Peak(s):  Mt. Yale  -  14,196 feet
Date Posted:  01/22/2013
Modified:  06/20/2013
Date Climbed:   01/21/2013
Author:  SurfNTurf
Additional Members:   IkeB, Lamb, justiner, kushrocks, jhobby, MonGoose
 The Game Done Changed  

ROUTE: Southwest Slopes from Denny Creek (standard)
RT DISTANCE: 9.5 miles
RT GAIN: 4,300'
RT TIME: 8.5 hours
CLIMBERS: Justin (Lamb), Justin (justiner), Ryan (kushrocks), Nick (MonGoose), Jeff (jhobby), Ike (IkeB), Jeff (SurfNTurf)

The snow totals this winter are, so far, pathetic. Most of us are hoping that turns around soon, but for now it's a cherry-picking festival on the winter 14ers. Is it cheating? Do the blingflakes count? Some folks on this site have taken to referring snowflake-chasing as "The Game," and as my good friend Omar Little would say:


All right. I like it. Let's roll with The Wire theme.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I harbor no illusions of finishing the winter 14ers. The objective danger on several peaks is too high for me, and I have the utmost respect for those who have completed or nearly completed the list. It's far from a game. Relegating it to such status has always seemed eyeroll-worthy to me. So let's have some fun with it, shall we?

"If anybody asks you if you in this game, you tell 'em you in it for life, aight? You play it hard, you play it tight, and you make sure ****** know you gonn' stand by your people. No loose talk, no second thoughts and no snitching. Play it like that." - D'Angelo Barksdale

The past few days presented a near-perfect weather window. With little snow to speak of, the avalanche danger could be mitigated. Yet another post in Climbing Connection rustled up a solid group to cap off the long weekend on Mt. Yale. Justin (Justiner), Justin (Lamb), Ike (IkeB) and Jeff (thobby) met Nick (MonGoose), Ryan (kushrocks) and me at the summer trailhead at 7 a.m. sharp. Oh, and Ryan's superdog Sophie, who's climbed 41 peaks. "Not counting repeats." - Ryan

The East Ridge from Avalanche Gulch is the standard winter route, as it avoids some avalanche danger presented on the Southwest Slopes. Talk about a misleading name. Sadly and luckily, the snow on Mt. Yale is more reminiscent of late June than mid-January. We opted for the Southwest Slopes from Denny Creek because it requires only 9.5 miles and 4,300' of gain. There's minimal snow on the road; even 2WD vehicles can make the Denny Creek parking lot with no issue. A last-minute decision to leave snowshoes and avalanche gear in the cars turned out to be 100 percent correct.

Setting out at first light.

The trail is boot-packed all the way to treeline, and there's one large section of water ice crossing the trail. Microspikes are essential. We started at about sunrise, and in the warm temps (forecast high: 35 degrees) we lollygagged and took lots of short breaks. Everyone in the group had a great sense of humor and it was obvious we were in for a hell of an outing. The trail junction came before we even realized we were hiking (go right).

The trail flattens out for a while, then switchbacks steeply up toward treeline. Whoever put in the trench did a fantastic job route-finding, as it avoids any miserable terrain. In May 2011, when I first climbed Mt. Yale, the trench had a knack for finding the crappiest path possible into tree wells, through thick branches and up still hillsides.

We hit treeline and sunshine concurrently. It would have been T-Shirt Time, except also arriving was a steady 15-20 mile per hour wind. The singular trench split into about a half-dozen individual footpaths, and instead of following others we chose what looked like the safest and easiest route to the upper plateau. This consisted of traversing right to a small notch that, once gained, offered access to snow-free slopes.

Trail junction -- take a right, yo.

Justin Squared. (Photo Credit: Nick Gianoutsos).

Jeff hammers up one of the steeper sections.

Nick clings to a boulder in the face of gaping exposure.

We aimed for the mini-saddle where the sun is hitting.

