MOUNTAIN: Mt. Yale ROUTE: Southwest Slopes from Denny Creek (standard) RT DISTANCE: 9.5 miles RT GAIN: 4,300' RT TIME: 8.5 hours CLIMBERS: Justin (Lamb), Justin (justiner), Ryan (kushrocks), Nick (MonGoose), Jeff (jhobby), Ike (IkeB), Jeff (SurfNTurf)
The snow totals this winter are, so far, pathetic. Most of us are hoping that turns around soon, but for now it’s a cherry-picking festival on the winter 14ers. Is it cheating? Do the blingflakes count? Some folks on this site have taken to referring snowflake-chasing as “The Game,” and as my good friend Omar Little would say:
All right. I like it. Let's roll with The Wire theme.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I harbor no illusions of finishing the winter 14ers. The objective danger on several peaks is too high for me, and I have the utmost respect for those who have completed or nearly completed the list. It's far from a game. Relegating it to such status has always seemed eyeroll-worthy to me. So let's have some fun with it, shall we?
“If anybody asks you if you in this game, you tell 'em you in it for life, aight? You play it hard, you play it tight, and you make sure ****** know you gonn' stand by your people. No loose talk, no second thoughts and no snitching. Play it like that.” – D'Angelo Barksdale
The past few days presented a near-perfect weather window. With little snow to speak of, the avalanche danger could be mitigated. Yet another post in Climbing Connection rustled up a solid group to cap off the long weekend on Mt. Yale. Justin (Justiner), Justin (Lamb), Ike (IkeB) and Jeff (thobby) met Nick (MonGoose), Ryan (kushrocks) and me at the summer trailhead at 7 a.m. sharp. Oh, and Ryan's superdog Sophie, who's climbed 41 peaks. “Not counting repeats." - Ryan
The East Ridge from Avalanche Gulch is the standard winter route, as it avoids some avalanche danger presented on the Southwest Slopes. Talk about a misleading name. Sadly and luckily, the snow on Mt. Yale is more reminiscent of late June than mid-January. We opted for the Southwest Slopes from Denny Creek because it requires only 9.5 miles and 4,300' of gain. There's minimal snow on the road; even 2WD vehicles can make the Denny Creek parking lot with no issue. A last-minute decision to leave snowshoes and avalanche gear in the cars turned out to be 100 percent correct.
Setting out at first light.
The trail is boot-packed all the way to treeline, and there's one large section of water ice crossing the trail. Microspikes are essential. We started at about sunrise, and in the warm temps (forecast high: 35 degrees) we lollygagged and took lots of short breaks. Everyone in the group had a great sense of humor and it was obvious we were in for a hell of an outing. The trail junction came before we even realized we were hiking (go right).
The trail flattens out for a while, then switchbacks steeply up toward treeline. Whoever put in the trench did a fantastic job route-finding, as it avoids any miserable terrain. In May 2011, when I first climbed Mt. Yale, the trench had a knack for finding the crappiest path possible into tree wells, through thick branches and up still hillsides.
We hit treeline and sunshine concurrently. It would have been T-Shirt Time, except also arriving was a steady 15-20 mile per hour wind. The singular trench split into about a half-dozen individual footpaths, and instead of following others we chose what looked like the safest and easiest route to the upper plateau. This consisted of traversing right to a small notch that, once gained, offered access to snow-free slopes.
Trail junction -- take a right, yo.
Justin Squared. (Photo Credit: Nick Gianoutsos).
Jeff hammers up one of the steeper sections.
Nick clings to a boulder in the face of gaping exposure.
We aimed for the mini-saddle where the sun is hitting.
Mt. Yale finally popped into sight, as did the standard summer trail. It disappeared frequently under sections of snow, but we were always able to find it again a few hundred feet later. We continued to take lots of breaks to chat and enjoy the stellar weather. The miles slid by unnoticed in the company of such an enjoyable group. Jeff decided to turn around at this point, but not before being rewarded for his hard work with exceptional above-treeline winter views. Jeff defines the term “good spirits,” and I'd bet that even with no summit he had the most fun out of all of us.
“A man must have a code.” – Bunk “Oh, no doubt.” – Omar
We continued to follow the trail all the way up to the saddle. From there, it's a right turn and roughly 300 feet to the summit. The cairned route meanders below the ridgeline to climber's right, but for the most part we stayed high for some enjoyable scrambling. The wind picked up to a gusting 30-35 miles per hour, and for the first time all day we dug into our packs for extra layers. Led by Ryan and Sophie, one by one we trickled onto the 14,196-foot summit. It was the first time on Yale for Ike and both Justins, and the first winter 14er for Ike and justiner. Way to go guys.
Ryan and Sophie wonder, "Where is the snow?"
Apparently we don't have to dream of summer. It's here.
The trail becomes more apparent.
The summit beckons.
Justin (er) takes his final steps to 14,196'.
Nick taking the high line.
Quite the welcoming committee.
"Look the part, be the part, mother****er." - Prop Joe (Photo credit: Nick Gianoutsos)
In a lot of ways, this trip – and this weekend as a whole – was a reawakening. Regardless if we lack the courage or self-awareness to admit it, this community is rife with drama, politics, competition, egos and rivalries. That's not why I got into climbing and that's not why I climb. Little by little, I felt myself getting sucked into it. It disgusted me. The joie de vivre I got from the mountains slowly diminished, and I didn't like the person I was becoming; the face I saw in the mirror was no longer my own. I count myself lucky that I realized it before things truly got out of hand. I put everything negative on the chopping block, cut myself off from the bad influences and sources of discontent. In the words of my good friend Dillon, “BOOM!”
