Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mount Yale

Summit Ridge
I got a personal message (PM) on from Jeff wanting to get out on a climb on Tuesday.  Originally he wanted to head over to the Elk Range by Aspen and climb Castle Peak.  The weather outlook was less than satisfactory so we switched plans and decided on Mount Yale in the Sawatch Range.  Yale is part of the Colligate Peak Wilderness and is quickly becoming my favorite area in Colorado.

The plan was for Jeff and me to meet up hwy 285 near Aspen Park and commute together from there.  I was on time at 5am, but Jeff was 30 minutes late.  Not a good first impression, but I went with it.  By the time we drove over to the Denny Creek TH it was 7:30am, which was already a half hour past our intended start time.  The weather forecast didn’t look too bad; 20% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.  But, I have found out in Colorado if there is any chance of storms in the forecast, then they will happen.  So, this late start was unsettling since I know I hike at 1,000 vertical feet per hour on the lower sections then 700 ft per hour on the uppers.  Meaning, we wouldn’t have time to dilly dally around since a storm would most likely interrupt our climb.

After Jeff got set we were finally on the trail by 8am, an hour behind schedule now.  The first section of the trail appears to be a old Jeep Trail of sorts for the first half mile before narrowing a bit to resemble a bit more of a actual hiking trail.  After an initial gain the trail mellows out for quite a ways till taking the turn on to the Mount Yale Trail.  Overall the trail is very good, nicely cut and has lots of rock staircases.  The first two hours we were right on my pace at 1K feet per hour, but I knew it wouldn’t be long till I started slowing up.  We were still in tree line, which seemed to last forever.  I think we finally cleared the trees somewhere between 11,500ft and 12,000ft.  After we gained our first 2,500ft I told Jeff to take off and not wait for me.  I warned him I was slow so I didn’t want to hold him back.

Once I was out of the trees I had my first view of Yale.  I didn’t like not being able to see the goal for near 3hrs of hard work.  There were many people high on the trail; at least 20-30 which has been turning into the norm of Colorado 14ers even during the week.  I just slowly crept up the mountain, about as fast as a tortoise.  I felt so tired I just wanted to lie down and take a nap.  This seemed difficult for me; my mind was playing mental games.  You start to think; if I go this slow will I have time to make the summit?  Or, do I even have it in me today?  The mental aspects of climbing mountains are always the toughest to overcome.  As long as weather holds and it won’t be dark on the way down my stubbornness pushes me on.  I just say to myself: You don’t really want to do this approach again do you?  And the answer is always NO.  So slowly, but surely one foot in front of the other I kept making my way up the mountain.

Marmont and Mount Princeton
Looking back now it wasn’t really hard, since there was a trail up to the ridge, but it seemed steep winding up the switchbacks.  Have you ever seen The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, where they are in a camp up this steep switchbacked road?  Well, that is exactly what this reminded me of.  I think I may have slowed down to 500ft an hour by now, which is really, really slow.  After the trudge up the winding staircase I was finally on the summit ridge.  The summit loomed so close as did the clouds.  I had been monitoring them closely on my slow hike up and didn’t see any real threat heading to Yale.  Now the Elk’s and Mount Princeton were places I wouldn’t want to be, so looks like my good karma is paying off.

From the ridge to the summit is where to route goes from Class 1 trail to Class 2 rock.  I love Class 2 and Class 3 rock; it makes you feel like you are actually climbing instead of trudging up a trail.  And for some reason I move faster on it that a trail even at 14,000ft.  I’m guessing that is because the summit is so close and you want to get there as quick as you can.  At the start of the rock section there were a few cairns to navigate by, but soon I lost them and just made my own way.  It didn’t take long, only 20 minutes from the start of the rock to the summit.  When I arrived Jeff was up there waiting for me.  He must have been there and hour, so at least it wasn’t too cold and windy for him.

I couldn’t find a benchmark so I found a nice recliner rock to sit and have my lunch and my summit beer.  It was so nice to sit and relax.  In the time we were up there about 6 other people summited.  A group of 4 from Frisco basically tagged the top took a picture and left.  I’m guessing they were afraid of the weather.  Jeff was too as with another climber Michael we met that was from St. Louis had a fear of the clouds.  They headed down just as Denny another from Missouri (different group) made it to the summit.  I was amazed to see Denny up there in a river sandal and it just made my feet hurt thinking of his trip down.  I finished my beer and started heading down.

Summit Beer
I like to think that I have a good sense of route finding.  In all the years of climbing you learn to always descend the same way you ascend, because you don’t really know what is behind door number 2.  As I was following the route down I could see Jeff and Michael were way off route, about 100-200ft off the main ridge.  I tried yelling: you’re off route.  Finally they saw me up on the ridge and I tried to signal for an upward traverse of the rock.  I kept making my way across and made sure they were still making their way.  After I gained the main trail on the ridge I saw they had re-ascended to the proper route and found their way out of harm.  They said they got into some Class 3 territory, which I don’t doubt.  One of the most important things while climbing is to stay on route and always make mental notes during your ascent, because you will need to find familiarities on your descent.  If something looks way off on the descent calm yourself, use your brain and a way out will come to you.  I have always learned if it looks hard, such as re-ascending something, that is most likely the way to go at least you know what is up when you may not know what is down.

