Pre Hike Stuff:I‘ve had my eye on Yale, ever since reading that it was relatively safe to do in the winter, with GREAT TH access. My plans for Yale last winter were thwarted, but I was determined to get it checked off this winter. For 6 weeks I planned an attempt, but weather and avalanche danger kept shutting me down.
Finally, I found a weekend with favorable conditions and I met a group off the internet that had all summitted Yale before, but were kind enough to feign an interest in my attempt.
All was set, then I learned that the road to Denny Creek TH was (for the first winter ever) closed to vehicles beyond Avalanche Gulch (what are the odds?). Can you hear the wind being let out of my sails? CRAP! That adds another 6 mi RT, making my 8 mi stroll into a 14 mi slog. I informed the group...and fortunately they were all troopers and continued to humor me.
Saturday night, I met up with Heather14 in Buena Vista and we shared a lovely room at the Super 8 in town. Astrobassman (Colin) and Cheeseburglar (Craig) opted to camp at Av Gulch. I must say, I prefer the accommodations as the Super 8.
Heather and I woke early and met with the camping duo at the Av Gulch TH. Sure enough, there was a big mound of snow blocking the Cottonwood Pass Road beyond that point. After introductions were made and the camping equipment safely stowed, we were off at 5:50a, under a clear, star-filled, sky.
Actual Hike:We made decent time up the road as it was groomed for snowmobiles and skiers. Snowshoes were not needed, but I kept them on anyway. I forgot to drain and stow my camelback hose and I soon discovered that the hose was frozen solid. Heather stuffed my hose down against my back and gave me some of her water.
We found the TH and headed up. I‘d read the trail is usually packed for the first 1.25 miles until the fork for Browns Canyon and Yale trail...no such luck today. We took turns breaking trail and trading off positions in line. I must say, when it was my turn to be last...the packed trail was really swell! :)
Overall, the trail breaking was not bad. We only sunk in mid shin to knee deep...with a smattering of hip deep snow in some spots. We‘d just pull the poor soul out who‘d plunged into the sugary pit of snow and try to find the shallower stuff again. Colin was toting an extra 30 lbs in his pack, to prep for another trip he and Craig were taking so, he really kept sinking in! I continued to struggle with my camelback and Colin was kind enough to give me some water and a small bottle. I poured water from the wide camelback opening into the narrow bottle neck (a feat in and of itself ) That saved me for the time being.
We soon approached the first possible avy slope (below treeline) that was void of trees we surveyed the slope and discussed which route to take. We were pretty sick of trail breaking and decided to not take the slope off to the side that was heavily treed. We saw some rocky ribs with downed tree trunks that went straight up the steep slope and opted to take those instead. The snow was sugary in spots, but we slowly made it up the slope.
Once above treeline, the terrain was windswept and the slope eased. We made it above the next ridge and could see the wide gully to the summit. The gully looks benign enough and the summit appears to be about 10 feet away, but that was not so...oh lord that was not so....
Time was still on our side, I was still feeling great, and seeing the summit gave me a huge burst of energy. I made a beeline for the last gully...I was in the zone! As I approached the base of the final gully, I looked back and saw that I was all alone. I worried that the other 3 had all turned back.
The summit was so close and for a brief moment I thought about continuing on solo, but realized that was incredibly selfish of me. After all they had done for me, the least I could do was make sure everyone was ok. I headed back towards the spot I last saw them (over a small ridge lip). I soon saw Craig on his way up and yelled to him. They had taken a small break, but were still heading up.
The going was easy up to the base of the gully, but once in the gully, the gentle looking slope is much steeper than it appears (or maybe I was just tiring out at that point?)
Craig had stashed his snowshoes and was having to kick in. I really felt for him as the snow was hard most of the way. I secretly rejoiced in my decision to have kept on my snowshoes...the ascent was difficult enough, I didn‘t need the added aggravation.
At ~13K ft Heather (who was recovering from an illness) and the loaded down Colin waved to Craig and turned around.
Craig and I pushed on and finally made the ridge...I was pretty beat and thought the ridge would give me a 2nd wind. Yet again, my optimism soon gave way to disappointment. The ridge was tough. It wasn‘t the dirt filled path I was expecting. Instead there were lots of boulders stacked against one another with snow in between. You had to watch your footing as the snow often was covering significant gaps between the rocks. The rocks, themselves, were either snowy and icy or slanted to where you couldn‘t just saunter across the tops. I stashed my snowshoes and poles so I could freely use both hands and have more mobility. Good thing, as my foot busted through the snow and into a deep gap on a few occasions. Had I not had my hands down to support my weight, I would have either gotten stuck or injured a leg. The going was slow and frustrating, but the summit was close....
Craig and I rounded a rock outcropping...only to see the REAL summit, @*$#! It looked incredibly far away! I was so frustrated with the ridge, I considered turning back at that point, but knew I‘d regret it and we pushed forth.
Before I knew it, we were both on the summit...thank God, mother nature, the mountain Gods, the marmots, and anyone else that might have had a hand in this!
It was a little after 2p so, we only enjoyed the summit for 5-10 mins and then decided it was time to tackle the ridge again. I downed a lot of water from my now thawed tube and stuffed it back down my pack. It tasted good, but I knew I had let myself go too long on only 10-12 oz of fluids.
Needless to say the trek down the ridge...and down the steep gully...and down the steep avy slope was about as enjoyable as the trip up. Only this time, I was dehydrated and had far less energy. My quads were shaking from the constant downhill and I significantly slowed.
Craig blazed ahead, but was kind enough to wait for me. He would have made it back to the car about an hour faster if he hadn‘t of waited. What a peach!
Once down in the trees, I picked up the pace a bit. The packed trail was nice and not nearly as steep. The sun had set about a mile before we hit the road, but the evening sky was bright and we could see fine without headlamps. Upon hitting the Denny Creek TH, Craig offered to break into a trailer and hotwire a snowmobile...he was joking...but I was willing to do the time at that point.
The 3 miles down Cottonwood Pass Road to the cars was...as everyone predicted...a slog. Craig kept his spirits up while I maintained a zombie like drive to get to the $&*%ing car! It was dark and all the snowmobilers had called it a day so, there was no option to hitch a ride. We just trudged along and Craig chatted away. I just kept saying, "What?" (as I couldn‘t hear very well from the crunching of the snowshoes). All that fine conversation was wasted on me.
We finally got back to the car. We each had VMs from Colin and Heather making sure we got back ok. They were the smart ones who turned back early and scored a ride with a snowmobiler...lucky b**tards! I, on the other hand, scored a nice lesson in whoop-*ss.
It was a challenging, but beautiful day...and I‘m really glad I did it in the winter rather than in the summer when the trail would be crowded. It was a very rewarding summit.
I want to thank Heather, Colin, and Craig. Thanks for the water, encouragement, and for pulling me out of those deep snow pits. Not many people would be willing to entertain the notion of 14 miles on snowshoes. Especially since you all had already done Yale before. You guys are great! I hope I get to hike with you all again one day.