Mount Yale, 2019

  • Date: May 13, 2019
  • Partner: none
  • Height: 14,196 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: East Ridge (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 10.50 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,000 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 29 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 24
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: From Buena Vista, drive west about 9 miles on 306 to reach the Avalanche trailhead on the right.  This is a trivially easy 14er to get to; any car can make it as long as there is no serious snow.

I had originally sought to climb this with my mountain climbing partner Matt Odierna on May 5 but had a rough go of it, bonked about a mile before the summit, and decided to turn back.  Fortunately, he was able to complete the climb, but I had to rest up for a few days and recalibrate my strategy.

Eight days later, I returned to finish what I started and with a 3:00 AM wake-up call, I gave myself more time to accomplish the task at hand.  The Colorado mountains had received a substantial dump of snow in the interim, but the avalanche danger finally dropped down to a safe level.

I set off from the trailhead before the sun was coming up.  This trail continuously trends upward in an unrelenting fashion.  The first mile was bare and dry before yielding to snow.  At this point, I switched over to snowshoes and began a steady ascent on hard snow through a wooded mountain valley.  This went on for a couple of miles.  By now, the sun was up, and I could tell it was going to be an unseasonably warm, bluebird day.

At the head of the valley, the East Ridge trail makes a dogleg to the west and begins to ascend the East Ridge itself.  Once I gained the top of the ridge, I  jettisoned the snowshoes, switched over to my crampons, and took out my ice axe.  From this point forward, the climbing becomes more serious, and even dangerous in several spots.

Staying on top of the ridge, I passed through or circumnavigated several small rock piles.  At about 12,500′, the spot where I turned around roughly a week prior, there was a steep 45-degree slope that rose several hundred feet.  I dug a small test pit and determined the conditions were ripe for avalanche so I swung up as high as I could on the ridgeline to avoid crossing the slope at its midpoint (in fact, I saw several substantial point releases on slopes to the north).  By now, I was truly doing work.  The temperature has risen and the snow was soft.  With every step, I was punching through, and the snow was clumping on my crampons.  One large patch of rocks in particular required some Class 3 scrambling.

Eventually, I arrived at a satellite peak; on the topo map this is listed as ~ 13,420′.  The only way to continue the climb was to go around it to the south through a swath of rocks.  Wearing 12-point crampons, I gently made my way through these and was extra careful not to trip and fall.

Once through this “obstacle field”, there was yet another steep rise to the summit.  Here again, I made way as high up on the ridge as I could.  I was very glad I had my ice axe, especially as I made my way near the cornices.  One slip here and a person could risk a long fall.  Huffing and puffing, I gained the summit at 1:00 PM and was considerably tired.

To mentally prepare myself for getting down off the mountain (that annoying, little detail!), I rested for a few minutes and drank a Red Bull.  I was extra careful to take my time, and be hypervigilant.  When you are mountain climbing by yourself, one poor choice can be disastrous.  It was with great relief that I reached the spot where I had left my snowshoes behind in the morning because I knew the toughest part of the route was behind me.

Descending back into the mountain valley, the snow was now so soft that I was postholing even with my snowshoes on.  This went on continuously for the better part of two hours.  Finally, I arrived back to the part of the trail that was free of snow and was able to hike out quickly the rest of the way.  I arrived at my car some 11.5 hours after I had left it.  My first 14er of 2019 was in the books 🙂

In my opinion, this is a strenuous, non-risk-free winter mountain climb and I would take it seriously.  If you are going up Hood or Rainier, then this would be an excellent shakedown climb you could do a couple weeks prior to your trip.  Given the snow conditions, I felt like I was mentally and physically tested.  Therefore, I am going to give it a 9 out of 10 on a scale of 14er difficulty.  Of course, this rating would go down if you did this as a summer climb, but Mount Yale would still let you know you put forth some effort before you stepped foot on its summit.  I’d love to hear some comments if anyone else has climbed Mount Yale in the winter.