I was glad to see them back safely on the trail, but it wasn’t over.  We knew Denny was still up there and I didn’t want to leave till we knew he was back on the main trail.  As Jeff and Mike did, Denny took the wrong way getting too far off the main ridge.  We could tell he didn’t know what to do when he threw his arms up in the air.  I went back up to try and help him navigate down while the others watched from below.  Denny was able to find a way through the rocks in his sandals.  When I reached him he took off his tevas and shook out the rocks.  I asked him if he needed tape or anything, but like he said he’s a stubborn Missourian and just put his shoes back on and continued. 

The weather was starting to get really dark over Princeton so I thought it would be best that we all descend together.  We were still 2,000ft above tree line so we had a good hike ahead of us.  We just patiently followed Denny’s pace till we were off of the switchbacks.  He slipped one or twice because river shoes really have no place on a mountain.  We were kind of shocked to see four people on their way up.  We said hello to the first guy and got off the trail to let him by and didn’t get so much as a hi or thank you.  We guessed he didn’t speak English or he was just a grump…probably both.  Next we passed another guy doing a business deal on his cell phone.  Really?  He passed us running down the mountain 20 minutes later when he finally looked up at the clouds.

Then we heard the grumbles of the gods.  Thunder…ahh shit.  But I could deal with that, it’s when the lighting bolts came down we were all like shit, fuck…run.  I asked Denny if he wanted us to wait for him at the tree line, he said no but appreciated our helping him down.  We took off as fast as three could descend, running at times then navigating through rocks when needed.  Michael was behind me and said: Did you see that flash?  No, I said.  How far?  I’m not sure.  One ridge line or two.  In-between.  Great…run.

A lot this section was rather tricky, but soon we were in the trees.  My favorite was when Michael says if you hear me yell or moan don’t worry about it.  He says from yoga they tell you to do that to let the pain out.  If that’s the case I would have been screaming like a school girl, my knees hurt like hell and my toes were on fire.  Nothing like a 270 pounder running down a 14er in big old hiking boots.  It just wasn’t right.  When I got home I found I lost another toenail…my poor feet.

Once we were in the trees the trail started heading to the west, which was good since it was away from the black cloud of death.  I was pretty sure the clouds were making their way around Yale and would avoid us, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.  We had a snack, got passed by two others that turned back on the mountain then we were off.  The trail seemed nice in the woods but the temp was heating up.  At one point the others thought it was going to rain on us so they put on some rain gear.  Not me, in this sauna you will get wetter from your sweat that the natural beauty of rain.  They soon found my point and took off their sweat suits.  I thought the hail was actually refreshing.  Maybe give me a bit of a shower for the way home?  Can’t hurt, can it.

I found my bottle of water I cached on the way up.  I see no reason in carrying extra weight that you know you will only need it on the way down.  And good thing, both Jeff and Michael needed extra water so I was more than willing to give them my extra weight.  Years ago while climbing a mountain in Idaho I ran out of water with a few miles left to the car.  Ever since then I carry extra, it may slow me down but I’m willing to deal with the extra weight. 

Now it was just a trudge down the trail.  I was down to one trekking pole since I broke the tip off of my other one on the ascent.  Now it was more of a cane than a trekking pole.  It’s hard to describe the pain in my knees without wanting to cry.  Have you ever felt a little twist and all the tendons would snap and your leg would just sit there in two?  Well I have, and on almost every climb.  My body was not made for punishment, but I still do it.  Needless to say, it was a slow walk down the trail.  The conversations we all had were a nice way to get my mind off all the aches, and soon we could hear traffic and we knew it wasn’t far.

It was another tough climb, maybe the hardest for me yet.  I guess maybe next time I wont stay up watching sports and drinking beer the night before.  But, I probably still will.  Somehow I always fight through it and make a great day of each trip.  I had an awesome time meeting Michael from St. Louis and we all shared some great stories on the way down.  Congrats to Micahel for making it up and down his first 14er!  Jeff is a quick hiker, just needs to tune up his navigations skills and he will be a great climber.  It was nice that we could all meet up for a slow descent after clearing the danger zone.  I may take a week off, but somehow the mountains always lure me back.  See you shortly my friends.

Date: 6/26/2012
Starting Elevation: 10,000ft
Mount Yale Summit: 14,196ft
Total Gained Elevation: 4,300ft
Distance: 9.61 miles
Time:  7:06 moving, 2:20 stopped. 
Climbing Partner: Jeff and Michael

 Picture Link:


  1. Great trip report! But too bad, I can't refer people to it - I've already told a few friends & family that I followed Michael down to where he was, for the sole purpose of helping to get him out of trouble. If they read this report, they will see that is not exactly the truth. (lol)

  2. You can send the link out to people on facebook or email to anyone. Remeber it's from my perspective so I don't know the "real" story of what you and Michael went through. :)

    1. All kidding aside, this is an awesome description of the day up on Yale (even though it's not technically from my perspective). I will have to look into posting reports this way. It seems to allow for a more flexible writing style, to a targeted audience. I think I'm just going to post a few of my pics on FB, and if you don't mind, I'm just going to refer them to this report. And, of course, I'll confess about losing the route near the summit and that next time, I will be more careful.