangerous, impassible ridge is Diorite Peak.
If you are tapped or the south ridge of Mount Moss tested your mettle, this is your turn-around summit. Class 3-plus scrambling with exposure is required to surmount the three towers of Lavender Peak. The saving grace is solid, dependable, blocky rock making for a superlative adventure. From Moss, descend northwest on well-seated talus to the saddle at 12,880 feet.
As you begin the Lavender ascent, the side walls of vertical couloirs encapsulate banded Centennial Peak. Cross a stable, thin ridge to the east tower of Lavender. Welcome to the castle maze. Face the rock for the challenging and spirited downclimb. Some people will need a spot. This tower may be flanked on the south, but any ridge bypass has inherent risks.
Drop into the wedge between the east and middle towers. Traverse west laterally around the base of the middle tower. The passage shows signs of use but there are no cairns on this route. Scale dependable rock, using four-point climbing to reach the tiny saddle between the middle and west towers.
Finish on the exhilarating west tower, approximately 13,200 feet in elevation, where you will find the peak register. The zenith is essentially one block of stone with room for three climbers.
The exact height of Lavender is unknown. Hesperus Mountain, northwest at 13,232 feet, is the highpoint in the La Plata Range. It is the Sacred Mountain of the North, marking the northern cardinal boundary of the traditional homeland of the Navajo.
Be sure to climb the middle tower as well, easily done. For the return, downclimb about 150 feet into the notch between the west and middle towers. Then cut just south of the east tower. Upon arriving at the 12,880 foot saddle, contour below Mount Moss to regain the south ridge.
At the now familiar insurmountable gendarme, bypass west and once back on the ridge look immediately for your descent route east. The slim social trail is swallowed by tundra 100 feet below the ridge. Watch for soaring bald and golden eagles, and playful, chortling ravens in the upper basin.
For images that will clarify this challenging route, go to debravanwinegarden.blogspot.com.