“You cannot lose if you do not play.” – Marla Daniels
“Politics is a good thing, partner.” – Clay Davis “That’s a minority opinion.” – Carcetti
“You know, Avon, you gotta think about what we got in this game for, man. Huh? Was it the rep? Was it so our names could ring out on some ****ing ghetto streetcorner, man? Naw, man. There's games beyond the ****ing game.” – Stringer Bell
Summits like Huron Peak, Redcloud/Sunshine and Mt. Yale are a reminder of why I do climb. It's not for approval. It's not to compete. It's not to impress. It's not for attention. It's not to fill some hole in my insecurity-ridden heart with snowflakes, likes and comments. It's to gain personal clarity and spend time in beautiful spaces with good people. Sure, I enjoy the summits, the views, the feeling of accomplishment. Those are bonuses. But at the center of it all, I enjoy the social aspect: the bonding, the "Brotherhood of the Rope," the jokes, the lessons learned from others and the opportunities to pass on what little knowledge I possess.
If I may wear my heart on my sleeve for a moment, I've bounced around a lot in my life. Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, New Mexico, Boston, Denver. Acquaintances are a dime a dozen. Good friends, true friends, the people you genuinely care for, are a rare treasure. I had the largest circle of true friends I’ve ever had in my life throughout 2012, and in many ways I have 14ers.com to thank for that. But the times, they are a changin'. I'm damn happy for and proud of the personal progress everyone in The Brat Pack (a tongue-in-cheek nickname, if that wasn’t obvious) is making, it's just hard not to feel left behind. We're still as close as ever, but for many of them, the mountains simply aren't as important as they used to be. That's a positive thing.
“Yeah, now, well, the thing about the old days – they the old days.” – Slim Charles
For me, the mountains are still central. I went through a rough patch this fall, for reasons discussed and others, and I'm happy to say I've pulled out of it. How can one not be at peace, making such new friends and reconnecting with old ones as I did this weekend? The past is the past, and it shapes us. Learn from it. Use it. Smile back at it fondly with a glass of whiskey in your hand, listening to sad old country songs. But don't live in it. There's a present. There's a future.
“This is you trying to make the past be everything, mean everything. You don't even want to think about the here and now. Sorry, Bubs. Shame ain't worth as much as you think. Let it go.” - Walon
“Ain't no shame in holdin' on to grief, as long as you make room for other things, too.” – Bubbles
Taking shelter from the wind.
The Southern Sawatch.
Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia.
Group summit shot. (Photo credit: Nick Gianoutsos)
We stayed on the summit for close to an hour, despite the incessant wind. Nick even managed to fire up his new stove and make a hot meal. The day couldn’t have been more bluebird. We were treated to epicly clear panoramic views of nearly every range in Colorado. I only wish there was more snow. We would have lingered longer, but sometimes even superdogs get cold; it was time for Sophie to head down. We departed the summit and picked our individual ways down the somewhat exposed ridge, once again with Ryan and Sophie ranging far ahead. Another full-stop was called at the saddle to regroup and subtract layers. “What's mountaineering?” Nick asks. “Changing clothes all day.”
Descending mostly bare rock to reach the saddle.
The packed snow and exposed summer trail allowed us to bomb our way down. We even managed a 20' glissade right below treeline, the first of the year. Sheltered from the wind, the day was so springlike we stripped to baselayers for the remaining hike out. Before long we reached the trail junction and knew we were a short distance away from the cars. We even caught Jeff a few moments before the trailhead and finished the same full group we'd started as.
Nick, stylin' his way back to treeline.
Ike ripping a brief glissade.
We decompressed and shared beers in the parking lot (thanks to Ike), watching snowmobilers come down from the apparently popular Cottonwood Pass. The plan was to hit Asian Palate in Buena Vista, but it didn't open for dinner until 5 p.m. and we instead went to Pizza Works. It was somehow my first time there, and the place didn't disappoint. We inhaled $10 fourteen-inch pizzas and $5 pitchers of beer. Finally, at the still early winter hour of 6 p.m., we went our separate ways. I can't wait to hike with these guys again. Thanks for the fantastic day!
“Tell me something, Jimmy. How exactly do you think it all ends?” – Lester Freamon “What do you mean?” – Jimmy McNulty “A parade? A gold watch? A shining Jimmy-McNulty-Day moment, when you bring in a case so sweet everybody gets together and says, 'Aw, ****. He was right all along. Should've listened to the man.' The job will not save you, Jimmy. It won't make you whole, it won't fill your ass up.” “I don't know, a good case—“ “Ends. They all end. The handcuffs go click and it's over. The next morning, it's just you in a room with yourself.” “Until the next case.” “Boy, you need something else outside of this here.” “Like what, dollhouse miniatures?” “Hey, hey, hey, a life. A life, Jimmy. You know what that is? It's the **** that happens while you're waiting for the moments that never come.”
Oh, and give your thanks to Lamb for the .gpx file.
“Let's go home.” – Jimmy McNulty
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.