Colorado is home to fifty-eight peaks that rise higher than 14,000 feet; however, only fifty-three qualify as an “official” fourteener under the Colorado Summit Criterion. To be ranked the 14,000 foot peak must have a prominence of 300 feet. The summit’s prominence is its rise above the highest saddle connecting the summit to higher ground.
Prior to the Colorado Summit Criterion being introduced, most 14er lists included 54 peaks…counting El Diente and North Maroon Peaks while excluding Challenger Point which wasn’t named until 1987. The 55 peak 14er list includes Challenger Point and the 58 14er list includes Mount Cameron, Conundrum Peak, and North Eolus.
Just as the number of 14,000 peaks seem to be slightly controversial in Colorado, how to “bag a peak” is also controversial. The Colorado rule requires the climber to ascend at minimum 3,000 feet. The climber may traverse between peaks and the climber must descend 3,000 feet. Driving are car part way up and only climbing a few hundred feet or 1,000 feet doesn’t count! Some purists don’t even think traversing between peaks count.
Fourteeners are ranked by difficulty as well…from Class 1 to Class 5, easy hiking to technical climbing. Most fall in Class 2…more difficult hiking, some off trail that may require placing hands on the ground for balance.
Mt. Yale, 14,196 ft and 21st highest, is part of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and the Sawatch Range of the Colorado Rockies. Mt. Yale was named by Josiah Whitney in 1869 when he led a team of six graduate students from the Harvard School of Mines in surveying the area. Mt. Yale was the first of the Collegiate Peaks named and was named for his Alma Mater from which he graduated 30 years prior.
There are two routes, both rated class 2, to take up to the summit of Mt. Yale. Our group of 24 ladies opted to follow the standard route via the Denny Creek Trailhead. As such, on Friday, we found a campsite a mile or so up the road and prepared for an early morning departure. While I would like to say we had a nice dinner around a campfire, there was a burn ban in place, so we had nice dinner by the creek at an awesome campsite.
What an awesome group of girls! My connection was through book club that my neighbor Polly introduced me to this past winter. Four girls from book club joined the trip and one of them, Karla was the incredible organizer. Between neighbors, friends, families, and a few degrees of separation…we had group of mentally strong, physically fit girls bonding for the first time or continuing their lasting friendships. This was the fifth year for the annual trip, and I am so glad I got to be a part of it. I can’t wait for next year.
To make things easy, everyone was assigned different meal duties…Friday dinner, Saturday appetizers, Saturday dinner, and Sunday breakfast. Our dinner at camp was gourmet…a lentil salad, a pasta salad, pulled chicken, green salad, a variety of dips, homemade brownies…there was no shortage of food! After sharing stories over dinner, we turned in…either into our tents or our cars, depending on how we wanted to camp.
Our morning started around 3:45am. We went through our checklists…layers, first aid kit, lots of water, hat, gloves, chapstick, headlamp, snacks, camera, cell phone, and lunch for the summit. We piled into a few cars, arrived at the trailhead around 4:15, posed for a some pictures, and started our trek in the dark at 4:30am.
The path was rocky and steep from the start! I had to stop and shed my first layer almost immediately. While most of the girls were from Denver, a few were out of towners, and Robin from Washington stopped with me. She needed to acclimate a bit more to the altitude, as we started the hike 9,900 feet versus sea level. Just stopping for a minute caused us to lose the group for about the next mile until we reached a creek crossing. It was a little eerie walking through the woods in the dark…just the two of us. At the creek, we met up with the rest of the girls crossed mediocre wooden bridge.
Just before the bridge was about the only part of the trail that leveled out for a few minutes; thereafter, it was all up hill. We continued another quarter mile until we found a sign directing us to the right. As we followed the trail upward through the trees, the sky slowly changed from dark night to purple to morning light peppered with pink clouds. With the light, we got to enjoy the wildflowers that lined the trail…blue columbine, indian paintbrush, bell flowers, asters…just to name a few.
Eventually the trail took us above the tree line at about 12,100 feet. Here we could see peaks far into the distance, clouds dipped below the summits, an alpine lake, rocky points, and even more wildflowers…forget-me-not, moss campions, and sandwort. The views were magnificent, the switchbacks ongoing, the summit still a mile and a half away! While our group stayed relatively close together, we started spreading out a bit more now as girls stopped for water, to eat a snack, or catch their breath.
At one area that required a little scrambling, I paired up with Tanya and we stayed together until we summited. We kept a slow pace and just trudged along, only stopping for a few sips of water, to put on our gloves, and to enjoy the view occasionally. We just wanted to get there! After finishing the switchbacks, we reached about 30 feet of flat space before we had to scale boulders and follow light trail marked by cairns on the right-hand side of the peak. I wasn’t too fond of this part. I don’t mind scaling rocks. I just didn’t like it when I found myself very close to the edge…it felt like one or two boulders between me and a few hundred feet below. I just kept my focus on my feet and didn’t look up much! It’s funny because I have no problem bungee jumping, sky diving, or climbing…but I had something protecting me in those cases!
There was a giant cloud overhead and a good breeze at the summit, thus our time at the top was short as sweaty shirts quickly turned into cool rags! Tanya and I enjoyed our peanut butter sandwiches with Joyce and Serena, two other girls that had summited just before us. The other four were beginning their descent just as we staked our claim because fifteen minutes at the top is about all anyone could bear without the sun shining! Just as we were preparing to leave, another part of group summited…so we squeezed about nine of us together for a few minutes.
Serena, Joyce, Tanya, and I all descended together, though Serena and Joyce quickly left us behind as we took countless pictures of the wildflowers, marmots, pikas and creek on our descent. We even got passed by Karla and Kelsi on the way down…though I do have 80 plus pictures to show for it! As we descended, we finally started crossing paths with many others. I think most people started out the hike at 6am. We started earlier as we concerned about the weather forecast calling for storms by noon. In addition, for six or seven of us, it was our first time to climb a fourteener, so we were unsure of our abilities and how the altitude might affect us over the 9.5 mile climb. As we crossed other hikers paths, many commented, “I’ve never seen so many women on the mountain” and “What time did you guys start?” We also met a group dressed in wedding attire just for the fun of it!
Our entire hike by the creek on the way up was in the dark, so it was nice to be able to enjoy it on the way down. My favorite hikes have always been by the water, though I will say I was ready to get to the parking lot!
Upon reaching the parking lot, we received a small cheer, joined the few that had already conquered Mt. Yale and waited for the rest of the ladies to join us.
Once the final two rounded out our group of 24, we picked up our gear at the campsite and headed to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort & Spa where we rented two cabins for the night and of course soaked in the pools. Of course we enjoyed another gourmet dinner and good company before turning in for the night. What a fantastic weekend with an amazing group of girls! ETB