Mt Yale | Elevation 14,196

Brad Smith, Anita Koster, Todd Voth, Tim Sturm & I hiked Mt Yale via the Southwest Slopes. (Difficulty – Class 2). Route is 9.5 miles round trip. Summit elevation was 14,196 feet and elevation gain was 4,300 feet from the trailhead.

The night before Anita and I drove to the trailhead to make sure we were prepared for an early start. Trailhead parking was awesome. Road was paved all the way and the parking lot was paved as well. Several people were already car camping so I felt confident that our 5 am start time would be perfect. We tent camped a few miles down the road at Collegiate Peaks campground. We did not have a reservation for a site, we totally winged our lodging and scored a last minute two-night cancellation right by the river. The camp hosts ended up being a husband and wife who knew my aunt from years back. Such a small world, they were so kind and although I didn’t know them personally – this connection made me feel at ease and they went out of their way to make sure Anita & I were comfortable at the campground. With an early start looming, dinner for me was an easy freeze-dried meal and bedtime was while it was still light outside.

After a short night, we got ready by lantern, made our breakfast and picked up the guys down the road where they camped at Cottonwood Hot Springs. We made it to the trailhead at 5:15 am and only had to use our headlamps for a short time in the woods. The first portion of the hike was easy and beautiful, we crossed the river three times and passed several tents before leaving tree line. We kept a steady pace. My legs felt very strong and I was really confident with the pace I was keeping. To be complete honest, I’m not a fast hiker but I try to be a steady hiker. This crew is a very enjoyable to hike with – always positive and entertaining.

The last portion of the ascent was 98% mental for me. We had to walk through a fairly easy snowfield but the switchbacks that followed felt like they never ended. To make it worse, the sun started coming out full force and it was a good time to shed gear and layers. When the switchbacks ended, I realized we still had to cross a rugged summit ridge before we reached the true summit. We took an extended break & I got a second wind and began the scramble over the boulders. Going up I felt good, Brad recommended I ditch my climbing poles so I tucked them into a crevice to grab on the way back. The trail was hard to pick out in spots but there were so many people up there that we just followed the people in front of us and eventually made our way to the summit. We stayed up there for about 20 minutes before heading down. I was starting to get dizzy, in hindsight I likely had a touch of altitude sickness. Going down on the scramble made me way more anxious than I want to admit, I was smack dab in the middle of a fear that I didn’t even know I had. I could not wait to get off those rocks.

I took this picture to remember just about the moment when I thought I couldn’t go any further. There’s always that moment for me on every hike, where the climb transitions from physical to completely mental. It is motivating for me to look back and remember when I didn’t think I could do it…then I did.
There is nothing quite as empowering as being on top of the world and knowing your own two feet got you there.

The hike down felt like it was never going to end, for real it just kept going and going and going. I may have thrown a quiet tiny tantrum when we just kept turning corner after corner. These are the moments when I have irrational thoughts like asking the people in the tents that we passed on the way up if I could just take a short nap in their tent LOL. This is awful but I was thankful to meet up with a guy who was having trouble getting down because his legs were cramping. Having someone to motivate made the descent go faster. Obviously we eventually made it back to the trailhead, soaked our poor muscles in the hot springs and met up for a well-deserved and delicious dinner at The Lariat. Quick weekend 14er was just what I needed, we had an amazing time.

High altitude succulents, so pretty!
A well-deserved dinner at the Lariat

My takeaway from this hike.

I’m running out of the less technical 14ers so my workouts need to change and I’m going to have to spend more time mentally preparing for future hikes that are going to be out of my comfort zone. My legs felt great, I was super proud of the fact that I trained appropriately by focusing on calves and weight training for my quads. My feet hurt like hell. Maybe need to find lighter boots, but I don’t want to go so light that my ankles aren’t supported. Need to buy a smaller pack and pack lighter in general for these day hikes, and divvy up the supplies between those who are hiking. And pack extra peanut M&M’s if hiking with these guys again. Mt Yale was a beautiful hike, I really enjoyed this range and can’t wait to go back!

Written by Rebekah Baier