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Monday, September 29, 2014

Mt. Yale - where the adventures began

Date:  June 11th, 2002 -- June 18, 2005
Mission:  To summit my 1st 14er Mt. Yale (elevation 14,196')
Who:  Whitney, David E., Jeff L., and myself

If my memory serves me correctly, it was the summer of 1991 that my love of the mountains began.  It started with my Dad taking me for a hike up Mt. Osceola in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  The seed was planted.

Me on Mt. Osceola in 1991.  Don't hate the hair!

On September 2nd 2001, my daughter and I drove to the summit of Pikes Peak.  I remember being in complete awe of the views.  I felt like we were on top of the world.  True I guess that I had reached my first 14er summit, but we all know the ones you can drive up don't really count.  It would be almost two years later before I actually hiked to the summit of a 14er.  On this day, ten years later, the seed that was planted in 1991 began to grow.

Mt. Yale  - June 2002

Summit of Pikes Peak in 2001.
On June 11th 2002, the year of the Hayman fire, I made my first attempt on Mt. Yale.  Of course, being my first 14er ever, I had no idea what I was in for.  I chose Mt. Yale, because at the time I had recently been divorced, and as a result I didn't see my daughter as much.  I missed my daughter Delaney a lot.  She was only 3 years old in the summer of 2002.  

At the time, I was reading through trying to find a good route with a trail head I could get my shitty car to.  In the route description for Mt. Yale, I read:  "Near 11,200', cross the Delaney Gulch stream...".  I thought I'd go see what the stream that is apparently named the same as my daughter was like.
I showed up to the Denny Creek trail head at 7am, got started soon there after.  I had driven straight from Colorado Springs, after playing Madden Football until 3am or so.  I just decided that sleep was overrated.  I could do this with no sleep.  I was in for a surprise.

I moved slowly because my lungs were on fire.  I think this had something to do with the fact that in 2002 I was still smoking a pack of cigarettes each day.  For a dude in his mid-twenties, I was in terrible aerobic shape.  The day was about what you'd expect.  Slow hiking with frequent stops. 

Views from the ridge at 13,900' from an old school photo.

That day, I made it to the ridge at 13,900' and then gave up.  I told myself that I didn't need to climb the last 300 ft. since I had all the good views to the east from here anyway.  That was the little white lie I told myself anyway.  The real reason was that I was dead tired and the smoke from the Hayman fire was so thick in the air it was even grinding on my nicotine infested lungs.

Mt. Yale - August 2002

On August 5th 2002, I decided to hike a 14er again and decided that I liked Yale so much that I would go do it again.  This time, I got to the ridge at 13,900' again, and hunkered down on the east side out of the wind, which was ferocious that day.  I was incredibly cold and just decided to just head home.   

Stormy clouds on this day in August 2002.
On the descent, at about 13,100', I learned my first valuable mountaineering lesson.  An afternoon storm had brewed over my head, and I didn't realize the danger of this until the thunder and lightning started.  It scared the crap out of me.  I began running for the tree line, but it was still over a 1000 ft. below me.  Within minutes, it was pouring rain, then hail.  I had hailstones bouncing off my head, lightning flashing and thunder booming in all directions.

I eventually made it to the tree line unscathed.  This was the first time I had been caught in a storm above the tree line, and so far it's been the last time too.  I go to great lengths to make sure this never happens anymore.  Now I start really early usually, particularly in thunderstorm season (July and August).  These days I am a weather forecast addict.  I check the weather many times leading up to a hike and often from many sources.  I have learned to read the clouds, and I am constantly looking to the skies on my ascent, trying to judge whether or not I have enough time to get back to the tree line before any weather unloads.

Mt. Yale - June 2003

On June 15th, 2003, I made my 3rd attempt on Yale, with my girlfriend at the time, Whitney.  As the cliché goes, the third time was the charm.  This would prove to be my first real summit of a 14er, even though it did not come easy.

Me taking a rest in the snow at 13,900'
Around 13,500 or so, I stopped to smoke a cigarette.  Go ahead laugh it up, I'm smiling and rolling my eyes at my old self as I write this.  I had set my backpack down, and while lighting up, my backpack decides to go for a tumble down the mountain.  It just rolled away.  Gravity has a way of doing that.  It was quickly gaining speed.  The backpack started bouncing through scree and talus.  I didn't even realize what was happening until it was moving quickly and was already 15-20 feet down from me.  I immediately thought, "SHIT!  My car keys!!!".  My keys were in my backpack, and this pack was rapidly gaining momentum. 

I had only one choice....  Catch it!

I jumped up and began sprinting down talus and scree.  I was catching up, but not as fast as I would like.  My legs were hitting against rocks and I didn't even care.  My only thought was of my car keys and being potentially stranded out here in the middle of nowhere.  Finally after a painful run that twisted an ankle and tweaked a knee, I finally got into closing distance.  I lunged for the still tumbling backpack and landed a foot on a strap.  My other leg came crashing, shin first, into a large boulder.  I stopped, examined myself for injuries, and noticed my left leg was bleeding like crazy.

I hiked back up to where Whitney was, which was maybe a hundred feet or so.  I took out a bandana which was the closest thing to a first aid kit that I had.  Then after wiping blood off my leg with a t-shirt I wrapped the bandana around the wound to stop the bleeding.  My ankle and knee hurt a bit too, but it was "mouse nuts" compared to pain throbbing in my left shin.  I still have scars on my left shin from this day.

Me descending from the summit.  (Photo Whitney)

We did make the real summit after all that drama, I was not about to go home with scars and no summit to show for it.  When we arrived at the summit, I still clearly remember the great feeling that overcame me.  This was like watering the seed that was planted on Pikes Peak in 2001.  It would still be some years before this seed bloomed. 

Mt. Yale - June 2005

In June of 2005, I'd been doing a fair amount of hiking with my daughter around Garden of the Gods.  I felt it was time for my annual 14er hike.  A couple of friends I worked with, David and Jeff, were in for an adventure also.  I suggested Mt. Yale again for some reason, not caring that there were dozens of other beautiful 14ers to choose from. 

My daughter and I at Garden of the Gods in May of 2005.

We decided to start early this time.  After an O-dark-thirty wake up call, we drove in the darkness to the trailhead and we got going at about 5:30am. 

Views by the creek, which you hike next to for a good portion of the ascent through the forest.

We again were moving slowly compared to how I hike now, but we would not be denied on this day.  It was a blue bird day, very light winds, and not a cloud in the sky.  I remembered sharing smiles and laughs with my friends the entire day.  I also distinctly remember enjoying an entire pizza at Pizza Hut in Buena Vista on the way home.

David a.k.a Elvis (left) and Jeff (right) celebrating on the summit of Mt. Yale on 6.18.2005

Little did I know at the time, how climbing mountains would become an addiction several years later.   For a variety of reasons, the mountaineering addiction still took a few years to take off.  The main reason was because I spent the majority of my weekends from 2002 through 2008 dedicated to being a good Dad.  I was a single Dad for much of that time and I only had weekends with Delaney back then.  I wanted to make the best of the little time I got with my daughter.  Mountains are "mouse nuts" on the importance scale when compared to spending time with your only daughter. 

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