|Mar 21, 2010
|Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
|In my (basically unjustifiable) drive to make as many calendar winter ascents as possible, I planned earlier in the week to reach the summit of Mount Yale by 11:32 am on Saturday--that inexorable moment signaling the end of Winter. Little fluffy clouds would delicately grace the blue sky, snow would retreat with haste from the hills and peaks like so many lemmings over a cliff, lush grass and flowers would sprout up everywhere uncontrollably. Oh dear!
It's a well-known fact that climbing mountains after the sun, geocentrically speaking, crosses above the equatorial plane is not nearly as hard as before. The gravitation is different, you know. And so I watched the weather forecasts with growing despair. By Thursday the outlook had deteriorated hopelessly; Friday and Saturday, high winds and heavy snowfall in the vicinity of Mount Yale. Then my partner cancelled. After considering the fundamental silliness of my motivation and the optimistic forecast for Sunday, I decided to go on Sunday instead. In time I will come to grips with my meager accomplishments this Winter.
|I rolled into Buena Vista around 8:30 Saturday night and briefly contemplated scouting trailheads, but it was cold and I was tired, so I just settled into the motel. I set the alarm for 4. The room was really cozy. I reset the alarm for 5. The alarm went off. After ritually hitting "snooze" a few times, I oozed into action at 5:30. As I drove down CO Rd 306 I decided the best chance of finding a beaten trail lay in the standard route via Denny Creek.
Sheesh. Nice forecast, cozy motel and a beaten track--what a sissy. In the old days I would just throw my gear into the car and go without regard for weather, sleep, or trail. Clearly I've grown soft, spoiled no doubt by the conveniences of the internet.
|There was in fact a beaten trail winding into the trees from the Denny Creek Trailhead parking lot. After putting on my boots I reached for my gaiters... !@#$, where are my gaiters? I remembered: right where I left them on the floor at home. I'd have to improvise; anyway the trail looked very nice. Someone had snowshoed in recently, and their tracks had furnished the trench with a solid floor. I got along fine without gaiters or snowshoes as the trail meandered through the forest into the gulch. The first dawn of spring had just broken over the horizon and now its rays passed aimlessly overhead, too parallel yet to rest on the snowy peaks still in slumber.
It would be something if this track went all the way to the summit, I thought. But it was not so. A sign on the trail coldly directed me to leave the convenience of the trench if I desired to reach Mount Yale. Bah!
The next section had been pioneered less recently by a group without snowshoes, and to my surprise I didn't need them still. Maybe forgetting the gaiters wouldn't doom my expedition after all. As I marched along I reveled in my good fortune until--tragedy! I stared in pampered disbelief. Abruptly the tracks had stopped; their owners had entirely enough of this business. The way ahead was discernible only by a snow-filled depression snaking deeper into the forest.
|Time to man up. I installed my snowshoes, wrapped stretch-cords around my pant cuffs to keep them snug over my boots, and plodded onward. I lost track of the depression marking the trail near a drainage which climbs steeply around 11200'. Continuing up the drainage, I was soon punching through the deep snow to my waist. After wallowing around for awhile it began seeping into my boots and I felt I'd have to give it up. I turned back and looked for another way. A slope skirting the drainage offered better snow consolidation, and I was again on my way.
Just after 9 o'clock I crested a hill and emerged into a ray of sunlight, which had stooped over Mount Yale's west slopes to grace the hardy evergreens in the gulch. Now awakened, the majestic peaks rising starkly white from the deep green valley beamed their approval. It felt good to be in the sunshine. I looked around, noticed the "trail" again, and continued with renewed confidence.
|Soon I reached timberline in the shadow of an abrupt shoulder beneath Yale's west slopes. As I plodded out from the trees, I could feel snow layers collapsing under my snowshoes accompanied by the infamous "whumphing" sound. I stopped and stared at the slope, trying to discern a way up. In the shadows and blowing snow it looked mostly featureless, steep. For awhile I just stood there losing the nerve to continue. Given the recent storm snow and generally high level of avalanche activity, I couldn't be sure of my judgment here.
This was it. I turned back, knowing I'd soon regret it. As I trudged back through the trees I weighed my decision. Bah!--Yale. What a way to begin the spring season.
|Voices beckoned me from my thoughts. The group of six stomped briskly up the hill, bantering cheerily as they emerged into that ray of sunshine. Rod, Leonard, Sarah, Jason, Daniel, and Mark. They too had come from Denver and wanted the summit. They would have a look at the slope. I wavered. Would they mind if I tag along to see what they decide? No problem! And off we went marching towards the mountain.
Soon we emerged from the trees. Now the slope was in sunshine and looked much more hospitable. Though it was still quite steep, the sun had illuminated some options to minimize avalanche potential. After a short discussion, we agreed on a plan to zig-zag up to a rock outcropping perched on the shoulder of the incline, connecting the dots between a few large boulders portruding from the snow. This way was steeper but more direct and, we felt, better anchored.
Rod eagerly assaulted the slope and we followed. I was happy to have six pairs of snowshoes stamping down the trail before me, although as the slope angle increased, even the fresh tracks grew bottomless, and we struggled. Finally, we subdued the hill and got our first look at the summit. I think we all expected it to be a bit closer given the effort to reach this point; but seeing the peak only strenghtened our resolve to stand on it. It was now 11:30. We stopped to rest, debating the merits of the "Leave No Trace" philosophy and its implications for banana peels, and whether deer should be forced to pack out their own waste, and the ecological irresponsibility of marmots. It was all quite intellectual.
From our perspective at 12400', there seemed to be two options to reach the summit: We could traverse to the south, towards the saddle between Mount Yale and "Mascot Peak," and make a long scramble on exposed rock to the summit. Or we could proceed directly up a fairly steep and snowy-looking incline, which is more closely aligned with the standard route, to gain the summit ridge. Patches of bare rock and tundra were visible around the incline, and no one felt much like traversing, so once again we chose the more direct route.
|After an eternity of counting arduous steps, we huffed over the summit ridge to be welcomed by a frigid wind. We added layers. The summit was close! After some theatrics and premature celebration we all scrambled up to the summit to enjoy the infinity of blue sky and snowy peaks basking in sunshine.
|It was nearly 3pm. Daniel, having summited his first fourteener, gave something akin to an Oscar acceptance speech. Sarah was going on about a free sandwich. Jason tried to do a handstand. Mark and Rod offered a dramatic re-enactment of the stumbling and collapsing onto the summit, which Leonard filmed for his upcoming documentary "Mount Yale, the Savage Mountain."
For my part, I really outdid myself. The SEVENSKI bears testimony to this fact:
|After some cold minutes soaking up the predictably unbelievable views, we started the descent. All eager to be off the spooky snow again, we glissaded down quite directly--although it wasn't much good for that either. At any rate I was glad to reach timberline. The day was full; thoroughly exhausted, we shuffled back to the trailhead where some well-deserved beers awaited our triumphal return.
Thanks to Rod, Jason, Mark, Sarah, Leonard, and Daniel for letting me tag along. And extra congratulations to Daniel, who really earned his first fourteener.