A shot of the mountain on our way back as the sun was dimming. Photo credit to Kent Warlick. Our third companion was Alton Luder.
I squinted out from behind the thin cotton hood of my jacket was greeted with an utterly breathtaking scene. Scattered across the landscape were numberless windswept peaks, like ridges on the back of some enormous beast, each blanketed with white snow. We had reached the summit.
In early January, 2016, I had the privilege of embarking upon my first winter ascent of a 14,000-foot peak in the southern region of Colorado – Mount Yale. After waking up to a great continental breakfast at a nearby Best Western, we parked our car at the trailhead around 7am. What luck! The wide corridor of packed snow told me the trail was going to be nicely packed the whole way up. Why not just leave our heavy snowshoes in the car? We looked to the east to see a brilliant sun peaking out from the horizon – a perfect day to hit this peak. After strapping microspikes to our boots, we set off down the trail.
Thirteen hours later our small and now disheveled group trudged back to the car with snow filled boots. I was exhausted and out one glove (which decided to take the fast way down the mountain) with a pocket full of red tissues from an unfortunate nose-bleed during our descent. Nearly halfway up the mountain, the trail petered out and we were left to wade through shin- to waist-high snow until the sun sank below the ridge line. The one thing that could have helped in this circumstance would have been a nice sturdy pair of snowshoes.
What’s the lesson from this experience? Be prepared! Always bring extra gear just in case on excursions like this, even if you don’t think you’ll use it.