Mt. Yale finally popped into sight, as did the standard summer trail. It disappeared frequently under sections of snow, but we were always able to find it again a few hundred feet later. We continued to take lots of breaks to chat and enjoy the stellar weather. The miles slid by unnoticed in the company of such an enjoyable group. Jeff decided to turn around at this point, but not before being rewarded for his hard work with exceptional above-treeline winter views. Jeff defines the term "good spirits," and I'd bet that even with no summit he had the most fun out of all of us.

"A man must have a code." - Bunk
"Oh, no doubt." - Omar

We continued to follow the trail all the way up to the saddle. From there, it's a right turn and roughly 300 feet to the summit. The cairned route meanders below the ridgeline to climber's right, but for the most part we stayed high for some enjoyable scrambling. The wind picked up to a gusting 30-35 miles per hour, and for the first time all day we dug into our packs for extra layers. Led by Ryan and Sophie, one by one we trickled onto the 14,196-foot summit. It was the first time on Yale for Ike and both Justins, and the first winter 14er for Ike and justiner. Way to go guys.

Ryan and Sophie wonder, "Where is the snow?"


Apparently we don't have to dream of summer. It's here.

The trail becomes more apparent.

The summit beckons.

Justin (er) takes his final steps to 14,196'.

Nick taking the high line.

Quite the welcoming committee.

"Look the part, be the part, mother****er." - Prop Joe (Photo credit: Nick Gianoutsos)

In a lot of ways, this trip - and this weekend as a whole - was a reawakening. Regardless if we lack the courage or self-awareness to admit it, this community is rife with drama, politics, competition, egos and rivalries. That's not why I got into climbing and that's not why I climb. Little by little, I felt myself getting sucked into it. It disgusted me. The joie de vivre I got from the mountains slowly diminished, and I didn't like the person I was becoming; the face I saw in the mirror was no longer my own. I count myself lucky that I realized it before things truly got out of hand. I put everything negative on the chopping block, cut myself off from the bad influences and sources of discontent. In the words of my good friend Dillon, "BOOM!"

"You cannot lose if you do not play." - Marla Daniels

"Politics is a good thing, partner." - Clay Davis
"That's a minority opinion." - Carcetti

"You know, Avon, you gotta think about what we got in this game for, man. Huh? Was it the rep? Was it so our names could ring out on some ****ing ghetto streetcorner, man? Naw, man. There's games beyond the ****ing game." - Stringer Bell

Summits like Huron Peak, Redcloud/Sunshine and Mt. Yale are a reminder of why I do climb. It's not for approval. It's not to compete. It's not to impress. It's not for attention. It's not to fill some hole in my insecurity-ridden heart with snowflakes, likes and comments. It's to gain personal clarity and spend time in beautiful spaces with good people. Sure, I enjoy the summits, the views, the feeling of accomplishment. Those are bonuses. But at the center of it all, I enjoy the social aspect: the bonding, the "Brotherhood of the Rope," the jokes, the lessons learned from others and the opportunities to pass on what little knowledge I possess.

If I may wear my heart on my sleeve for a moment, I've bounced around a lot in my life. Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, New Mexico, Boston, Denver. Acquaintances are a dime a dozen. Good friends, true friends, the people you genuinely care for, are a rare treasure. I had the largest circle of true friends I've ever had in my life throughout 2012, and in many ways I have to thank for that. But the times, they are a changin'. I'm damn happy for and proud of the personal progress everyone in The Brat Pack (a tongue-in-cheek nickname, if that wasn't obvious) is making, it's just hard not to feel left behind. We're still as close as ever, but for many of them, the mountains simply aren't as important as they used to be. That's a positive thing.

"Yeah, now, well, the thing about the old days - they the old days." - Slim Charles

For me, the mountains are still central. I went through a rough patch this fall, for reasons discussed and others, and I'm happy to say I've pulled out of it. How can one not be at peace, making such new friends and reconnecting with old ones as I did this weekend? The past is the past, and it shapes us. Learn from it. Use it. Smile back at it fondly with a glass of whiskey in your hand, listening to sad old country songs. But don't live in it. There's a present. There's a future.

