Peak(s):  Mt. Yale  -  14,196 feet
Date Posted:  09/14/2009
Modified:  09/18/2009
Date Climbed:   09/02/2009
Author:  Summit Assassin
 Missouri Gulch to Denny Creek - 3 of 3  

Pine Creek Trail, Colorado Trail, Silver Creek Camp
Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
Start: mile west of Little John's Cabin at 8:52am
Elevation Gain: 1,400
Distance: 14.41 miles
Google Map (from GPS):

With Pine Creek rushing nearby and the the comfy pine needle bedding our slumber was deep and long. The gentle plan for the day was consoling after yesterday's brush with disaster. We would set out heading east on the Pine Creek trail. Once it intersected the Colorado Trail (CT) we would jump on it and head south.

No definitive stop time or trail head goal was set. We knew where we needed to be to have a decent shot at Yale but also didn't want to rush it. If we wanted to stop prior to Silver Creek we could; ample opportunities for water and camp exist on this particular stretch of the CT.

As we broke camp and began our eastern trek skipping Harvard and Columbia gave me no remorse. During all of our preparation we unanimously agreed that if our ambitious goals got in the way of the experience then we would take less strenuous alternatives. I'm pretty sure that the next time we head up to the hills Harvard and Columbia will still be there.

Looking east at the picturesque Pine Creek trail just west of Little John's Cabin. (8:55am)

From Pine Creek trail looking west with Harvard and Oxford in view.

Little John's Cabin, just east from our campsite.

We stopped quite a bit on the way towards the CT. Pine Creek was everything we expected and more.

After just over two miles we ran into the CT junction. (10:11am)

After crossing Pine Creek we began the largest section of elevation gain for the day. We would rapidly gain 1,400 feet and then slowly meander down as we wrapped around the shoulders of Harvard and Columbia.

Northeast view as we ascended in the morning. (11:11am)

Nearing the top of our initial climb, southern view.

We took a thirty minute break to call our families and eat some lunch. Our rations of beef jerky made their first appearance at this point. Eating multiple Clif Bars in one day tends to dissuade you from employing your jaw muscles more than they have to. Spirits were high with the majority of our elevation gain behind us and the Harvard lakes ahead.

The thought that one must reach higher altitudes to see beauty was repeatedly realigned.

We reached the Harvard lakes around three thirty in the afternoon. Once again the weather was excellent. Storms passed around us and a few sprinkles reached through the forest but our rain gear remained stowed away.

The northernmost Harvard lake. The trout were feeding as we passed through. This entire area is ripe with good camp sites. You could make a beautiful weekend out of hiking up to this spot and doing some fishing. I'm interested in setting camp at these lakes and potentially hiking Harvard and Columbia.

Southernmost Harvard lake.

After leaving the lakes we continued on, taking in the scenery and enjoying ourselves. I'm not well versed on the CT but if the rest of it looks like this section I'd love to take a summer and hike it.

As the day went on we realized that making it to the Silver Creek trail head and setting up for a nice effort on Yale was a possibility. We had kept a steady pace of just under three miles per hour throughout the day and although we were not rushing it we covered over fourteen miles.

After a few final switchbacks on the CT we found ourselves on North Cottonwood Road (CO 365). A quarter-mile west and we were looking for camp sites near the Silver Creek trail head. We were in luck. Just a hundred feet east of the trail head, behind the horse hitching post, sits an excellent campsite. It's big and flat, adjacent to the creek, and perfect for an eastern approach on Yale.

Determined to eat and go to bed before nightfall (unlike the previous evening) we rapidly established camp. Teaming up was the order of the week and this day would be no different. In thirty minutes our water was purified and our camp was set. Dinner would be cajun chicken with rice.

We discussed the next day's plan over dinner. Traversing Yale would be difficult, even more so with full packs. How nice would it be to leave our camp set up, drop most of our weight, and take on Yale twenty-five pounds lighter? Taking into consideration the potential loss of our gear we agreed on the prospect. Now all I had to do was call our taxi and see if he would mind making another stop.

I walked back up to where the CT met the road, found a signal, and called out. He answered and thankfully had the time to make an extra stop. After a call to my family I headed back to camp with the good news. We would leave our tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food and other non-essentials and go for Yale in the morning.

Yale's eastern route was sketchy and without a defined trail. Coming close to anything resembling the Oxford gully experience had made us considerably apprehensive. Our goals for the next day were clearly defined. Up by 4:00am. On the trail by 5:00am. On the 11,900 saddle by 8:00am. On the summit by 12:00pm. Denny Creek by 3:00pm.

Apprehension and excitement kept me awake for most of the night. I was consumed with what lay ahead and the fact that our last day in the mountains was upon us.

Day 3 Elevation Profile:

Traverse of Mt. Yale - East to West
Thursday, September 3rd, 2009
Silver Creek Trail
Start: Silver Creek TH at 5:00am
Elevation Gain: 4,900
Distance: 9.7 miles
Google Map (from GPS):

At 4:00am my watch ripped us out of sleep. Our plan was to forgo the usual breakfast of bagels and peanut butter to hasten our exit. After choking down a couple Clif Bar's, using the restroom and securing our gear we were off. Our first goal of being on the trail by 5:00am was achieved.

We kept the conversation loud and continuous to notify any critters of our presence. We discussed baseball, music, and sang songs. Even with headlamps the darkness can really slow you down. It also didn't help that one team member had bruised his achilles and was in quite a bit of pain.

The view north as the sun rises. (6:12am)

Near 11,000 the valley opened up and greeted us with the first views of what was in store. The ridge we intended to hike is directly in the center of this photo. (6:28am)

Our progress was slow but steady and I was pretty confident that we would make the 11,900 saddle by 8:00am. This section of trail was beautiful.

