Mount Yale: Colorado fourteener of the week No. 54

By Josh Friesema Special to The Gazette -by josh friesema Special to The Gazette - Updated: December 26, 2013 at 6:45 pm • Published: December 26, 2013 | 9:50 am 0
photo - Mount Yale. Josh Friesema, Special to The Gazette
Mount Yale. Josh Friesema, Special to The Gazette

Nearly 150 years ago, geology professor J.D. Whitney brought six students from the Harvard School of Mines to survey the region. During the trip, the group named several fourteeners after universities. While a nearby and taller mountain received the name Harvard in honor of the school from which the group hailed, Whitney named Mount Yale after his alma mater.

At the start of the hike, there is a mystery on the trail as many of the rocks have holes drilled into them. The holes are about an inch in diameter and 2 to 3 inches deep while the rocks are similar in size to a basketball or smaller. The rocks have been moved by erosion, making it very unlikely that the holes were drilled for the purpose of a geological study. Also, since the rocks are on the surface of the trail in relatively flat terrain, it's unlikely that they served any purpose for mining or road building. For years, I have searched in vain for an answer as to why these holes were created.

Yale is a deceptively hard hike. From the trailhead, the summit seems close at hand. But there are no flat sections, only a steady elevation gain that eventually adds to 4,300 vertical feet. The summit becomes visible early during the hike, but this only seems to make the trail longer.

Yale is also a moody mountain. The route through the high alpine meadow below the summit ridge can be a pleasure for all of your senses when the weather is warm and the wind direction leaves the trail sheltered. Yet even on a summer day, winds from a slightly different direction can tear across this meadow, stripping away motivation and anything not properly secured.

The summit ridge is a fun scramble when the rocks are dry, but when the route is wet, it becomes a slippery obstacle course on sharp rocks with hazardous falls.

In winter, the route doesn't consistently have high or low avalanche risk. Sometimes the winds keep the route fairly clear of snow that isn't hard-packed, while other times the winds load the slopes with large cornices and snow sloughs.

Catch this mountain in the wrong mood and you will find yourself exhausted and beaten by the punishment. Catch it in the right mood and the summit will welcome you with open arms and glorious views. But don't let your guard down if you reach the summit in good conditions. As with all fourteeners, conditions can change fast on Yale. Hypothermia is a risk year-round. Approach this mountain ready for a fight, and, if you're lucky, you won't get one.

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Friesema is a Colorado native who has scaled each of the state's 14,000-foot peaks. Read about his high-country adventures at hikingintherockies.com.

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