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On Walkabout On: Mt. Yale, Colorado via the Denny Creek Trailhead

Basic Information

  • Name: Mount Yale
  • Where: Buena Vista, Colorado
  • Max Elevation: 14,196 feet
  • Distance: 9.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,136 feet
  • Time: 7-9 hours
  • Difficulty: EasyModerateHardDifficult
  • More Information: 14ers.com

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Topographic Map of the Trail

Mt. Yale Topographic Map

Elevation Map for Mt. Yale

Mt. Yale Elevation Map

Narrative

I have been itching to start climbing 14ers again this year and unfortunately the snow conditions in the high country have been very dangerous all year due to the threat of avalanches.  I have actually been trying to begin my 14er season the past two weeks, but my days off and good weather have not been able to coincide with each other.  Finally this past Saturday (June 7, 2014) it appeared that I had a good weather window early in the morning for the Sawatch Range with rain and even snow in the high elevations forecasted to hit as early 10:00 AM.  This meant I had to get a really early start which saw me leaving Colorado Springs at 2:00 AM in the morning to get to Buena Vista to hike up the 14,196 foot Mt. Yale. To reach Buena Vista from Colorado Springs it is an easy drive heading West on Highway 24.  From downtown Buena Vista I saw the sign pointing towards Cottonwood Pass which directed me to take a left onto Main Street.  Main Street eventually became County Road 306 that took me to the Denny Creek trailhead:

The Denny Creek Trailhead is where the hike up Mt. Yale begins.  I decided to hike up Mt. Yale because I had read online that the snow conditions were currently very safe.  As I exited Buena Vista I was surprised by what a high quality road CR 306 is.  It was paved all the way to the trailhead.  This is rarity for 14er trailheads.  Here is a picture I took later in the day of the road with Mt. Yale hovering above it:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is another picture I took later in the day that shows the trailhead sign:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Due to the high quality road and the big sign this ended up being one of the easiest trailheads I have found for a 14er despite it being dark out.  I arrived at the Denny Creek trailhead at 0:430 where I saw four other vehicles parked with people appearing to be sleeping inside of them.  I prepped my gear and got myself ready for my hike as quietly as possible hoping not to wake anyone up.  I set off on my hike at 4:45 AM.  It was pitch dark out as I walked over to the trailhead designated by this US Forest Service sign:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

This hike is fairly short for being a 14er with a round-trip distance of 9.5 miles.  What that means though is that the hike was going to be steep and the steepness was apparent from the start.  The first mile of the hike was a steady ascent in the darkness.  At the one mile mark there is a creek crossing which was a bit sketchy due to the creek’s water running very high due to the early summer snow melt.  The rocks typically used to cross the creek were mostly covered by fast moving water.  Using my trekking poles and my headlamp to light the way I was able to get across the creek without getting my boots wet.  There was more creek crossings after that in the darkness that fortunately had log bridges to cross such as this one that I took a picture of later in the morning:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

At this first creek crossing a hiker that was traveling light passed me.  We spoke for a little while and went on our own ways up the mountain.  Not knowing exactly what the snow conditions were I had packed my snowshoes for this hike.  Seeing the great time the prior hiker that was traveling light without snowshoes was making I was wondering if I made a mistake to bring them?  Hopefully the extra weight did not slow me down enough to where I would not make the summit before the clouds rolled in.

From this first stream crossing just a short distance up the trail is a critical turn.  At 1.25 miles it is important to take a right at the below sign that I took a picture of later in the day:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Due to having a route description I knew I had to make this right and kept my eye on the distance I had walked on my Garmin Fenix.  In the darkness it would be very easy for someone to miss seeing this sign if they do not know to look for it.  Continuing up the trail takes hikers away from Mt. Yale and towards Brown’s Pass and Hartenstein Lake.  You do now want to go that way, make sure to look for the sign.

