Wednesday, July 27, 2011

College Entrance Exam - Mt Yale

Mount Yale
July 26th, 2011


I never thought that I would be taking another college entrance exam again.  But this week found me trying to get into the University of Sawatch Range at the Collegiate Peak campus, so I had to  to take the entrance exam; Mt Yale.  A 3:30 a.m. wakeup alarm had Jon C and I to the trailhead and on our way by 4:06 a.m.  I am not sure that I was looking forward to the hike up to the summit.  For some reason I had it in my mind that this trail  would entail a long, upwards trudge.  Fortunately this turned out not to be the case.

The trail began climbing right off the bat.  While consistently uphill to tree line, there was never any long steep sections.  The trail was well laid out, so not to make it too strenuous, or maybe this was just my perception from hiking in the dark.  With not being able to see more than 20 feet ahead of you, it is hard to get a good view of how steep a section of trail actually is.  Trick the eyes, you trick the mind into believing it's not all that bad.

The creek crossing at mile 1 was not too bad.  The log bridge was wide enough to feel stable on, even with the logs slickened by spray from the creek (a series on notches hacked into the logs with a hatchet would greatly improve the footing).  Shortly after the creek crossing, we ran into another party that was worried that they had missed the Mt Yale turn-off.  We told them we had not seen it either, so we all hiked on together keeping our eyes wide open.  Not 30 yards later we came to the sign, clear as day.  Opps!

The hike up to tree line was longer than we thought it would be, and tree line was higher than I would have expected (~12,000').  Just after breaking out of the trees we had the first of a group of folks with Rocky Mountain Youth Corp pass us.  Their pack boards were loaded up with straw to help rehab part of the trail that had been rerouted around.  They are doing a great job, as I had to look hard on the way down (because I could not find it on the way up) to see where the new section branched off from the old section.  It is a seamless reroute.  Great job guys!

My first good look up at the saddle, below the class II ridge to the summit, had me suddenly feeling very sluggish.  My first thought was that the hike up to the saddle was going to be a real bear.  From a distance it looks very steep, but as a I got closer to the actual start of this section it actually did not look too bad. 

As I started up this section I kept my eyes open on the skyline to the southwest (behind me) as the sky was already filling with clouds.  They did not look like storm clouds, but I was still a little worried that they might cause some problems.  I would hate to have to retake this entrance exam after making it this far.  I was also watching the ridge of the saddle above me and could see clouds rapidly flowing over it.  As I climbed higher to the ridge Jon and I separated due to different paces.  By the time I made the saddle ridge the clouds we upon me and I had to make a decision to wait for Jon or push on into the rocks towards the false summit.  Looking around it seemed like the clouds would only be getting worse so I pushed on.  I worked my way up towards the false summit, only stopping for a quick breath or two.  I lost the main trail, and ended up working towards the summit from the back (north) side of the ride.  This turned out to be a good choice as the ridge was keeping most of the wind off me.

By the time I hit the summi,t at 8:30a.m., visibility was down to 20 -30 feet.  The views I hoped to get of the other 14ers in the area were not to be this day.  I was joined by another hiker on the summit and we both looked for the summit register and geo marker, to make sure we were actually on the true summit and not still on the false summit.  We took the ridge as far to the east as we thought was safe to verify that we were on the actual summit.  He said that this was his 35th summit.  What a nice number.  Only number 12 for me today.  We snapped a couple summit shots of each other before he headed down.

I settled in to get some quick video footage, and was joined by Jon.  He said he got a second wind as soon as he hit the class II section.   I was glad to see that he made it up.  I would have hated to see him not make the summit.  We took a couple of quick summit shots together, before heading down.  We moved as quickly as we safely could in the clouds and slick rocks and headed down the opposite side (correct side) that I had come up.  Once we got back down to the saddle I relaxed a little, but still worked at moving back down to tree line as quickly as possible.  We passed about 20 people still working their way towards the summit.  If I had been in their position (location) I am not sure that I would have continued onwards to the summit.

After 6 hours without much of any real breaks, we finally sat down and relaxed once we were back into the trees.  By this time I was feeling tired and my knees were  aching.  We relaxed under a break in the clouds, and wished those still above us safe climbing.  As one guys that we met on our way down said, "I hope you don't read about me ,tomorrow." Well I guess you made it up and down safely my friend.  The remainder of the hike back to the trailhead was uneventful.

With the light of day we got a better perspective of the steepness of the trail.  Not overwhelmingly steep, but a constant gain in elevation.  We arrived back at the trail head at 12:05 p.m.  Eight hours round trip, not to bad I guess.

Today was the best I felt on a 14er all season long.  I never felt like I had to stop before I collapsed.  I do not know if this was due to the trail, conditioning, divine intervention, bur whatever it was I'll take it.  While hiking today I decided that my goal for next year would be to try to finish all of the Collegiate Peaks, and as many other of the Sawatch Peak as I can.   This was a nice warm up for our trip to the Chicago Basin next week.  Looking forward to this trip and the challenges that will come with it.

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