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Our fourth day in Colorado's Sawatch Range had us heading to Mt. Yale, one of the state's 14ers overlooking the Arkansas River Valley. It was not expected to be a difficult day, about 9mi and 4,200ft of gain. In the early morning when we were getting ready in the dark, we found that Leroy was not his usual chipper self. Seems he'd had a tough day doing Belmont and Oxford yesterday and was not so eager this morning. When we started up from the Denny Creek TH shortly after 6a, Leroy was not running off the trail into the forest as usual, but sticking with us. Eric and I discussed his condition as we hiked up, finally calling a halt after about a quarter mile. Leroy had been "Bobbed", there was no doubt about it. I would continued on while Eric took Leroy back to the car for a rest day. In better spirits, Leroy would be out in front of both of us, but he was all too happy to follow Eric back to the car, not giving a damn whether I lived or died. And so I found myself alone for the rest of the hike.
There is a good trail almost all the way to Mt. Yale. The wide, rocky trail climbs moderately for the first 1/3mi, then mellows as it follows Denny Creek upstream, keeping to the west side. The trail crosses Denny Creek at the one-mile mark, then reaches a trail junction in another quarter mile. There is a sign in the middle of the fork, impossible to miss, pointing to the right for Mt. Yale. The trail then moves east before starting to climb up the Delaney Creek drainage for another mile where it then goes more steeply up Mt. Yale's West Slopes. The trail does not follow the route depicted on the 7.5' topo map, obviously reworked since the map was drawn, but has the same general direction. I passed a few solo hikers on the way up to the NW Ridge, with a few trail runners coming down the opposite direction, having disposed of Mt. Yale in a few short hours. At the NW Ridge there is another 1/4mi to go along the rocky ridgeline, with perhaps another 250ft of gain. The good trail ends but there are various pieces of use trail that can be strung together to avoid much of the boulder-hopping, though some is unavoidable. While moving along this section of ridge I came upon a guy with a young, medium-sized dog on a leash. The dog had its tail tucked firmly under its belly, obviously tentative or afraid. As the owner explained, it was its first time at such altitude and on such terrain. Another mountain dog in training, this one.
It was 8:50a by the time I reached the top. More blue skies in all directions, much as we've had for the last 5-6 days. It would slowly become overcast by late afternoon, the first time in a week, but the forecast had only a chance of thunderstorms/showers. This looked to be the new weather pattern for the next 4-5 days. Mt. Princeton rises to nearly equal height to the south across the Cottonwood Creek drainage. To the north rise Mts. Harvard and Columbia, a harder outing we put off for a few days. The Continental Divide is a few miles to the west on the other side of the Denny/Delaney Creek drainages, with several peaks that caught my attention as bonus peaks.
In order to make a respectable outing of my visit to Yale, I decided to follow the NW Ridge down towards the Continental Divide and then follow that for a few miles towards the southwest. There are two peaks shy of 13,000ft within a foot of each other that I could tag enroute, making for a 12mi, 5,800ft gain outing. I left the summit around 9a and spent the next hour and a quarter making my way down the NW Ridge to a saddle with Peak 12,955ft. Most of this is pleasant hiking on rock/grass slopes with good footing, with a few short scrambling sections near the top to keep things interesting. The NW Ridge divides the Delaney Creek drainage to the south from the North Cottonwood Creek drainage to the north. A short but steep climb up from the saddle gets one to the SE Ridge of Peak 12,955ft, followed by a shorter, easy scramble to the rocky summit on the Continental Divide. I reached the top by 10:40a, finding a CMC register from 2015. It had many pages of entries, far more popular than I would have guessed, possibly due its proximity to Browns Pass to the west with several trails that converge there.
Now following along the divide, I descended the west side of Peak 12,955ft to Browns Pass, using a more direct line rather than the trail that climbs partway up the slope in wide switchbacks. Browns Pass separates the Denny Creek drainage to the south from the Texas Creek drainage to the north, with trails dropping down both sides of the pass (in addition to the one that climbs partway up Peak 12,955ft and then traverses into the North Cottonwood Creek drainage to the northeast). A thin use trail goes west along the divide through a rocky section to a minor point where the divide then turns south. This leads in another mile to Peak 12,956ft. Most of this route is easy hiking on the grassy ridgeline, made easier by skirting Pt. 12,524ft on its west side. The North Ridge of Peak 12,956ft has some fun class 2-3 scrambling that proved the most enjoyable part of the day. A convenient ramp at a notch in the ridge provides an easy exit on the west side from more difficult scrambling along the ridge.
It was noon before I topped out on this third summit, not yet sure I was done for the day. Turner Peak lies another 1.4mi to the SSW, a P1K and a 13er. It would probably have taken about an hour to make my way along the continuing divide and ridgeline to its summit, but I figured it might be after 3p before I got back to the TH. I'd had a great adventure up to this point and decided to leave Turner for another time. Later I found that it can be fairly easily climbed from Cottonwood Pass to the west. I also learned that Eric had done a few easy summits from the pass while Leroy napped in the car today. Had we planned better, I could have simply hiked out to Cottonwood Pass after tagging Turner and gotten Eric to give me ride back down to the TH. Before leaving the summit, I signed the summit register I found there, an older one dating to 2012 with 12 pages of entries, about 3-4 parties signing it each year.
There is a narrow chute just below the summit that goes steeply down towards Hartenstein Lake, all class 2, and I used this as a most efficient way to get off the Continental Divide and back down to the trail that goes to the lake. This would lead down the Denny Creek drainage, reaching the trail junction for Mt. Yale in 1.4mi, and then another mile and a quarter to get back to the TH. I got back by 1:40p, quite a bit faster than I had expected - perhaps I should have gone to Turner after all? The sky was all gray now and threatening (but not delivering) precipitation, so perhaps it was all for the best. After showering, I drove back down to Buena Vista where I met up with Eric for an early dinner at the Buena Viking, an eccletic but scrumptious dining establishment (really just a food truck with outdoor seating that was dog friendly). Leroy wasn't looking much better than he had in the morning, in fact Eric reported he had gone downhill for much of the day, refusing to leave his bedding in the back of Eric's car. Over dinner we made plans to do the easiest 14er in the range the next day, Antero. With the jeep we should be able to drive to 13,800ft, leaving only 400ft of climbing and a short distance. Would Leroy be able to manage that? Tomorrow would tell...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Yale - Peak 12,956ft
This page last updated: Thu Aug 29 18:24:16 2019
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