Hike Times:
trailhead - turnaround 3.5 hrs
return to trailhead 1.5 hrs

Total Round
~5.0 hrs

click here for more detail
Difficulty Rating:
2.5 out of 5.

elevation profile
Elevation Profile
Denny Creek

trail map
Trail Map
Denny Creek

driving directions
Driving Directions
I-70 or US 285

Nearby Civilization:
Buena Vista

.:Getting to the trailhead:.

To get to the Denny Creek trailhead, drive from Denver to Buena Vista. The most straightforward route is SW on US 285 through Fairplay to Johnson Village, then north for 2 miles on US 24 into town. You can also drive I-70 west to Copper Mountain, then south on CO 91 over Freemont Pass through Leadville, then US 24 30 miles south to Buena Vista. From the stoplight in Buena Vista (there's only one!), drive west on the Cottonwood Pass Road (Chaffee County 306) for 12 miles. The trailhead parking lot is on the north side of the road and well-signed. The road is usually maintained and passable to this point even in winter, where it's used largely as a staging area for snowmobilers.
.:The trail:.

.:Trip Report:.
Another year, time for some climbing! And the springtime is a great time to be hiking in the backcountry. The days are warm, the trails aren't nearly as crowded as they will be in the summer months, and the mountains just have a little different personality with all that snow!

That said, I figured it was time to revisit Mt. Yale. Last time I was up here was in May of 2000, which was also a spring-conditions hike, and a fun one too, as I recall. One of the great things about Yale is the trailhead for Denny Creek -- it's right off the paved and maintained Cottonwood Pass road, just west of Buena Vista. Very easy to access, even in the winter.

I left Denver about 5am and made it to the trailhead right about 8am. It was a clear, cool morning, just about 30 degrees as the sun started to warm the day. While conditions were dry at the trailhead, it was pretty obvious that this would turn winter-esque before long, so I strapped up the snowshoes and ice axe on my pack. Starting out with trekking poles, I headed up the trail maintaining a steady pace.

After just about a mile you'll come to a well-signed junction, and then Yale trail bears to the right. Roach and Dawson both say that you have to look closely to find this trail, but since it's become the standard approach in the last few years, it's impossible to miss. Another half-mile or so, and then there's a steep slope to switchback up. It was at this point when the trail (well-travelled until now) became somewhat less apparent, as those climbers who had come before me apparently all had very different ideas about which way to go. I counted at least 7 distinct paths from this point, and I opted for one that pretty much went straight up the slope (when not snowed over, the trail switchbacks up the slope). I strapped on the snowshoes and headed up, heating up rapidly with the effort.

About this time I started turning my attention to the skies. A thin cloud cover had been moving in and out all morning, but now I was starting to see big thunderheads forming to the west and south, a few of them already showing moisture coming out of them. By the time I'd reached 13,000', it was clear that the weather was organizing a bit, and I started getting snowed on -- that hard pellet snow that stings bare skin. I thought for a few minutes that I'd just tough it out and head up the prominent gully towards the ridgeline, but my confidence was broken by an increased intensity in the snow -- and thunder. Not wanting to be anywhere exposed if there was electrical activity in the air, I quickly descended below treeline. After about 20 minutes it became apparent that this system wasn't going to just move on and present a sunny day behind it, so I started the hike back to the parking lot. The snowcovered trail, had thawed out since my morning hike in, and the hike out was a slushy, wet affair. Finally, the register showed itself, and the parking lot a minute later.

All in all, a great morning in the hills, somewhat marred by what I found back in the parking lot. The drivers' side window to my Blazer had been smashed. Dreading what I'd find when I looked in the vehicle, I was surprised to see everything in tact. My sunglasses, cell phone, and gear in the back were undisturbed. It took me a couple minutes to realize what was missing -- my wallet. If I had to guess, I think some of the local punks were out treasure hunting and broke into my car. Luckily, I don't carry cash so they were pretty much out of luck.  Rather than having a quiet, introspective drive home, I drove home on the phone, cancelling credit cards and such, with a 70mph wind blowing in. Sheesh.