Peak(s):  Mt. Yale  -  14,196 feet
Date Posted:  02/02/2021
Modified:  02/03/2021
Date Climbed:   02/02/2021
Author:  AccidentalColoradan
 Got Rejected by Yale  

This is my first ever trip report, so sorry in advance if I broke any rules, by posting one where I did not complete the summit, because it's not informative for years to come, or otherwise. This is an awesome site that I've enjoyed perusing for months and wanted to finally contribute something. (Also, do not take any of the following to be complaining about information received from other 14ers.com users via condition reports, the myriad mistakes and misjudgments contained herein are entirely my own.)

Today I would like to tell you a grand tale, a veritable comedy of errors, weaving together what I thought was copious preparation, poor judgement calls, boneheaded mistakes, together with a brace of bad luck that hopefully you will find much more entertaining than I did at the time. In addition to entertainment, I hope this can help teach some lessons to other novice hikers, about this mountain and others, especially as it pertains to winter hikes. All of the lessons I learn and show can be learned elsewhere too, but this was such an experience, I felt compelled to write it all down.

I'll start out by saying that I didn't go into this hike thinking of myself as a complete novice when it comes to hiking 14ers. I started off back in May 2020 with Quandary Peak, and caught the bug immediately. I managed 21 14ers in 2020 (19 ranked for the purists), including a few sorta challenging ones on my own, like Castle and Conundrum, Lindsey, and Sneffels. I've also done Crestone Needle and Peak in one day (without traverse), and ended 2020 with Elbert in a little bit of snow.

I had really hoped to not pause on 14ers as the winter came to Colorado, coveting at least one blue snowflake in 2021. Unfortunately, I came down with my second bout of Covid in late November/early December, which knocked me on my butt and made me miss a lot of work. Between that, needing to make up for lost work (I am self employed so no sick time for me), and other life happenings, I couldn't get a chance to do any winter hikes until now.

I knew that just because I had several 14ers under my belt, and Yale was a class 2 climb, I couldn't take things lightly in the winter. I chose Yale because of recent favorable condition reports, and the fact that it has lower (although certainly not zero) avalanche risk, especially with the lighter snow we've had this season. What sealed it for me was multiple condition reports on back-to-back days (three and two days preceding my climb) that reported no need for flotation at all, only spikes, and possibly could boot all the way to the summit. My snowshoe experience is minimal, so I figured this was a chance for me to get a 14er in winter and grab that snowflake. Unfortunately I couldn't climb Sunday or Monday, so I checked the weather for Tuesday (climb day) and Monday (day in between last trip report and climb day) on the NWS website. It called for no precipitation either day, temperatures in the teens and twenties, clear skies, and winds in the twenties on Monday and Tuesday. Secure in these (seemingly) favorable weather reports and very favorable condition reports, I left my snowshoes at home and packed plenty of water, snacks, multiple layers, hand and toe warmers (I'm sure some will find these weak), my spikes and my trekking poles. I saved the summertime route photos and the photos from the most recent conditions report to my phone, and set off from Denver at 4:30. Yale here I come!

Arriving at the Denny Creek trailhead, I was pleased to find no other cars there. I set off into the forest at 7:20. Woodpeckers sounded in the trees and a white rabbit (snow hare?) greeted me as I climbed.

20945_14
So far, so good. A nicely packed wide trench, as promised.
20945_06
This rabbit (hare?) was practically right next to the trail and didn't move at all as I passed. Looking back, I see his expression as one of "you sure about this man?"


20945_03
Some beautiful views of the Sawatch (13ers?) west of Yale breaking through the trees.


As I turned off toward the Mt. Yale trail at the junction, the terrain becomes steeper. It is only as I'm slipping and sliding up the side of a hill, I realize...my trekking poles are helpfully located in the back of my car, 2 miles below me. No matter, I can manage with my spikes and my hands as needed, I tell myself. Also, aren't I huffing and puffing a little more than I should be for the steepness of the terrain and the slow speed I'm going, I ask myself? Oh well, I must just be a little out of shape, it'll be fine. These were the first two of many inklings that today would not be going as planned...