At 7:18am, forty minutes ahead of schedule, we reached the 11,900' saddle. The CT continued south and down to Avalanche Gulch and would serve as our alternative should conditions deteriorate. The saddle itself was full of campsite potentials if you don't mind hauling water up to that point. The western trail towards Yale was marked with a log and a cairn, but wasn't entirely visible until we hiked through a set of pines. From there we hiked up to just over 12,000', took a break and surveyed the ridge. The following photo was taken at 7:27am.

Over the past thirteen months we researched this route thoroughly. We carried a GPS, our NG topo and a cheat sheet full of beta. From our research we knew to stay high and to the right of the ridge until Point 13,240'. At that point, curve around to the left (south) side of the ridge. Stay as high as you can to avoid the loose, nasty stuff. One TR said to not go too high or too low but you really can't go too high unless you have technical gear with you and feel like bouldering.

If you take a look at the GPS download from our trip you will see that we executed very well on our plan with one glaring exception. At about 13,000, when you are supposed to curve around to the left (south) side of Point 13,240', we angled too low and found ourselves in the middle of a loose rock gully. On all fours we regained as much elevation as possible. The going was slow and tenuous. The nightmare on Oxford was screaming in my mind as each foot hold gave way. Even though we had stopped often on the way up to confer as to what the next best route would be I was extremely disappointed with myself as I felt like I had lead us directly into this mess. The faint ridge trail had long since disappeared. Hints of trail existed but only as insulting potentials that only led away from the ridge.

By now we could see the summit and were fully committed. The weather had been bluebird all morning but was rapidly decreasing in condition. On the bright side of things we were traversing and gaining elevation so rockfall wasn't as big of a concern as it was going down Oxford's gully.

Looking south at Princeton's north face. (7:55am)

Midway up the ridge, prior to Point 13,240. (8:03am)

View of the ridge with interspersed trail.


Looking down the loose gully after regaining the ridge.

We finally regained the ridge around 13,250'. From that point to about 13,450' the route finding was easier and the ridge walk gentler. We continued staying high on the ridge and began the final 700' to the summit. At this point the ridge was blanketed with tundra and large boulders making the footing somewhat easier. That didn't mean the hike was over, it was still very difficult as Yale's summit came in and out of view with multiple false summits. Periods of steep gains were presented; I distinctly remember having to resort to all four's on many occasions.

Once the summit clearly came into view we were reassured to see people on it and others making their way up the ridge. Being on the east side of Yale made determining the weather impossible. We knew the clouds were becoming darker and our 12:00pm summit goal was fast approaching.

The last few hundred feet were fairly difficult for us. Despite the weather and our injured team member we encouraged each other and kept moving up. Just short of the summit we stopped and let the injured team member top out first. We reached the summit at 11:39am, twenty-one minutes ahead of our goal.

We were completely alone on Missouri, Belford and Oxford so the six to eight people on top of Yale didn't bother us one bit. They were kind and openly shared snacks and discussions of delicious post-hike restaurant targets. We were exhausted and fully conscious of the fact that we still had to get down and that the weather was deteriorating rapidly.

Taken at 11:40am, this photo shows the entire route from Point 13,240 to the summit. You can see the gentle ridge walk and the final aggressive elevation gain.

Group summit shot with Princeton in the background.

Looking east at most of the route up Yale. We passed those little ponds over five hours from when this picture was taken. I always enjoy looking back at where you have come from and taking in a small feeling of accomplishment.

Northern view of Oxford, Harvard & Columbia from Yale's summit.

After our briefest summit visit of the trip we headed down. I believe it was 11:59am, one minute ahead of our goal. The weather was really turning and fast. The clouds coming towards Yale had turned dark black and were stacking up all around us.

I enjoyed the boulder hopping and route finding on Yale's western ridge. We passed three people who were on their way up. I didn't ask them about the weather but regret not doing so now. I'm sure they made it down but regardless I should of asked.

Once we exited the ridge the trail turned loose and dusty. Our legs were spent but we shuffled down to tree line as fast as possible. Distant thunder could be heard and the temperature had turned ten to fifteen degrees cooler within minutes. As we entered treeline the sky opened up and an interesting form of precipitation fell. It was a cross between snow and hail best described as white dippin dots.

We donned our rain gear for the first time and continued on. No sooner than we dressed up and the dots stopped falling. We took a break to rest our legs and snapped this shot of the Delaney Gulch crossing and drainage.

The conversation was minimal the rest of the way down. With feelings of apprehension towards re-entering normality I was soaking up the last the mountains offered. Thirteen months of planning and preparation had overwhelmingly paid off. At 2:57pm, three minutes ahead of schedule, we touched pavement at Denny Creek.

After picking up our gear and rental car then getting much needed showers we limped into Amica's pizza place in Salida. We devoured three large pizza's and discussed our adventure. The only question left was, When would we be back?

Day 4 Elevation Profile:

Click the following link for day one of our adventure:

Click the following link for day two of our adventure:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

nice pics
09/14/2009 19:52
what kind of camera do u use?


Re: nice pics
09/14/2009 20:25
Thanks! We were carrying a Canon Digital Rebel XT w/18-55 IS lens and a Canon SX110 IS.


Great Report!
09/16/2009 17:39
I agree about the CT beauty in the Harvard Lakes area. I covered this ground when I had a similar experience as your Oxford descent on a Harvard/Columbia ordeal.


01/28/2010 20:52
I enjoyed reading this TR very very much! I‘m hoping to also do all of the collegiate peaks in one grand adventure! everything looked beautiful!

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