Good Days To Come
The True Summit
Mt. Yale, 14,196'
June 2, 2013
Crew: Kyle W, Hank C, Takota, emohr
Distance: 9.5 Miles
I had been checking NOAA for the last 2 months looking for a good opening to make a trip to the Mighty Sawatch and finish the last few 14ers I still have left in that range. Unfortunately, the weather has been a weeee bit different lately, especially compared to last year this time. Last year by this time, I had summited Belford in Chacos and a t-shirt; this year, I spent my early June wearing microspikes, pants, and boots with warm socks. Showing once again, that no two climbs, even repeats, are ever the same. Luckily, Yale was my first opportunity at a new 14er for the 2013 season
Belford's North Face - 6/1/12
Belford's North Face - 5/26/13 Photo Courtesy of Tornadoman
We left Golden at about 5 to an already rising sun. Cruising down 285 during late or early hours is one of my favorite drives in the state. That might be biased because whenever I'm on it I'm heading to a 14er, but other than that, the wildlife and views speak for themselves. We were lucky enough to hit The Triple Crown of Cervidae; Deer, Elk in the valley, and two juvenile Moose on Kenosha Pass. Good start to great day
After more than 40+ 14er trips, I ALWAYS manage to forget something. A gene my forgetful 14ering father left me I suppose. This trip was no different. I had left the SD card for my camera in the laptop at home. D'oh! Luckily, The City Market in the lovely town of Buena Vista was able to help me with my stupidity and supply me with a new one. From there, we drove out on 306 as the sun started to rise from the East and pour rays across the Sawatch. No matter how many times I see that range, I always get goosebumps. They have definitely lost a lot of snow over the past few weeks, which is excellent news for Summer Hiking
The "conservative" plan I had in mind was this;
- Leave Golden @ 5
- Arrive at Denny Creek @ 8
- Summit @ 12 (Essentially 1 MPH pace)
- Descend @ 12:30
- Reach car @ 3:30 (1.5 MPH pace)
It was comforting to arrive at Denny Creek by 7:30 to get a head start on the already conservative schedule. I had done Grays Peak two weekends earlier, and felt in fairly good shape for that climb. Mt. Yale being a member of the Sawatch, makes it a different breed however. This hike, similar to just about every other Sawatch 14er hike, begins with some steep switchbacks through the forest. Unfortunately, also similar to those other hikes, I got my butt kicked on this warm-up. I don't know if it's because I've been sitting in a car for 2 hours, or that I just came from 5,400', but I just suck wind like nobodys business through these sections. It was about 40 degrees when we started, so I had my long underwear, glove liners, and windbreaker on. It took about 2 minutes of this to get overheated and stop to shed some layers. To put it shortly, I wasn't exactly enjoying this section. But, after dealing with similar mornings like this in the Sawatch before, I knew that the views and a chance at a summit are worth any amount of pain to get there. Motivated by the opportunity to have another memorable day in the Collegiates, I trudged behind Kyle, Hank, and Takota who were moving through the forest quite easily.
Denny Creek along the trail shortly after the trailhead
Even with my case of the "Sawatch Mornings", we were able to make it to the fork in the trail that is about 1.25 miles into the hike in only half an hour. Shortly after taking our right at the fork, we ran into a sol hiker along the trail. We exchanged our classic "How's it going"'s, which soon led to adding him to our group. Chris, the hiker, is from Santa Fe and is going to Carnegie Mellon next year. The only 14er he had done before then was Mt. Elbert, but he had brought his backpacking supply and was planning on checking out some of the other 14ers around the area such as Harvard.
First foot/snow-bridge crossing
The snow through the majority of the forest is tracked out, crossable without microspikes or snowshoes, or melted by now. I had read some recent reports that saying the trail finding became a little difficult at the end of the forest where the snow got deep, so expected to be doing some adventuring today. The first real obstacle we found, but did't spend too much time dealing with is the ice block that is forming about a half mile after the fork in the trail. I've never really seen anything like it before, and honestly have no explanation for it's creation, but there is just a 2 or 3 foot high miniature glacier right in the trail. It wouldn't have been a problem if it was snow, but it just looks entirely like ice. Takota, Hank's dog, took 2 steps and slid like a hockey puck. That was enough proof for us to look for an alternate way. We headed right, towards Denny Creek, and just post-holed through some old snow until we could see the trail again beyond the "glacier"
Ice Wall in the forest
Not too far after the mini-glacier, another creek crossing occurs, and the snow starts to get deeeep. People have already post-holed through it many times, the unfortunate part is that there were about 5 different directions that the post-holes went. I had done my fair share of research on this wonderful website that we use so often, and knew that the route traveled north, then made a turn east towards the ridge before the summit. The map that Chris had brought with him said that the trail was quite a bit further south then where we were. I felt like I had remembered the route well enough that I would be able to navigate it even with the snow. As sure as I was, there was no way I would be dumb enough to go against what this map said; I can be dumb, but I try not to be too dumb above 10,000'. So we followed the maps directions of heading south from the snowfield in the trees.
