Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mt. Yale Traverse

Colorado Trail - Silver Creek TH to Mt. Yale East Ridge to Mt. Yale Southwest Slopes
Silver Creek Trailhead Elevation: 9,416 ft.
East Ridge Start Elevation: 11,919 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,196 ft.
Denny Creek Trailhead Elevation: 9,924 ft.
Distance: 10.30 mi. (my Forerunner 230)
Elevation Gain: 4,870 ft. (my GPS)
Start Time: 6:07am
East Ridge Start: 7:41am
Summit Time: 9:39am (14mins)
End Time: 11:51am

Trip Report:
There is something elegant about a full traverse of a mountain. This may be one of those "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" sort of things, but I believe in it. For years now I have been intrigued with finding and exploring new routes in the mountains, particularly when you can ascend one route and descend another. Perhaps the origin of this desire could be traced to my love of Tom Hornbein's "Everest: West Ridge" where Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld incredibly completed the first traverse of Mt. Everest by ascending the deathly West Ridge and descending the more standard South Col route. It was death-defying.
Early hiking on the Colorado Trail

Nothing quite so crazy here in Colorado. Nonetheless, the opportunity arose for me to give a more basic traverse a try on Mt. Yale. My father and I have for a couple of years now been eyeing the east ridge route on Yale and wondering what kind of a climb it might be. We made a bit of an exploratory start on it in 2015 when we hiked up the Colorado Trail from the Silver Creek trailhead to the start of the east ridge route at a saddle. My father helped this year's plan along by offering to be my driver. He could drop me off at the Silver Creek trailhead and then get a vehicle to the Denny Creek trailhead for my completion. It turned out, he and my mother would leave a vehicle there while they had other errands to attend to.
Working up the steadily ascending trail

To add to the fun of the day, I was on a strict time limit. I had a 4:25p bus from Frisco into Denver for my evening flight home. I had to be back in Buena Vista by 2pm so we could drive to Frisco at 2:40pm. I had it all timed out in my head, with a little extra cushion, so long as everything went according to plan. I decided on a 6am start time at Silver Creek and my father dropped me off there. I was wearing my regular daypack with a good amount of food, about 1.5 liters of water, and a nalgene full of Tailwind. I had a long-sleeve tech shirt and zip-off pants and the other minimal gear essentials in pack. I tried to stay light and swift today. It was 6:06am when I started and I made a reasonable pace up the Colorado Trail. I wanted to keep moving but I didn't want to bust out of the gates too fast and run out of gas. My calves were still a bit achy from yesterday's steep climb on Mt. Massive's southwest slopes.
Beautiful meadow with Yale in view

The early part of the trail from Silver Creek had a handful of fairly easy switchbacks. Its about 3/4 of a mile in when the trail straightens out and just climbs for a good mile on the southern slope of a ridge gaining a 1000 feet as you go. I was trying to keep a solid pace and the relentless climb forced me into a pair of short stops to catch breath and adjust clothing layers. The climbing begins to relent and at about 2 miles in flattens out for a bit in a beautiful meadow area. I had seen on a sign near the trailhead there had been moose sightings in the area and I honestly hoped I might find one (at a safe distance of course) in this area. I did see some moose "nuggets" on the trail but no live animals. After the flat meadow, which is beautiful of course, the trail once more climbs through the thick forest. It gains and gains until a few switchbacks bring it up to the saddle with the east ridge of Yale at about 3 1/3 miles in and 11,900 elevation. I made the saddle at 7:41am for a 1:35 climb up to this point, slightly faster than what I had done it in 2015.

360 photo from the beautiful meadow along the Colorado Trail

Signpost reminder you're on the CDT
At the saddle I found the fairly obvious markers pointing the hiker to the beginning of the east ridge route. In the clearing on the saddle there are some smaller logs on the ground in the shape of an arrow pointing directly toward the east ridge. There is no immediately obvious dirt trail but a 20 yard walk towards the slope and the thicker trees revealed a clear enough trail to begin to follow. This trail immediately begins a modest ascent along the north side of a hump on the ridge. You never actually top out on the hump or the ridge crest. As you bypass the hump the trail begins a short descent down to another saddle which ends up being the low point on the east ridge at just over 12,000 ft.

360 photo of the east ridge just before dropping to the low point at 12,000

Crossing Silver Creek

After the low saddle the ridge begins to climb rapidly. I was surprised how quickly I was getting gased in here. My calves were still burning from yesterday and I think my quick ascent of the Colorado trail didn't leave me with much of a margin. I would push upwards til my heart and breathing were too labored and would rest. At times there was clear trail to follow and at times there seemed to be diverging routes. When small bumps on the ridge were encountered it was always a guessing game "left, right, or up and over". I took left at one bump and ended up in some near class 3 scrambling with light exposure.

The climbing on the east ridge was a clear example from many cases in the mountains where you look ahead and your eyes open at the perceived length and difficult of what lies ahead. You stare at challenges on the ridge and think "how am I ever getting around that?!", yet as you draw closer the reasonable routes present themselves.
At the saddle, a right turn now to the East Ridge

The crux of the ridge was navigating around a large hump on the ridge at 12,900 ft. It is obvious you don't want to go straight up and over and there is no immediately apparent route around to its right. So this makes the route-finding fairly straightforward in pushing you around to its left as you ascend. There was some minimal scrambling in moving through the rocks on the side of the Point and then some steeper ascending through very loose dirt and rock. It became an almost maddening section as footholds in the loose junk were hard to come by. I worked to hug near to the more solid rock where possible on the right side of my ascent. There was a momentary flat spot on the ridge when I finally regained it to catch my breath.

