This past weekend (June 6th, 2020) brought us 90 miles Southwest of Denver to Buena Vista, a town that neighbors the Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range. Our goal was the popular mountain summit of Mount Yale (14,199 feet).
Climbing to the Summit of Mt. Yale in Rain, Hail and Clouds
Friday evening we arrived at the Buena Vista KOA, made quick work of setting up camp and prepared for a 1:30AM wake up call. A half hour drive down route 306 landed us at the trailhead at 2:45am. The early ascent can be attributed to poor weather conditions arriving in the late morning and early afternoon; being stuck in a summit thunderstorm was not on the itinerary.
According to previous trip reports, the Mount Yale summit trail clocks in at 8.7 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 4,238 ft. We recorded just over 9.5 miles round trip to the summit of Mt. Yale from the Denny’s Creek trailhead.
Our Video of Climbing to the Summit of Mt. Yale
The evening prior to a hike, it is essential to prepack for the sake of efficiency. In our packs we carried the following:
- Rain Jackets
- Headlamps with fully charged batteries
- Nikon D780 body with 24mm 1.8 landscape lens
- GoPro Hero 7 and 8 (one which was missing a memory card…)
- A few liters of water
The first three miles of the trail were well below tree line and had comparatively mild elevation gain, averaging around 600 ft per mile. This part of the trail proved itself to be difficult for other reasons however. While headlamps are exceedingly helpful, route finding in the dark remains a challenge.
Spring is the season where lots of snow is melting; several bridges over Denny Creek were submerged underwater and an alternate route was a must. The tree cover contributed the most to the darkness level early on, after breaking above tree line we found the moon was beautiful and bright – our first full moon Colorado 14er.
After breaking tree line we found ourselves maneuvering through several switchbacks and the elevation gain ramped up; a total of 2,400 ft of elevation gain in the remaining two miles to the summit. It was a shame there was not much of a sunrise due to cloud cover, but we still had some magnificent views of surrounding peaks and managed to set up some cool compositions.
Push to Mt. Yale Summit
Shortly after sunrise we donned windbreakers due to scattered showers of rain/hail and increased wind gusts. We met one duo descending but so far these had been the only people we had seen on the trail. The wind and rain continued to pick up as we reached the saddle and started up the Class 2 portion to the summit of Mount Yale.
We summited at Mt. Yale at 6:00am and stayed just long enough to shoot some fast B-roll with the GoPro of Dave chugging a summit beer. By this time some major fog was rolling in and the continued precipitation made the rocks slippery. We were very thankful for the well placed cairns without which we would have lost our way.
On our descent we encountered other groups a couple hundred feet above tree line making a summit push. We were grateful to be hiking back down as the rain and wind continued to worsen. It took us about an hour to reach the trees again; a welcoming change to the conditions in higher elevations.
Due to weather conditions of non-stop rain on the descent, not many photographic opportunities were to be had. Although Nikon D780 is somewhat weather proof the rain water would not keep off the lens. Also, forgot to pack the memory card in the secondary GoPro 🙁
Walking another couple miles through a wet, but incredibly green forest, we were back at the Denny’s Creek trailhead. Though the weather was not cooperative and made for less than idyllic scenery, we were ecstatic with our accomplishment. A pat on the back was well deserved as we only know of 4 other people who summited this day.
We were quick to discover that two days is not nearly enough time to explore everything Buena Vista had to offer. We are excited to make a return trip and conquer more summits in the Collegiate Peak Wilderness.
Do you have any experiences on Mt Yale? If so please share and leave a comment below!