9.05.2005

Back to School

Seeing as the weather forecasts were not favorable, our camping/hiking trip to the Aspen area was put on hold so I was looking for a peak to climb that was closer to home. I decided to go for Mt Yale, seeing as I hadn’t climbed it yet and a few of my friends already have. It is one of the fourteeners at 14,196 feet and is the 21st highest peak in the state. Along with Mounts Princeton, Oxford, Harvard and Columbia; Yale makes up part of the Collegiate Peaks, all named after their respective universities. With it being September and all, I thought it was appropriate. The peak is easily accessible year round from two different paved trailheads near the town of Buena Vista. The trail on the west is shorter, about 7 miles round trip, and is the most popular way to climb this peak. I decided the east side route, which is 10 miles round trip, would be more interesting, and hopefully a little less crowded. I figured with it being a holiday weekend, and the access to the trailheads being paved, there would be a lot of people climbing Mt Yale on Saturday. I got to the trailhead really early, and was on the trail at around 6.20 am in my attempt to “beat the rush”. I was the first person to register at the trailhead that day and not surprising, saw zero people the entire ascent. I got to the summit at 9am, and had the whole thing to myself for about 20 minutes before I left. I saw a few people below on the “standard” west side route, but they didn’t summit until probably around 9.30. With the weather looking like it was going to hold, and with it being so early, I decided to head for the adjacent unnamed summit, nicknamed “Mascot Peak”. This is the 295th tallest peak in the state, but is only about 750 feet shorter! That is a lot of peaks in those 750 feet. Of course with that much height difference between two adjacent peaks, the connecting saddle between them has to be significantly lower than the higher peak, in this case about 1,100 feet. This isn’t bad when descending, and it wasn’t much to ascend “Mascot”, but that return trip sure is a lot of work! Just to summit Yale was 5,000’ of gain, adding “Mascot” and the return trip, it was over 6,000! That is a lot of climbing for one day. At least I managed to beat all the rain though; I only got rained on when I was in my car on the drive back home.

Sunday was a day of rest, no peak climbing, just a walk to the grocery store for my exercise. I was able to watch the Cubs and Syracuse football though, so it wasn’t a total waste of a day. Monday I headed back to the peaks, this time to one that was really close, in the Gore Range just to the east of Vail. Last year I climbed “Grand Traverse Peak”, one of the most visible peaks from I-70 when headed eastbound out of Vail. Monday I climbed its companion, “North Traverse Peak”. Of the two, north is slightly higher by about 40 feet, but is less visible as there is a highpoint on the connecting ridge that obscures the view of the peak from the road. The ridge connecting these two peaks is known as The Grand Traverse, hence the peaks nicknames, and is one of the classic climbs in Colorado. My friend Ben and I want to do it someday, and I thought a little up close research would be worth it. The hike to the northern peak starts with a trail along Bighorn Creek, at the end of the trail is an old cabin that dates back to 1925 that is a popular destination with day hikers. From the cabin there is no trail to the peak, first you have to travel through a meadow, and then traverse the talus and scree fields (basically piles of rocks) at the base of the peak’s western slopes. At the head of the Bighorn Creek, there is a steep grassy slope that leads to Central Pass, a low point in the ridge that separates Bighorn Creek and Rock Creek to the east. After climbing to this pass, the ridge to the summit of “North Traverse” is a reasonable pitch, but there are several large towers of rock along the way. These are easily bypassed by traveling around them, and the difficulty of this hike never exceeded class 2. Even so, the route finding was occasionally tedious as the lack of trail meant that the easiest way was not always obvious. It was a fun hike, and the connecting Grand Traverse looks even more amazing up close than it does from the highway. With fall coming so quickly though it may have to wait until next year.