The next bit of the route looked much worse than it was. I climbed on some reasonable rock upwards with some white cliffed out rock above me. The notable white rocks look impassable but a workable trail actually works to the left of them through a wide notch in the ridge to bypass them entirely. The white rocks are the beginning of two large humps on the ridge near 13,400. The route on fairly easy rocky terrain bypasses them both to the south on a route that was also easy to follow.
First views of the East Ridge

I hadn't really made mention to this point yet of my food and water intake. I was really staying on top of my caloric intake today downing a couple of GUs, granola bars, fruit snacks and the like to keep the energy going. The Tailwind in my nalgene I also believe was very helpful. I planned to eat about 80% of my food all on the ascent leaving a few light snacks for the easy descent. The grunt that is the east ridge definitely worked out most of my energy today, particularly after having just had two large days here in Colorado. Two days prior I had climbed 5+ miles on Midland Hill and then a 7.5 mile hike into Horn Fork Basin. Yesterday it was 8+ miles on Massive's southwest slopes. The last few years I've been in pretty great shape but this week's work definitely presented a good challenge.

Looking back towards the saddle

After the two humps at 13,400 things eased up for a short while quite nicely. There was a grassy flat spot on the ridge for about a quarter of a mile. It was in hear my father and I made radio contact with our FRS radios. He was updating me on their dropoff of the vehicle at Denny Creek while I could update him on my timeline. At the end of the grassy flat portion loomed the last real logistical obstacle of the climb. There at about 13,500 was a snowpatch guarding further passage. Above and beyond the snow was a rock hump. One could head north off the ridge and descend low enough to go around the snow but that would be massive time and effort. There was a lateral path to the northwest across the snow that could have been do-able but out in the middle of the snow would have been exposed to the open slope. I chose the third option, to go straight up the snow for about 30 feet and then into some large rock that could be easily scrambled to the ridge crest. The snow was perhaps a 30-40 degree angle and there were clear divots/steps into it suggesting someone had already taken this path before. I was able to kick-step with the steps and a little balance work with my hands to make this work well and soon enough I was in the rocks.

An early rock hump on the ridge, bypassed to the left

The remaining terrain was fairly straightforward and just involved the expenditure of energy to climb the remaining couple hundred feet to the summit. The last bit of the ridge nearly leveled out before gaining the true summit. I could see a handful of people already on top who must have come up the standard route. I hadn't seen anybody in my hiking on the CT or on the east ridge of Yale up to this point. It was a nice private hike today to the top. I summited at 9:39a making for a 3:33 ascent from the Silver Creek TH. A couple guys with dogs were on top and we were shortly joined by a young gal with a Michigan sweatshirt on (Go Blue). True to modern progressive Colorado, the two guys pulled out a joint and asked me if I wanted to smoke with them for a bit. I politely declined and said I wanted to save my lungs for the hike out. I took about 15 minutes on top today.

360 Photo from the summit of Mt. Yale

Looking up at Point 12,900 still out ahead
The descent was a quick flash reminder from two months prior when we had ascended Yale in the snow. The summit ridge was pretty much out of the snow which was an immediate difference. The primary saddle was also out of the snow now. The upper switchbacks on the southwest slopes were also snow-free making them abundantly easier to follow than in April. The more mellow terrain below the upper switchbacks was still holding snow in parts and one or two small patches had to be walked through at low-angles. In here I met a handful more people coming up. During my descent i was surprised how many younger ladies, by themselves, were coming up. They reasonably looking like low 20's in age as well. Nothing against women and mountains, but at that age hiking 14ers by myself would have felt like pushing the safety margin a bit.

360 photo from my stop at 12,500 to take in all the views

Steep dirt and loose rock after bypassing Point 12,900
At around 12,500 I pulled briefly off trail to a rock pile where I setup my Gear 360 camera for a nice shot and to eat up the last of my applesauce cups. On both of my big hikes this week I tried out applesauce and it tastes great on the mountain and is consumable without spoon. The downside is the larger trash it makes and the need to stash that in a zip-lock baggie somewhere in the pack.

As I descended into treeline it was interesting to finally follow the full standard route in summer conditions where twice in the past 3 years we had made this descent in deep snow making our own route and postholing miserably. I could now see what things really looked like. At the meadow around 11,400 where most of the steeper descending and switchbacks end I noted how wonderfully easy it was to move through without a posthole every 3 feet.
Looking up at the white rock just below 13,400

The last remaining surprise of the day was discovering that the "ice fall" was still present around 11,200 on the trail. It had only marginally begun to melt since we saw it in full force in April. There was an interesting crack, a "crevasse" almost that had melted into it. The surface now had plenty of dirt and pine needles on it and a soft crust that almost made it walkable. It still seemed many folks worked to bypass it where possible.

The remaining hike out was a mixture of powerhiking and a modest run. The sun was doing its best to find me and beat down on me so I had to keep my top covered as much as possible even as I tried to stay cool. I reached the trailhead at 11:51a for a 1:58 descent, counting the 8 minute stop I made at the rock pile for pictures and food. I loved this traverse hike. It was exciting and challenging to work up Yale's East Ridge and still an enjoyable workout to descend the more familiar standard side. I would imagine the Avalanche Gulch approach to the ridge to be equally as interesting as the Silver Creek side for a future option.

Nearing the points at 13,400

Wonderful flat portion of the ridge

Snow blocking the route at 13,500

Short snow climb to gain the rocks

Harvard, Columbia, and Horn Fork Basin

Nearing the summit now

Summit shot to the southern Sawatch

On the descent, looking back to the summit area, almost no snow left

On the descent

We postholed miserably in here on our winter descent in 2015

The wonderful meadow is now snow free

Denny Creek really going well right now

Ice fall remnants

Mini "crevasse" in the ice fall

Almost back to the trailhead


I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).  

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