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Peak(s):  Mt. Yale  -  14,196 feet
Post Date:  07/20/2009
Date Climbed:   07/18/2009
Posted By:  Scanner

 Yale - East Ridge from Avalanche Gulch   

My brother and I wanted to try something a little different for the first 14er of the year that we'd had a chance to climb. Meteor had climbed Mt. Yale by the standard route from the Denny Creek Trailhead before, and wanted to try an alternate route, so we opted for the East Ridge, starting from the 9300‘ Avalanche Gulch Trailhead. I was trying out some GPS software on my new iPhone (GPS Kit), and thought this would be a good day for a test run. (Note to self: don't allow the iPhone to lock itself every five minutes automatically, or it stops recording tracks. As soon as I changed the lock time to "never", it did fine, but I lost a few of the tracks on the switchbacks above the parking lot.)

We wanted to get to the TH around 3am, giving ourselves time to reach treeline by sunrise and get some sunrise pictures. Well, our driving time estimates were off, and we didn't get to the parking lot until 4am, hitting the trail at 4:07.

The trail up from the parking lot follows the Colorado Trail to a saddle on the East Ridge at about 11900', which meant that the route finding was fantastically easy, even in the dark. The farther we went, the wider the trail seemed to get. The forest was fairly open, and became even more open around 11000'. I'm not sure, but we might have been able to follow this trail by moonlight alone if it had been a full moon, even under the trees.

We made decent time up the Colorado Trail to the East Ridge, reaching the saddle around 5:47 by the watch of a couple of hikers that were waking up and walking around the saddle as we arrived. There wasn't much forest left to treeline from the saddle, only about 50 -100 feet or so of trail through the trees to open ridge beyond:

I stopped to take a few pictures of Mt. Princeton over the tops of the trees to the south, and remarked to my brother that we appeared to have made it to treeline in time for sunrise. He called me over, telling me that I should get some pictures of the reddening horizon, and I had snapped about two in quick succession when the sun rose into the frame. Lucky timing, I guess:

We ate some breakfast, put on sunscreen, and started up the ridge. The first part of the hike took us around the north side of a 12140' point. The ridge ahead was clearly defined with several small and some larger rocky points that we were obviously going to have to scramble around or over.
The huge, double peaks of Point 13420' loomed high overhead, and the summit was just out of sight behind the ridge above them. The Class 2 trail up the ridge was very easy to follow, and led around the first couple of points on the right (north) side. After that, just about all of the points could be easily skirted on the left (south) side, with easier hiking on the less rocky terrain in between:
The trail grew moderately steeper with each passing point, requiring a little bit of minor scrambling until we neared the rocky terrain below Point 13420'. The rock hopping turned into larger boulders and looser rock around 13050' or so. This marked the start of the hardest section of the hike:
The trick to the route finding on this section seemed to be to stay on the left (south) side of the ridge. Going too high toward the center of the ridge meant unnecessary boulder scrambling, and too low down the south side of the ridge meant venturing into much looser rock, scree, and dirt. Somewhere in the middle was a happy medium, and we seemed to keep meandering between both types of terrain as we attempted to pick the best route up. This section grew a bit tiring when we went too far down over the looser sections of rock, so perhaps it would have been better to err on the steeper boulderish side of the line.

Looking back down the ridge from about 13200':

Once we neared the base of Point 13420', it appeared that we needed to skirt by on the south side of the rocky tips to avoid highly unnecessary elevation gain. Following the now-familiar task of picking a path high enough on the south slopes to be solid, we skirted around the point and were treated to the final thousand feet or so of the ridge that remained below the summit:
It was immediately apparent that we would be spending most of the trip up the rest of the ridge on the right-hand (north) side in order to avoid snowfields and scree. The greener saddle that greeted us as we came down from Point 13420' provided a welcome break from the boulders, and gave us a chance to rest before tackling the remaining ridge. Some of the route-finding at the start of the climb up from the green saddle was aided by cairns, but the climbs over the boulders were less arduous than what we'd encountered already:

Continuing up and around the right of the points on the ridge, and enjoying the easier stretches between the points, we gradually drew closer to the summit:

Looking back down the ridge toward Point 13420':

The view from the top of Yale was very nice, and we could see many other 14ers from Holy Cross down to Shavano and west to the Elks. It was a little too hazy to make out much detail towards the San Juans.

We opted to take the shorter path back down the standard route to Denny Creek Trailhead and CR 306 for about three miles down to the Avalanche Gulch trailhead rather than return back down the East Ridge the way we'd come. Enough boulder hopping for one day.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

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