As I made the right the trail continued its steady ascent up the mountain.  There was one section of the trail that was washed out from snow melt rushing down the side of the mountain and over the trail.  Here is a picture of this washed out section from later in the day:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Eventually the sun came up and I could see that the skies were blue and beautiful.  This motivated me to keep pushing up the mountain as quickly as I could before any clouds rolled in.  For the most part as I hiked up the mountain the trail as easy to follow until I came to a basin just below treeline that was covered with thick snow that had postholing footprints going in all directions:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I walked around for a little while trying to find the trail, but could not find it.  I looked up and I could see the hiker that passed me earlier on the hill above me.  I figured maybe he found the trail so I just started hiking straight up the steep slope in his general direction:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

As I powered my way up this steep slope I could feel that the training I have been doing on the Manitou Incline was paying off.  I kept a steady pace without stopping all the way up the slope and did not feel tired at all.  Here is view looking down this steep slope back down towards the posthole basin below:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Since I was breaking above the treeline I began to have my first views of the surrounding mountains as well:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

On top of the steep slope I came to a small basin filled with snow.  This snow was hard packed and I walked right across it with no issues:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

As I walked across the basin it was pretty amazing to see how deep some of the snow was:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

By walking across the snow in the basin it ended up leading me right to the trail:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

From here the trail was easy to follow with only a few sections covered in snow that was easy to skirt around.  On this section of the hike I found myself continuously marveling at the view I had of the Three Apostles out in the distance:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Though these peaks are 13ers, visually they are in my opinion the most scenic mountains of the Sawatch Range due to their awesome ruggedness that is such a contrast from the rest of the peaks in the range:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

More views of the Three Apostles can be seen at the below link from my hike last year up the 14,003 foot Huron Peak:

As I approached the upper slopes of Mt. Yale I could see a few snowfields in front me.  Would I actually be able to use these snowshoes I brought with me?:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

As it turns out the snowfields were frozen solid and were very easy to cross:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I was now at 13,000 feet and seeing that all the snowfields could be crossed without snowshoes I decided to stash them plus some of the extra cold weather gear I brought behind a rock near this sign:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I was pretty tired by now due to carrying all that weight up to this altitude.  Plus I had not been this high up in altitude in over 6 months and I was feeling the affects of the thin air.  I rested at the sign for about 15 minutes before continuing on with the final push to the summit.  I found that just passed the sign was the steepest section of the hike that gains the ridgeline to the summit:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

However, I felt great without all the extra gear in my pack and powered up the steep switchbacks towards the ridgeline above me:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is a panorama picture I took using my iPhone 5S from this steep section looking down on the snowfields below:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

On the top of the steep switchbacks I came to the rocky ridgeline that leads to the summit:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

There was a few cairns that marked the route through the rocks that required some scrambling to get through which is what gives Mt. Yale a Class 2 rating:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

There was a few icy sections as I scrambled through the rocks, but not enough to where I needed to put on microspikes:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I was definitely feeling a bit winded from the high altitude since the rocky ridgeline was around 14,000 feet in altitude.  I was very happy to see the true summit up ahead which meant I was done with the rocks:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I ended up reaching the summit at 8:45 AM in the morning which meant I hiked up the mountain in 4 hours.  The true summit of Mt. Yale is actually hard to find because it is just a long ridgeline.  So I walked over to what appeared to be the biggest pile of rocks and stood on it.  Here is a view from this pile of rocks looking to the East:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is a view looking towards the West:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

On the summit I caught up with the hiker that passed me earlier.  We talked for a bit and helped take each others picture.  As usual everyone I meet while hiking on 14ers are really cool people.  After he began his descent down the mountain I had the whole summit to myself not including this marmot that was wandering around and checking me out:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I sat down for a little bit to snack, drink some water, and  take pictures of the surrounding scenery.  Here is the view looking South directly towards the 14,197 foot Mt. Princeton and other high peaks in the southern Sawatch Range:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is a closer look at Mt. Princeton:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

It did not appear there was a whole lot of snow on Princeton much like there was not a whole lot of snow on Mt. Yale.  Beyond Mt. Princeton I could also see the summit of the 14,269 foot Mt. Antero:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I climbed Mt. Antero last summer and more about this hike can be read at the below link:

Even further in the distance I could make out the summits of the 14,229 foot Mt. Shavano and the 14,155 foot Mt. Tabeguache:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Scanning further to the Southwest I could see the mountains near where the ski town of Crested Butte is located:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Scanning to the Southwest I could see Hartenstein Lake tucked way down in the mountains below me:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is a closer look at Hartenstein Lake:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

The lake looked like it would be a nice place to take a camping trip to some day. Even further out to the Southwest I could make out the San Juan Mountains to include the 14,309 foot Uncompahgre Peak:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Uncompahgre Peak is another mountain I hiked last summer.  More about this awesome mountain can be found at the below trip report:

