One of the benefits of a La Nina winter is usually a late start to the big snows in the high country. This year proved no different and we were able to sneak in a relatively “summery” climb of Mt. Yale in late October.
Kris and I are not ones to start a hike late, not intentionally at least. Unfortunately camping wasn’t really a choice the night before the hike, so we left Denver at 3 am in order to be at the Denny Creek TH off of Cottonwood Pass by 6 am. A wide open I-70 let us accomplish this task with ease.
We completed the first 2 miles in the early morning hours with our headlamps. The hike started off gradually, gaining only 591, 557, and 725 ft respectively for the first 3 miles. The trail was pretty easy to follow thanks to the hard work of CFI earlier this summer. The only wrong turn we took was into a meadow across a bridge. We were able to instantly pick up where we were though and get back on path. Had it been light out, it would have been less of an issue.
Around sunrise, we were approaching treeline and the mountains to the south of us slowly revealed their gently snow-capped selves. As beautiful as the mountains are at all times…something snowy peaks always gives me pause and makes me further appreciate them.
I previously mentioned that the first 3 miles weren’t tremendously profitable in terms of elevation gain. This meant severe punishment for the last two miles. Our elevation gain on each of those miles was 1,159 and 1,196 ft. respectively. Our pace slowed from a quick 25- 30 minutes/mile to over an hour/mile. Oh…and we were hit with winds in excess of 30 miles an hour. It went from being a pleasant morning hike to a true 14er climb in the matter of an instant.
One thing that I kept noting on Yale was just how big the mountain felt. It seemed to be loom over us more than other peaks had done.
We gained the ridge we had been aiming for and were greeted with even stronger winds now that we were exposed. Our legs were fried though, so we paused for a break. We spent most of it admiring Mt. Harvard to the north. It was a new perspective to look at the woods we had gotten lost in and how small they seemed from above. Amazing how overwhelming things can get when you are living through them. When you withdraw a bit though, it seems so much easier.
We scrambled across the final 200 vertical feet, enjoying that there was just enough snow to make it a touch hairier than your standard scramble. Many of the rocks were larger than what we were used to dealing with as well.
We were on the summit in 20 minutes and what a reward it was.
Over 30 of Colorado’s 54 14ers are visible from Yale according to Gerry Roach. While I in no way could name them, they were certainly a sight to behold. Some of the following are the summit views we experienced.
After 15 minutes on the summit, we turned to head back. It’s always rewarding to be the first group on the summit on any given day. Today, we were that group. It was so windy on the summit, that on our way down the ridge, we passed another group and were unable to yell to them even though they were 15 feet away. They actually never saw us.
After a 4 hour climb, it took us a little over 2 hours to get back to the TH. Much of the trail was so steep that it was easier to run and let gravity do its work. While this got us back to the car quicker, it certainly took its toll on my quads for the next 3 days.
Mt. Yale Stats (14,196 ft.)
Elev. Gain: 4,236 ft.
Mileage: 9.7 miles