Mount Yale, like most Sawatch fourteeners, rises abruptly from its surrounding valleys. No matter how you tackle Yale, the peak will test your legs. Besides it turned out to be a very painful experience for me because of an injury in my left leg/knee.
I woke up 06:45 at a campground near Buena Vista. My target for the day was Mount Yale, one of the collegiate peaks in Colorado. This peak is not easily seen from the Arkansas River Valley, so I had no idea what the peak looked like when I started to drive. From a stoplight in the centre of Buena Vista, I drove west on Chaffee County 306 (paved) for almost 20 kilometres (12 miles) to reach the well-marked Denny Creek Trailhead on the north side of the road. I could see more than 10 cars on the parking lot, and that confirmed that I was having a late start today as well, measured by American standards. I started to walk 07:45.
I had some severe problems with my left leg, and it was very painful when walking (especially uphill). The pain was concentrated in and above the knee, so I feared a complex knee-injury. It was almost impossible to stretch my leg, because it simply caused too much pain doing so. This was my 4th day in a row with arduous hiking, and my leg was probably starting to warn me against further physical exertion. But I had no available time for resting, so I decided to continue as normal. My first day off was scheduled to be 3-4 days ahead, when I had completed all the 14’ers in the Sawatch Range south of Buena Vista.
There was a good trail in the forest, but I was constantly afraid of missing the import junction of Denny Creek and Delaney Creek. According to my guidebook there was no signs at this junction, and finding the Delaney Creek trail was the key to this route. After 1,5 kilometres (0,9 miles) I found the important junction, and to my surprise it was well marked, in contradiction to what the guidebook said. Two persons were taking a short rest at this junction and I exchanged a couple of words. They also aimed for Mount Yale.
Delaney Creek was much steeper than Denny Creek, and I passed four other hikers even though my pace was moderate due to pains in my left leg. Still I gained altitude relatively fast, and soon I was above the tree line. There was a steep scree slope below Yale’s northwest ridge, and it was impossible to determine where the main trail went. There were a myriad of “trails” up this slope, and I have never before seen so much erosion caused by human feet.
After my feet had caused enough environmental damage to the scree slope, I reached the northwest ridge. The only thing I remember from the few hundred metres of scrambling along the ridge was heavy pain in my leg. I managed to scale the small buttress on the ridge, but it was indeed very painful moves for my left leg. Most people, however, seemed to circumvent this buttress just below the summit on its west side. 4-5 people were sitting on the summit when I arrived, but I was not in a mood for talking, so I found myself a spot far away from the others, where I could sit in peace and massage my painful left leg.
It took me 30 minutes to get mentally and physically ready for the descent. I had no intention of going back to the buttress with my painful left leg. So I decided to circumvent the buttress. But I went too far down from the ridge, and suddenly I was on more technical ground than the buttress ever had been. Still I managed to slide down a steep slab, after having removed my backpack and thrown it down.
Then I did a diagonally traverse to get back to the steep scree slope, where I slid down together with huge masses of scree, and gave my significant contribution to the erosion and environmental damage. Fortunately my pains seemed to relent as I hiked down from the mountain, leaving me to think that ascending was a considerably bigger issue for my knee/leg than descending. That was good news for my knee. Probably it was just a single muscle right above the knee that was aching of exertion.
Far down from the summit I met a couple that I talked to on my way up. It was late in the day, and they had not managed to get very much higher than the last time I met them. Dark clouds had started to build up, and I said it was far too late to continue for the summit. But they continued.
I arrived the parking lot at 13:15 and the hike had taken me 5 hours and 30 minutes to complete. When I moved into my car the first raindrop fell. Just in time.