On August 10th, after doing Quandary Peak and La Plata Peak the prior two days, I got my best start of the trip, on Mount Yale. We were staying in a rented cabin on Main Street in Buena Vista, Colorado, which is also County Road 306. The trailhead at Denny Creek was just 11.5 miles down the same road on the way toward Cottonwood Pass. Judy drove me to the trailhead early and she and Andrew decided to meet me later in the day to do some mushrooming. Fortunately, this trailhead is right off the road.
|Mount Yale, from the Princeton Road near Buena Vista. The saddle I identify later is to the right of the summit.|
I started hiking at 7:10 a.m., almost 3 1/2 hours earlier than my start on La Plata and 4 1/2 hours earlier than my start on Quandary. Mt. Yale is 14,196 feet in elevation, the 21st highest peak in Colorado, and ranked 30th in difficulty out of 58 14ers in Colorado by 14ers.com. The trailhead is at 9,900 feet and involved more hiking through the forest than either of the prior two hikes (the Quandary trailhead starts at 10,850 feet and the La Plata trailhead starts at 10,960 feet). The hike is 9.5 miles roundtrip and has 4,300 feet of elevation gain.
The first mile of hiking was relatively flat. Part way I was passed by a young guy who was really moving along (he passed me again on the way down while I was still going up). Just past the log crossing of Denny Creek, at the 1 mile mark, I noticed mushrooms and made a mental note to call Andrew and tell him about it. In another quarter mile, the Mt. Yale trail junctioned off to the right and I noticed lots of mushrooms over the next several hundred yards. I made another mental note to tell Andrew. At about 11,200 feet I crossed another stream on some logs and the trail started a more steady uphill climb. I passed two guys sitting on a log, then several hundred yards later noticed two people steadily catching up to me. They passed me in the next several hundred yards just as the trees were thinning out about 12,000 feet.
Mt. Yale was visible steeply above. I was now beyond treeline and passed up and through several large piles of granite, seeing several marmots. Most people love the forest. I enjoy it, but I really love it above treeline. There is something about the clarity of the view, the unobstructed sight, the rarified air, the cool breeze, the silence (except perhaps, the wind, or thunder and lightning), the prospect for high altitude animals (marmots, pika, ptarmigan, mountain goats and bighorn sheep), and the lack of mosquitoes that appeals to me. I always enjoy the portions of my hikes above treeline the most.
|From just above treeline, looking at the trail and the drainage I'd hiked out of below.|
|The trail heads into the distant green above, then up to the saddle toward the upper right.|
|The summit of Yale above and the saddle to the left.|
I kept a slow, but steady pace. Soon, as the view of the side of the mountain opened up, I could see quite a few people ahead of me. Most of the route was visible now. I could see people at various places along it, high-lighting the path. About 13,200 feet the terrain gets steeper and the next 750 feet of elevation gain is very tough. The trail is good, nothing like the boulder hopping on La Plata, but it is taxing. I was very happy to reach the saddle at 13,900 feet. For some reason I was quite winded and the wind was whipping over the saddle and chilled me. I put on my Northface jacket. I'd misread the route description and thought there was still a significant push ahead. I pulled out my cellphone and tried calling Andrew and Judy - no reception, even though I had a good view of Buena Vista. I piddled around a bit, dreading the exertion ahead through the trailless summit rocks.
|A view out toward the valley and Buena Vista from the saddle.|
|A view of the granite blocks toward the summit from the saddle.|
Fortunately, the description was more foreboding than the reality of it. It talks of finding your "way through any difficulties" and I passed someone on the way down complaining about the number of false summits, saying, "I thought we would never get there." So I was prepared for a long haul and then was pleasantly surprised to find that it came so quickly, nothing compared to the summit haul on La Plata. The ridge stretches out for a ways, so I found an unoccupied spot and called Andrew. He did not answer, so I left a message about where to go to find mushrooms (he got the message only after-the-fact). I asked someone to take my picture, then returned the favor and started down.
|A view of the summit from my little spot on the ridge - looking back the way I'd already come.|
|The summit behind me, this time looking from the opposite direction. Mt. Princeton is just to the right of my head.|
|Mount Harvard, back and left of center, and Mount Columbia, to the right, from the summit. Both are 14ers that Sam and I climbed last year.|
|Mount Princeton, a 14er that we would unsuccessfully attempt to climb the next day.|
|Walking from the summit down toward the saddle.|
|A view of the slope I climbed from near the saddle.|
|A view of the summit ridge from just below the saddle.|
|A closer view of the summit ridge from the saddle.|
|Hikers along the summit ridge give some perspective (they are visible in the picture above this one).|
|Large king bolete mushroom gorged with water.|
I saw a beautiful red bird fly into a pine tree. It allowed me to move around and get pictures. I found out later it was a pine grosbeak, the first one I've ever seen. As I entered the mushroom area I'd identified on the way up, I found lots of inedible mushrooms, but quite a few edible ones, king boletes and hawk wings. After two days of prior mushroom hunting with Andrew, I was good at identifying those two, and comfortable that they were edible. I found one spot where hawk wings were just littering the ground. They are the most beautiful mushrooms I've ever seen. Then I spotted Judy and Andrew. They were in the area I'd identified as a good spot, and they'd found it on their own. I had my hat full of mushrooms and my head beanie full of mushrooms that I'd gathered along the way. It was fun to present them to them. I sat while they went ahead to scout things for awhile, then we started slowly back, looking for mushrooms along the way. We found a particularly good spot near Denny Creek, where we found quite a few king bolete mushrooms and a couple of endangered boreal toads (we didn't know they were endangered until we identified them later in a field guide).
|hawk wing mushroom|
|My beanie full of mushrooms - the large yellowish one on the left is a king bolete and hawk wings are on the right.|
|My cap with mushrooms. The tail end of a king bolete mushroom is to the left.|
Yale was my favorite of the three Colorado peaks I summited this year. Part of that was I got off to a good start, the weather was good, and I got to spend quite a bit of time with Andrew and Judy looking for mushrooms - and we were quite successful, ultimately having enough for a grand mushroom feast which I'll blog about later.