"This is you trying to make the past be everything, mean everything. You don't even want to think about the here and now. Sorry, Bubs. Shame ain't worth as much as you think. Let it go." - Walon

"Ain't no shame in holdin' on to grief, as long as you make room for other things, too." - Bubbles

Taking shelter from the wind.

The Southern Sawatch.

Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia.

Group summit shot. (Photo credit: Nick Gianoutsos)

We stayed on the summit for close to an hour, despite the incessant wind. Nick even managed to fire up his new stove and make a hot meal. The day couldn't have been more bluebird. We were treated to epicly clear panoramic views of nearly every range in Colorado. I only wish there was more snow. We would have lingered longer, but sometimes even superdogs get cold; it was time for Sophie to head down. We departed the summit and picked our individual ways down the somewhat exposed ridge, once again with Ryan and Sophie ranging far ahead. Another full-stop was called at the saddle to regroup and subtract layers. "What's mountaineering?" Nick asks. "Changing clothes all day."

Descending mostly bare rock to reach the saddle.

The packed snow and exposed summer trail allowed us to bomb our way down. We even managed a 20' glissade right below treeline, the first of the year. Sheltered from the wind, the day was so springlike we stripped to baselayers for the remaining hike out. Before long we reached the trail junction and knew we were a short distance away from the cars. We even caught Jeff a few moments before the trailhead and finished the same full group we'd started as.

Nick, stylin' his way back to treeline.

Ike ripping a brief glissade.

We decompressed and shared beers in the parking lot (thanks to Ike), watching snowmobilers come down from the apparently popular Cottonwood Pass. The plan was to hit Asian Palate in Buena Vista, but it didn't open for dinner until 5 p.m. and we instead went to Pizza Works. It was somehow my first time there, and the place didn't disappoint. We inhaled $10 fourteen-inch pizzas and $5 pitchers of beer. Finally, at the still early winter hour of 6 p.m., we went our separate ways. I can't wait to hike with these guys again. Thanks for the fantastic day!

"Tell me something, Jimmy. How exactly do you think it all ends?" - Lester Freamon
"What do you mean?" - Jimmy McNulty
"A parade? A gold watch? A shining Jimmy-McNulty-Day moment, when you bring in a case so sweet everybody gets together and says, 'Aw, ****. He was right all along. Should've listened to the man.' The job will not save you, Jimmy. It won't make you whole, it won't fill your ass up."
"I don't know, a good case""
"Ends. They all end. The handcuffs go click and it's over. The next morning, it's just you in a room with yourself."
"Until the next case."
"Boy, you need something else outside of this here."
"Like what, dollhouse miniatures?"
"Hey, hey, hey, a life. A life, Jimmy. You know what that is? It's the **** that happens while you're waiting for the moments that never come."

Oh, and give your thanks to Lamb for the .gpx file.

"Let's go home." - Jimmy McNulty

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Nice work guys!
01/23/2013 03:32
(see above)


01/23/2013 03:46
Nice to see you're back to narrating. It seems you've been playing ”best supporting actor” in TR's lately.


nice hat Jeff...
01/23/2013 04:22
the worldwideweb tells me my cyberbuddy Darrin is pissed. I'll give this TR an A-, next time I want to see timestamps. The sarcasm is TOP notch. Looks like a sweet trip gang.


01/23/2013 04:41
I had such high hopes for us (McNulty), but it looks like each blingflake will be easier than the last.


01/23/2013 04:49
Great TR Jeff and yes I did have the greatest time of all of us in my book! It was my first attempt on a winter 14er climb and enjoyed every second of it and the company as well.



Great day
01/23/2013 04:54
with even greater company. See you all out on the trail again soon.