After a bit more scrabbling and slipping up the slope in the trees, I reached treeline and was greeted by...what I assumed was 1/2 (or more) of remaining Yale buried in the clouds.

20945_28
This will be fine, right? (Apologies for the poor quality phone pics)

I also found that there was faint set of snowshoe tracks going immediately up the slope to the right, and not really any sign of the trail going forward. There appeared to be just a...bit more snow in some areas than there was at the weekend. This would be truer higher up, not to mention the obscuring effect of going into the clouds. Perhaps I had relied on the forecasts too heavily or underestimated the amount of wind it takes to blow drifts of snow over previously barely covered areas. Not to be deterred though, I scrambled straight up the ridge/ shoulder to the right, and tried to make my way towards the main ridge as best I could. I felt bad for going off trail, so I at least tried to only walk on rocks or snow to reduce damage to any vegetation/loosen less already loose dirt. While I think this was the right call, it slowed me down and the clouds only got lower as I climbed. Unfortunately I didn't take too many pics in the clouds, only deciding later to make this into a trip report, but suffice it to say I got very turned around on the shoulder and moved very slowly. I was postholing up to knee deep in many spots. Part of me (the smart part) was urging me to turn around now, but I foolishly pressed on. I told myself that even though the clouds made seeing more than 150 feet ahead impossible, and I couldn't find the trail at all or snowshoe tracks for more than a few feet at a time, I wasn't cold and the wind wasn't bad so there was no hurry.


20945_02
Terrible photo, but saw a herd of about a dozen bighorn sheep descending near me as I was going up. Probably not the best sign... They also kept coming closer to me so I kept climbing higher than I otherwise would have to avoid them.


By around 3 hours into the hike, I had gotten myself to roughly the area where you have to start up the steep west slopes section. The wind was starting to pick up now and I still really couldn't find a consistent trail or predecessor's track, but I now had service on my phone (which floored me as I have T-Maybe), so I could see the trail on Google Maps. This artificially inflated my confidence that I could salvage this. I was really starting to flag at this point, but I put my spikes back on, headed left of the trail location so I could scramble on exposed rocks instead of posthole in foot deep snow, and started slowly clambering up.

20945_27
Taken at the start of the west slopes ascent. No snow, just thick cloud, so I told myself it was fine.


20945_04
Taken behind me when I was almost to the upper saddle. I'm sure I'll be able to find my way down, right? (Don't let this be you on your first winter 14er).


As I got close to the saddle, the wind really started to roar. I'm no expert but I think it was sustained at a lot higher than the 25 mph forecasted. To try to save some time as I was exhausted and conditions were worsening, instead of going all the way to the top of the saddle then turning right to scramble along the ridge, I angled to the right while still on the slope so I could cut off some distance. This turned out to be boneheaded mistake #(I've lost count at this point), as the rocks I had to climb over were much larger than if I had gone the correct way, tiring out my exhausted legs. I slipped and fell twice and had to take lower lines and lost altitude. Still I pressed on until I was almost back to the top of the ridge, roughly where you should be at this point.

At this point, a gust of wind almost blew me over, and I got a good look at the false summit for the first time. It was tantalizingly close, and I knew the true summit wasn't that much further past it. But something in me just snapped (which was for the best), and I knew even though I could almost taste the summit I had to turn back. Should I have done that way, way earlier? Absolutely, but hey, better late than never.


20945_25
Just a few dozen yards (I think, I'm a terrible estimator of distance) from the false summit. But between the howling winds, terrible visibility (no sun at all before this moment), and my failing legs I knew I had to turn back. Perhaps it was punishment for ignoring previous warning signs that it was not my day that I got so close before bailing.


This time when I descended, I followed the cairns to the actual saddle and was able to follow the actual trail most of the way down. Once I got halfway down the steep slopes, the clouds disappeared like king size candy bars if you just leave them on your porch at Halloween. Of course. When I got to the bottom of the steep slope, I looked back and the clouds were almost off the summit!


