Mount Yale is an unmistakable mountain, towering like a pyramid over the Arkansas River Valley. The southwest slopes trail is the standard route up Yale, and yes it is steep, gaining 4,300 feet of elevation in 4.5 miles. It begins off the Cottonwood Pass road at the Denny Creek Trailhead and rises modestly through the forest for 1.25 miles. Turn right at an intersection – straight goes to Hartenstein Lake and Brown’s Pass – and continue through the forest to timberline. The trail is obvious as it rises through the tundra. It becomes very steep as it ascends a ridge to a shoulder of Yale at 13,200 feet. Then it gets even steeper, as the final stretch and Yale’s pointed summit come into view. Follow cairns marking the route as you scramble up the final stretch to the summit. Take a picture, catch your breath and enjoy the feeling of standing at 14,196 feet.
- There’s no camping at the trailhead. You can find camping at the Collegiate Peaks Campground a few miles down the road or around Cottonwood Lake. As a backpacking alternative, Hartenstein Lake is a good option, though it will add 2 miles to the hike each way.
- Two people were killed by lightning on Mount Yale in July 2015, which should serve as a reminder to always get an early start when climbing 14ers to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
- Cottonwood Hot Springs, a less-crowded alternative to Mount Princeton Hot Springs, is right along the road to the trailhead. Stop to soak your weary bones after the hike.
Recommended season(s): Summer – early fall.
—R. Scott Rappold