Altitude Notes: Entry Four

Mt. Yale 14,196 Feet Above Sea Level
06 November 2021

The Approach

The weather at elevation plays a big role in planning a hike or climb on a 14er, and waiting for a good window can be a major source of frustration. The plan had been to head up to Mt. Yale a week earlier, but a storm had moved in unexpectedly and with it about a foot of snow was dumped on the Sawatch Range, causing a delay in getting to this objective. With another system not far behind, I would either have to put heading up on hold another week or make a move.

After keeping an eye on the weather forecast and checking the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website, conditions for the area looked stable, and with a short weather window I decided to do Mt. Yale smash-and-grab style. Of the two main routes, conditions looked best for the Southwest Slopes route. First call came at the zero-est of dark thirties and after the three hour and some change drive to Denny Creek trailhead, just outside Buena Vista, I was ready to get started on the long march up at 0600.

bigtopo L1200xThe Route

Southwest Slopes

Distance: 9.5 Miles Round Trip

Elevation Gain: 4,300 Feet


The Hike

The trail was packed snow and ice, but luckily well tracked making for easy route finding through the treeline. Micro-spikes were a bonus to have underfoot, as a faceplant would have been a likely scenario without the magic of traction. They were especially handy at the two stream crossings since the logs bridging the gaps were iced over, and a fall into the icy streams would have made for a miserable type 3 kind of fun day.

Once above treeline the view of Mt. Princeton to the south came in and was a spectacular site. The trail continues through several rock fields in the alpine, and the elevation gain becomes more noticeable. Once at the southern headwall the switchbacks lead up to the saddle and terrain becomes substantially steeper. A right turn at the saddle and past the giant cairn takes you up the ridge to where some scrambling, and a small bit exposure, leads past a false summit and onto the Yale summit proper.

Winds were up, as is usually the case in the Colorado alpine, and concern for losing a memorial bracelet was for sure on my mind. I received one bracelet on loan for SSG Matthew Kimmel from a buddy from 3rd Batt, Mark Kocher. The other, for PFC Nathan Stahl, was on hand as well and there was no way I was going to sacrifice either to the wind gods that day. After paying my respects to these two warriors, I headed back to the trailhead, and home. A long day but well worth the effort.