20945_22
Awful pic, but here is the summit almost clear as if by magic when I make it down.


20945_10
Thought I found some tracks from afar but they were just from my sheep friends from earlier.


I was not back to the woods yet, however. I might have been out of danger, as the sun immediately warmed me, the wind disappeared and I could see where I was going now. But that didn't mean going there would be easy. I couldn't for the life of me find my original line or tracks, and the trail disappeared again. So I ended up just trying to take gradual slopes, some rocky, some snowy, down to the treeline. Here came my karmic punishment for my earlier hubris. Once I ran out of rocks in the area I had picked, I was postholing to either my knees or my waist with every step. Which is bad on its own, but this is the moment my 10 year old Jansport external frame pack decided to give up the ghost. Or rather, the split ring that holds the pin into the frame at the end of one strap did. (I use my external frame backpacking pack for big hikes like this since I don't own a good daypack, and I like to bring lots of layers and water anyway). So here I am, waist deep in snow, just trying to get off this blasted mountain, totally not cursing out loud and under my breath, and dragging my pack behind me or carrying it by one strap as I scramble down rocks with one hand. Along the way I twisted an ankle and cut both shins on rocks underneath deep snow.



20945_17
Thought about trying to glissade down this section, but decided that in my condition doing my first ever glissade with no ice ax and no practice was a dumber idea than most I'd had so far.


20945_26
So instead I settled on the dignified method of rolling my pack down the mountain and butt scooting on all fours to reach it, then repeating.


20945_21
Basically back to the woods and the packed trail, right? Maybe, but I was sinking so deep here that I ended up having to belly crawl on the snow and drag my pack beside me until I reached solid ground again. Like I was prostrating myself before the mountain for my sin of pride, or slithering away in shame, take your pick of metaphor.

Once back in the safety of the woods, I sat down on a log and had a sandwich and reflected on my decisions. It was then that I realized two things: 1. The pin at the end of the pack strap that attaches to the frame was now gone. Turns out, it was not a part of the pack strap, but it's own separate piece, and instead of just taking a split ring from a keychain to repair my pack, I now have to find a pin or something similar to fit through the pack frame and strap end. Ugh. 2. I also discovered the mind-blowing innovation of...just tying the pack strap to the frame instead of carrying it over one shoulder the whole way down. I used to think I was kind of a smart guy, but this climb inescapably and permanently dispelled that fiction.

All that should have remained, was an uneventful trek in spikes down the packed trail to the car. Except that not one, but both of my spikes broke, leading to several more slips and tumbles down the steeper sections of the trail. Which is what I get for buying cheap brand microspikes on amazon with good reviews. And for not trusting my gut when it first told me to turn around, I suppose. And to top it all off my cell phone is now on the fritz and wont charge. Turns out, postholing to your waist and getting snow in your phone is not good for it, who would have thought?

So I got off of Mt. Yale without a summit, a shred of dignity or much functioning equipment. But I also got off without losing much of my health, or worse. I was certainly lucky in this regard. And I learned several valuable lessons firsthand. Hopefully some of these lessons can guide others as they try to tackle winter 14ers. I know I won't ever be discounting any of them again.

1. Listen to your gut when it's telling you things aren't right! Easy to look at others' situations and say they obviously should have done that, harder to do it for yourself when you feel like you're so close and you can definitely handle it.
2. Don't underestimate how much conditions can change, especially in winter and even with good forecasts. Or perhaps, don't underestimate the effect winds can have on the trail conditions, and expect more degradation than forecasts call for.
3. Don't overestimate your winter route finding skills. (Although I'm not quite sure how one improves this besides just going after it, or pre-hiking the route in the summer).
4. Strap your hiking poles to your pack the night before instead of leaving them in the car (maybe more of a personal problem lol).
5. Don't underestimate the effect COVID will have on your lung capacity and stamina (your mileage may vary, hopefully this'll never apply to you).
6. Evaluate the state of your gear and if it breaks, try to minimize the damage instead of just obstinately continuing on.
7. Don't cheap out on your gear. Now instead of being in the market for a water filter for longer treks and a climbing helmet for tougher 14ers for the summer, I'm in the market for better microspikes, a new pack if I can't fix mine adequately, and maybe even a gps unit for route finding help..
8. Hike with a waterproof case for your phone, or stick it in your pack if you're postholing to your waist (also probably a personal problem).
9. Listen to your gut!