Wyoming Bob

As a native Baltimoron, I can say
01/23/2013 05:20
like they do down in the Southeastern District . . . nice report Hon,



best trip report. ever.
01/23/2013 07:49
anyone who not only quotes from the wire but uses a trip report to quote from the wire is a holy species in my book.

r.i.p., prop joe.


01/23/2013 16:54
Great job! I think the only way I'm gonna see Mt. Yale's summit in winter is from TRs.... Great writing as always, congrats!


01/23/2013 17:43
I think many in this community could use a bit O that. Thanks for expressing what I've been feeling over the ridiculousness.

Climbing mountains is fun, for many it is a spiritual experience, let's all cut out the BS. And winter peaks are just prettier!


A literary work of art
01/23/2013 17:48
”Summits like Huron Peak, Redcloud/Sunshine and Mt. Yale are a reminder of why I do climb. It's not for approval. It's not to compete. It's not to impress. It's not for attention. It's not to fill some hole in my insecurity-ridden heart with snowflakes, likes and comments. It's to gain personal clarity and spend time in beautiful spaces with good people.”
^Love it. Beautifully said.

Yale is a great hike with an impressive summit view. Thanks for posting a TR.


The game done changed!
01/23/2013 18:38
Love the threading of the dialogue, makes me miss the show.

Like I told you after Sunshine - I don't care if I summit or not, snowflakes aren't the end goal... the end goal is making and keeping and celebrating good friends and enjoying the passions we hold for the outdoors, for mountains, for the pizza-and-beer post hike gab fests, for the spotting of big elk on the side of the dark lonely highways for the obviously night-blind driver, or for the quiet drives home as all the other riders are crashed asleep. Crap, I'm getting misty.

Good job all! Can't wait until next time!


Way to make yourself PROUD!!
01/23/2013 18:20
YOU are unrepeatable, Goldy. Word to your motha. You should become a writer or something...


I've never seen the wire...
01/23/2013 20:37
but this TR is still pretty cool, I guess. Wish I could have made it out with you guys! Nice work all.

P.S. Please note that this comment is number three of the year, officially breaking last year's record.


Chalky White
07/29/2013 18:29
He's on the Wire too? He's phenomenal on ”Boardwalk Empire”. Dang, I gotta start watching The Wire now. Thanks for explaining the whole snowflake game! I'm a total weather wimp, but it's fun to read about this stuff.


once again, no girls on this trip
04/02/2015 19:45
I guess you guys are not cool enough


Ivy League
01/23/2013 22:22
I was always more of a Columbia man myself.


Nice Hat
01/23/2013 22:36
The report is OK too, that Ryan guy is killing it.


01/24/2013 17:52
@Emily: Next step, teaching you how to turn on a TV.

@49ersRule: Omar Little is WAY more hardcore than Chalky White. I have gotten into hours-long arguments over this. Watch The Wire.

@Fisching: They have Internet down there in the third world?

@kansas: Where'd you get that Patagonia beanie? I like it...


Always good for a laugh.
01/25/2013 15:37
Thanks for sharing. Glad you guys had a good day out there. Nothing quite like cherry-picking the easy ones. Been doing plenty of that myself lately.

And pay no mind to Dillon's grading scale. This time of year, anything that's not related to numbers, acceptable tax deductions, or capital gains taxes is just a big jumble in his mind.


Nice report!
01/25/2013 17:24
Thanks Jeff, well written as usual! And what do you mean we don't climb for Snowflakes??????

I envy you - wish I could sneak out on days that don't start with an S.


Oh man...
01/26/2013 02:22
So after this, I'm going to write a report on RC/Sun???

What can I say? Jeff, your literary skills are top-notch!

What a beautiful weekend. Glad to be a part of it. Thanks, man.


01/26/2013 03:08
Great trip report! Always enjoy reading yours. And I agree... save the drama!!


Love the theme
01/30/2013 01:50 of the greatest shows ever made.

Craig Cook

Always the best...
02/11/2013 08:41
Love reading your trip reports, Jeff, and this one is no exception. Well said, and well done.

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