| First Peak: Yale (Denny Gulch)
I started at 5:50 a.m. on a nice Thursday. Light was just starting to filter into the woods at the start of the trail. The small campground at Denny Creek ($12) gave me just a five minute drive to the parking lot, which had a few cars in it as early as 5:30. Not many people were out yet but a few had camped up in the Denny Gulch basin within a mile or so of the TH. Not sure if those campsites are legal but they look pretty well-defined and comfy.
The trail is very well developed all the way to the saddle. All streams have crossing aids*(see below) and the sign pointing at the Mt. Yale junction is conspicuous.
It would be hard to get lost in all but the worst weather. The dilemma presented in the Roach book about where to turn seems to not be a concern anymore.
As a novice from Detroit, the route was a steep for me and the switchbacks seemed never-ending. I had acclimated for a day in Denver and two days in Buena Vista. I'm not sure if it was the altitude but I did feel pretty sick... It was hard to eat anything, yet I needed food. I am in only moderate shape so the exertion alone may have been the problem. After all the switchbacks in the woods you reach a series of hummocks above the treeline. These are deceptively steep but also more fun as the views improve with every step. That was what kept me going through the blahs; putting my head down for twenty more steps, then stopping to look around at the view. I met a several nice people on the way up, as well. It was neither crowded nor desolate on the trail.
Finally I hit the last rise before the saddle.
At this point the trail braids a bit at the last huge boulder before the push up. The left side (looking up) has switchbacks and better (but not great) footing. The right side is pretty much a straight shot to the top of the saddle, ending close to the first rockpile between saddle and summit. Most people took the switchbacks (left) up.
After a tiring ascent to the saddle, the route forward to the summit was not obvious. The summit is absolutely not visible from the saddle, even though it seems that it must be. The ridge up from the saddle is a little deceptive.
There is a route on the left of the first rockpile in the ridge, and while it is cairned it quickly dead-ended into climbing that was beyond my fatigue level, maybe high class 2. A couple of people got seriously hung up on the route and had to turn back.
The easier route takes a slight descent from the saddle (to the right of the ridge) into a bowl and then back up into the rocks again. From here, there are broken sections of trail skirting largely to the right and then eventually gaining the ridge. This is probably the least difficult route for tired legs. The route is occasionally cairned and has just a bit of exposure to the right, though nothing really scary. Once I gained the ridge past the second rock pile, the summit finally appeared and the route became obvious. The picture below is taken from this route on the right of the ridge--compare to the route published on the site.
I summitted at 11:45. I was about as slow as anyone on the mountain that summitted. Many fellow hikers took an hour or two less time. Thee point being that anyone that leaves the trailhead before 6 will make it to the top, or likely quit, by noon.
This was my first Colorado summit, so I lack comparisons. With this in mind, the view from the summit is spectacular. From the summit I saw not only the other Collegiates, but also the San Juans to the Southwest. The view into Buena Vista is nice as well--very flattering to the town. I was lucky to have picked a beautiful day. Below are pictures of Harvard/Columbia, and the view SW.
On the descent I chose to take the dusty straight line path, now to my left (barely visible in the middle of the picture below). This way is slippery but fast. There are probably several ways down from the saddle, and really footing is the only concern.
On this day, at least, the noon summit rule of thumb was spot on. Some pretty dark clouds formed basically right over the summit, and the weather quickly threatened. I made it back to my car in about 2:30. Back to "Boonie" (BV) for a fantastic burrito.
Yale offers beautiful views and an accessible summit with a touch of rocky scrambling flavor. I am glad I picked it for my first 14er.
(*Edit: See the picture below from bdavis trip report? I did the same thing, risking a slip. But, as of 8/17/06, there is an excellent but slightly hidden log bridge off to the left of the picture.)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):