Working our way out of treeline
Getting lost in the midst of Turner Peak
After about 30 minutes of meandering through the woods with no trail, I began to grow suspicious of where we were. I was looking at essentially the south face of Yale at one point. I didn't remember that image when looking through the pictures online. After a few more minutes of walking towards the base of the peak, we could see a small trail in the distance. It looked funny though. It looked really untravelled and had these weird dividers along it every few feet. When I finally could make out what those weird dividers were, the whole thing started to make sense; we had mad our way to the OLD SW Slopes trail that has been closed for erosion. The "dividers" on the trail were hay bags that are meant to help slow down prevention on the trail. The map we used must have been made before the new trail had been made, and for that we suffered a bit. It wasn't hard hiking or anything, but I just felt bad for stomping on part of the peak that is trying to be protected. I made sure to pick up any piece of trash the rest of the way to help appease The Mountain Gods
Clearer view of Turner Peak
Ice Mountain and North Apostle
As the sun started to make its way over the impressive face of Yale, we made our way to the base of Slogfest 2013. Things had been moving relatively quick up to this point, but the day kinda slowed down at this point.
At this point, my microspikes were on, and I was interested in getting as much use out of them as possible. Not only will any experience help a novice such as myself, but snow climbing has quickly become one of my favorite modes of transportation since getting the microspikes.
With that in mind, I made my way up the climber's right section of the face because that is where the snow AKA fun was.
Standard route to the left, snow option to the right
The slope steadily got steeper and steeper, and I became weaker and weaker. I can just tell when I get above the 13,000' in the mountains, because everything becomes noticeably harder for me. Not that the 12,000' section was easy, but I really start getting my ass kicked above 13,000'. The snow section I took was not only tough for my lungs, but my legs felt like they were just full of lactic acid. Take 2 steps, breath 5 breaths.
Taking one of many breaks going up the snowy slope
At this point I had exerted myself more than I was planning on. My lungs had nothing left to give, and my leg muscles were on fire. At this point, I asked myself, "Eric.. Why the hell do you do this?"
Then, I took a deep breath, and really looked at where I was. I look to my left and I see the impressive West face of Yale that I had under appreciated all day; I look to my right and see the rest of the Northern Sawatch, a peek at Ice Mountain and North Apostle, and one of the few people we saw on the mountain that day begin his glissade down a snow face; I look down, and I see Turner Peak among the other 13ers along with the rest of the route we had traveled that day basking in the warm sun; and as I looked up towards the final ridge of Yale that leads to the summit, I noticed a large smile had creeped over my face amidst my self-inflicted pain. Just realizing where I was and what I was doing answered my question of why I really was there; this is what makes me truly feel alive. My heart beating out of my chest, lungs gasping for air, eyes taking in some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, and feeling of the cold mountain air battle the warm rays of the sun
Soaking in some of the best vibes the mountains have ever offered
Chris, Hank, and Takota had already gone to the ridge and were making their way to the summit when Kyle and I came up. When I topped out, my initial thoughts were, "You made it! Smooooooth sailin' from here!". The last ridge to get to the summit, had different ideas however. It has a few false summits and actually has some sizeable elevation gain to it.
I think Yale's snowy summit ridge was one of my top 10 favorite sections of climbing I've done in my short career. To be able to stare down the summit while trekking over a snowy ridge with the snow beating down was a pretty special moment
The True Summit
We reached the summit by 12, but the wind was pretty bad so we looked for some sort of a shelter so we could eat our lunch up here. There wasn't a wind wall or anything up there, so I was about to make the decision to go back down to get out of the wind, when all of a sudden the wind just stopped. Didn't slow down, didn't calm down, but completely stopped. And when the wind stopped, the summit looked a lot mo betta
Looking South towards Mt. Princeton
The Harvard/Columbia Traverse *grumble grumble*
Right before we were planning on beginning our descent, we saw some more people coming up the ridge. A hearty group of 3 gentleman joined us on top of the summit and we talked about our day. They had gotten mixed up right at treeline just like we did; we went too far South, they went too far North. As long as you get to the summit right?
Takota, Hank, Chris, Kyle, and myself
We had relished in our accomplishments long enough, and decided to make our way back down at about 12:30. Pretty easy going down the ridge, but the pre-made glissade chutes might have been the highlight of the day for me. After struggling for 4 hours to go 4.25 miles, it felt great to go more than 1MPH for a change of pace. My legs thanked me greatly
Looking North descending the ridge
Every 14er needs at LEAST one of these
Lone Pasque Flower with Yale in the background
After having to do some bushwhacking on our way back to the forest, we made our way to the trail along the creek and mindlessly meandered back to the car. My socks were wet, I was still wearing my fleece and pants from the summit but it was about 80 in the forest, and my legs had stopped caring a few miles back. I was ready to see the car
Fumbling through the Aspens toward our car
Only one left!
Contemplating the days achievements and adventures over Denny Creek
We finally made it back to the Trailhead at 3:00PM, 7.5 hours after we started our adventure. One of the longest days of my young life, but in my book, that's the definition of a great day
Ahhhh, that looks much better!