Ascent of Mt Yale via Denny Creek; descent via north face, 5/15/2011
Crew: Gerlinde (telerina13), Chris (otherbrotherdarryl), myself (pioletski)
Yale seems to have an undeserved reputation as a dull ski descent among the skiers that frequent these pages. I have a remedy for that: ski a line that's not in the books. This approach involves a lot of time-consuming exploration but, as in this case, can be very rewarding. We enjoyed one of the most beautiful days I have had in this project.
I first spotted the line on the north side of Yale from pictures on this forum. Look at virtually any TR from climbs of Columbia or Harvard on snow; most of them have pictures of Yale from the north, and you can see 3 snow-filled gullies that drop directly north from a point on the northwest ridge of Yale. I couldn't find any description of anyone skiing the route (though I'm sure we weren't the first), so I took on the task of creating my own beta. I hiked up the Kroenke Lake trail in June of 2009, after the spring ski season was basically over, to look at the couloirs from below, and I liked what I saw. On Friday, 2 days before our trip, I made another reconnaissance to make sure of a few things: stable snow, clean entrance, no threats from cornices, trolls or dragons. Everything looked so fine that I was confident taking two of my most beloved peeps on the trip.
My buddy Grant joined me for the recon. Here's Grant on the trail:
In addition to the invaluable information, our exploratory trip yielded some spectacular photos. Here are Antero, Shavano and Tabeguache:
and Harvard and Columbia:
We began on Saturday evening by shuttling a car to the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead. The intended route was to start at the Denny Creek trailhead and ascend via a variation on the usual summer route. Saturday afternoon had been stormy, with clearing predicted after midnight. Sunday was predicted to be cold, with gathering storms in the afternoon. Keying in on the "cold" part, we allowed ourselves the luxury of sleeping in until 5:00 am, and left the trailhead at 6:00. It had been quite a while since I left a trailhead without a headlamp on:
Here are Gerlinde and me on the trail...
... and Chris with his colonoscopy prep bottle. He has this odd theory about using jet propulsion to help him climb. I'm not convinced the idea is quite ready for prime time:
Like all landlocked pirates, Chris wears his Jolly Roger on his head:
As we skinned up toward timberline, we enjoyed some spectacular atmospherics from the low-lying clouds in the valley:
Gerlinde took this photo of myself and Chris at timberline...
... as our first view of the summit appeared:
Here's Gerlinde workin' it:
Once again, fabulous views to the south:
The route follows a broad, gentle ridge that allows for a very efficient ascent on skins:
We attained the northwest ridge at about 14,000 feet, somewhat higher than the standard route; this enabled us to keep our skins on for most of the ascent. The view to the east was a veritable ocean of clouds. Here are East and West Buffalo:
We arrived at the summit at about 11:30...
... and were rewarded with a spectacular view of (r to l) Columbia, Harvard, Oxford and Belford:
Requisite summit shots:
Now for the fun part. (A video of the ski run is in the works, watch this space.) We began our descent by traversing to the northwest along the top of the Silver Creek cirque. The northwest ridge of Yale splits at about 13,900 feet. One branch continues northwest, defining the climber's left edge of the west face. The other heads northeast and forms the northern fence of the Silver Creek basin. Our route was directly between, down the north-facing gullies that I spotted in the aforementioned photos. The entrance was easy; we dropped a few turns, then trended to skier's left, made a few more turns down the spine between two gullies, and then moved further to skier's left to complete the descent to 12,500 feet. Most of the face was covered with wind-milled powder, and made for excellent skiing. The lower portion was classic corn. Below this point we entered the mashed potato zone and then the mush. Fortunately, the low-lying clouds had allowed the snow at the lower elevations to retain enough consistency to prevent us from completely bogging down.
Looking back at our tracks from timberline:
Once we entered the woods, we had the feeling that we had been transported to the rainforests of Oregon:
The exit from this point felt long, although it only took us an hour and a half to reach the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead. The prospect of a cooler of beer at the truck was our incentive. We continued north until we crossed the creek, then traversed until we found the Kroenke Lake trail and followed it home. We had some very welcome rewards at the trailhead!
Image #25 (not yet uploaded)
Cheers, thanks for reading! I was very happy with this day: a great ski run on an interesting route, a celebration of my brother Chris' birthday, and a spectacularly beautiful excursion.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):