I still want to get a winter 14er this year, but evidently something much tamer would be more my speed. Perhaps Bierstadt or Sherman, though a repeat, would be best. I think it will be a while before I can bring myself to return to Yale, either winter or summer.

Now looking back on this ill-fated excursion, I can appreciate the lessons I learned, and even see the humor in all the bad luck, broken stuff and bruised ego. Hopefully the reader has chuckled and gotten a little kick out of this story as well.




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
2 3 4 6 8 10 12 13 14 15 17 20 21 22 23 25 26 27 28


 Comments or Questions
Chelsea

Thanks
02/03/2021 10:32
for sharing. We all have days like this, glad you came out okay. You might consider phone apps like Gaia GPS and Strava. I use the free version of each which works just fine, but they both also have subscriptions with more features. You can upload gpx files (downloaded from this site) to Gaia and see where you are in relation to the route. As long as you have it downloaded & the app open while you have service, this can be used with zero phone service. I use Strava to track my route & calculate mileage/elevation but it also includes a map of where you've walked so you can see exactly where you were before. Hope this helps!


AccidentalColoradan
Thanks
02/03/2021 13:50
for the suggestion Chelsea! I was really hoping someone more experienced would have an app recommendation, and free is exactly what I was looking for too.


Matt

Science Fiction?
02/03/2021 17:05
I enjoyed reading this, especially the part about time travel, "ended 2021 with Elbert in a little bit of snow."
Photo #25 looks cool, too.


TomPierce
Great report!
02/04/2021 08:09
AC: I really enjoyed your report, seems like you got a full dose of what can go wrong on a winter hike. But your attitude was impressive, high on motivation, but aware you might be getting in over your head. You were wise to bail off, that's a sign of budding winter smarts IMO, not weakness. Yale is a big day in winter, for sure. When you get back out there, focus on getting your gear dialed in, and yeah, don't skimp on critical gear (you might find really good used gear here or on ebay). Anyway, great report. Welcome to winter hiking!

-Tom


Jay521

As others have said...
02/04/2021 08:36
... we have all made mistakes. What's that line? "Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement". I concur with Tom - your attitude both helped you and caused you some problems. And if I did a TR with all the mistakes I've made over the years, it would be a book. Good idea to start with an easier one in winter and there is no shame in repeating a peak - I've been known to do a repeat once in a while...

Also - a zip lock freezer bag can work as a waterproof container for your cell phone.


Will_E

Yale wind
02/04/2021 12:57
Some of the strongest wind I ever faced was on Yale‘s final ridge.

Great report.


headsizeburrito

.
02/06/2021 12:26
Nice report and sounds like a valuable experience even if you didn't summit!

Like Jay521 said a plastic bag can be used to protect a phone. I prefer something a little more durable and for years have used a mini dry sack. It's a bit large for a phone but will still comfortably fit in a large pocket after you roll the top down. Listed on REI as " Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack - 1L"

How did your spikes fail? I've heard quite mixed things about the cheap ones from Amazon so I've stuck to the major brands known to be reliable, Kathoola, Hillsound, now Black Diamond makes some too.


AccidentalColoradan
Spikes failure
02/07/2021 14:52
@headsizeburrito the metal chain links connecting the spikes on the underside split open meaning the spikes and chains were just loosely flopping around. They were Unigear brand.

Thank you to all for the gear recommendations and encourgements


Trotter

smart
02/11/2021 08:36
It was very smart to not glissade that path without an ice axe



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