| Yale (Denny Creek Route)
My trip report includes a description of our hike (with recommendations for other flatlanders, like us!), then several photos at the bottom. Enjoy!
I drove out from Kansas with my father and two cousins right after the 4th and spent a few days acclimating. This was my fifth 14er, my father’s fourth, and my cousins’ first.
Originally, we’d planned on climbing La Plata, but heavy afternoon rains on July 7 forced us to switch peaks and start early in the morning. We left from the Denny Creek trailhead at 4.50 AM in almost total darkness. There was a little light along the eastern horizon, and the woods slowly turned from black to grey and then fully light as we climbed upwards.
The first half of the trail up leads through the woods. The trail is well-traveled and clear, very easy to follow. We found the fork within half a mile after the log bridges, turned to the right for Mt Yale, and headed on. About a mile and a half later, there are some downed trees that make an excellent spot for a break: a large trunk to sit on, shade from trees still standing, Denny Creek burbling in the background. Since we were climbing so early in the morning, the views were truly gorgeous – the northern spur of Princeton in the alpenglow, low-hanging clouds in a valley to the west of Yale.
The most difficult section for us was immediately before and after treeline. At 11,800 feet we reached the meadow mentioned in the route directions; the path through this meadow is so steep and rocky with such tight switchbacks that we nicknamed it ‘The Meadow of Doom’. After treeline, the trail levels off, but the higher elevation and little visible progress through the wide grassy area below the saddle made this section somewhat discouraging.
The route directions mention a ‘Grind’ up to the saddle. Yes, it’s steep, but we found that gaining elevation quickly make this section more encouraging, though certainly not easy on the lungs.
After the Grind comes the scramble through rocks towards the summit. The route directions describe Yale as a Class 2 peak with ‘Mild Exposure’. That’s not entirely accurate: A fall from these rocks would be long and serious, and especially after rain the night before, the rocks were slippery.
Route directions advise climbers, *Stay to the right* through the rock field. Follow that advice. We didn’t: We mistook a false summit for the real thing and climbed straight up a pile of rocks and down the other side – a route notably steeper and more dangerous than the flatter section to the right.
(Incidentally, for those who hike with dogs: The rock scramble is difficult for dogs (perhaps impossible for small dogs), but they do make it. The day before we climbed, we met a couple who hiked with their dog, about the size of a labrador.)
We made it to the summit about four hours after we left the trailhead. The summit is fairly spacious and its eastern side offers some shelter from the wind. Towards the south you can see Princeton, Shavano and Tabeguache; towards the north, Harvard, La Plata and Elbert. We looked about for a geodesic landmark but found nothing but the rocks. We spent 45 minutes on the summit (stocked up on trail mix – with M&Ms – and Tootsie Pops), then headed down.
The trip down took about five hours. The steep grade descending from the saddle and then through the Meadow of Doom may be difficult for older climbers and / or flatlanders, but we went slowly, took breaks when needed, and did just fine. We arrived back around 2.50 PM, took a picture, piled into the car and headed home.
Overall: Great hike, beautiful scenery. Recommended for flatlanders / novice climbers as long as they are agile, follow the directions, and take proper precautions.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):