Here is a panorama picture I took looking towards the South from the summit:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Even further out in the distance towards the West I could see the rugged Elk Range:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the Elk Range which appeared to have more snow than any of the other mountain ranges I could see:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

To the Northwest there were many rugged peaks of the Sawatch Range that could be seen.  One that really stood out though was the 14,003 Huron Peak:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is a closer look at Huron Peak:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I actually hiked up Huron Peak in November 2013 and this mountain offers some fantastic views because of how deep in the mountains it is.  You can read more about this hike at the below link:

Across from Huron Peak was the 14,067 foot Missouri Mountain (far right):

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Across from Missouri Mountain I could also see the summits of the 14,197 foot Mt. Belford (left) and the 14,153 foot Mt. Oxford (right):

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Further off to the Northwest I could see the 14,336 foot La Plata Peak:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Even further off to the North I could see the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains, the 14,433 foot Mt. Elbert:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Immediately across from Mt. Yale to the North, the view was dominated by the impressive 14,420 Mt. Harvard (left) and the 14,073 foot Mt. Columbia (right):

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia are both on my short list to hike up this year.  However, I think I will wait for at least another month to attempt these peaks because of how much snow is remaining in the basin between these two mountains.

Here is a panorama picture I took from the summit looking towards the Northwest:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is the view looking East where Buena Vista could be see lying below Mt. Yale, but not much else due to the cloud cover:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Typically the 14,115 foot Pikes Peak could be seen to the East from here, but it was unfortunately swallowed by the clouds.  Looking around me it appeared it would not be long before clouds would begin to swallow the Sawatch Range as well as I began to see them form around the Buffalo Peaks across from me:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

The incoming clouds was my cue to begin my descent back down the mountain.  So I carefully walked back down from the summit and then even more carefully traversed through the rocky ridgeline:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is a panorama picture I took as I descended the rocky ridgeline:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

As I began my descent down the steep slope below the rocky ridgeline I happened to spot some hikers that were making their way up this scree field:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I would later find out that these hikers could not find the trail while negotiating through the snow covered basin and decided to head up the scree field.  It looked like some tough hiking trying to go up that scree field and I was glad that I ascended the way I did and found the trail.  Here is a panorama picture I took during my descent of the upper slopes of Mt. Yale:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I was making good time down the mountain and within an hour I was hiking back through treeline:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

As I hiked through the trees I was able to spot a few wildflowers that were starting to come out:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

The trail was in good shape until once again I reached the snow filled basin where it was impossible to find the trail:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

By using my Garmin Fenix I was able to quickly find the trail again.  After the snow filled basin the trail continued to steadily descend and cross a number of creeks:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Since I hiked this section of the trail in the dark earlier in the morning I could not really see how high the water was flowing.  Since I was now walking down this section of the trail in the daylight I was quite impressed by how much water was flowing down these creeks:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Something else I noticed as I hiked down the trail was this tree that appeared to have had its bark scratched off of it by a bear:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Here is the biggest stream crossing that required that I cross three separate log bridges:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Like the other creeks I crossed this one as well had an impressive amount of water flowing down it:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

The rest of the hike down ended up being just a pleasant walk in the woods as I enjoyed seeing the leaves sprout on all the aspen trees:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

After descending for two hours and fifty minutes and found myself back at the trailhead:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I reached the trailhead shortly before noon and now found the parking lot overflowing with cars:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

I only counted a total of nine people that I saw hiking up Mt. Yale the whole morning, but I saw many people walking on the first mile of the trail during my descent that appeared to just be taking a short walk in the woods.  Besides all the vehicles, something else I noticed was that the summit of Mt. Yale could actually be seen from the trailhead:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

From the trailhead the drive back down CR 306 was a scenic one as I passed Rainbow Lake that was surrounded by emerald green mountains:

Picture from Mt. Yale, Colorado

Conclusion

My hike up Mt. Yale took me four hours to ascend and two hours and fifty minutes to descend.  Including the thirty minutes I spent on the summit this made the round-trip time to complete this hike seven hours and twenty minutes.  I was pretty happy with my time considering this was the first 14er I did this year and was carrying a lot of extra gear.  I may have gotten my 14er season off to a late start this year, but I found Mt. Yale to really be a great peak to start it off with.

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