Peak(s):  Mt. Yale  -  14,200 feet
"Mascot Peak"  -  13,435 feet
Date Posted:  03/22/2021
Date Climbed:   03/19/2021
Author:  daway8
Additional Members:   HikesInGeologicTime, Sbenfield
 Yale and Mascot East Ridge late winter   

Writing this to highlight a good winter alternative to the standard summer route up Yale (which has some avy potential). It's worth mentioning that while the route is listed as class 2 (and probably easily could be kept such in summer) it's likely to be more of a class 3 route in winter unless you like to trudge through potentially steep and possibly deep snow to get around it (one person in our party said they were able to keep it mostly class 2).

The class 3 segments are what give this route its character - in summer class 3 is fairly ho-hum but dump a bunch of snow in the cracks and it suddenly gets a little more interesting... thus the reason I like routes like this.

Trailhead: Avalanche (ironically less avalanche prone than the standard Denny Creek approach)

Route: Yale East Ridge plus Mascot

Overall Stats: ~13.3mi, ~6,435ft in just under 15hrs

Mascot Stats: adds ~1.64mi with a painful gain of ~1,435ft there and back (~2hr detour for me).

Team: HikesInGeologicTime (Geo), Sbenfield (Steve), daway8 (David - aka me) and for a portion of the hike CaptCO (Alec).

Included in this report will be:

  • A look at avalanche concerns on this vs. the standard route
  • Some examples of the short but enjoyable class 3 scrambling stints to be found
  • A quick examination at the end of some teamwork tips for safely splitting up a party
The traverse from Yale to Mascot.

Avalanche Concerns

First off, I'll quickly highlight why this route is preferred over the standard summer route.

The first and most basic step to checking for avalanche danger is of course to look for slope angles shaded yellow through red on the 14ers map (~27-45 degrees) that your route goes through or beneath. Below is a snapshot with the standard route in blue coming in from the left (west) and our route in orange coming from the right (east).

14ers topo map with slope angle overlay. Blue trace at left is Southwest Slopes; Orange at right is our tracks with dashed white line = Colorado Trail.

East Ridge Analysis:

You'll note that the East Ridge route has a whole lot of red at the start but if you turn on the satellite view you'll see that entire area is very densely wooded with no slopes above it and therefore not really a major concern (thus the green check mark I put there). After that, you go through low angle terrain and then pop up on the ridge for the rest of the route, thus pretty much negating avy concerns (as long as you stay on top of the ridge).

Southwest Slopes Analysis:

Likewise there's a little bit of red near the start of the Denny Creek route but again that entire region is very densely wooded the whole way up the slope and thus not likely to be a concern (so I also put a green check mark here).

Where the concern level starts to grow a little is the first circled section. The trail itself here is mostly in or along a densely wooded region but the slopes above it are sparsely covered and in the danger zone as far as slope angle. Historical satellite images found on Google Earth show some slightly suspicious variations in shading over the years which may or may not correlate to some small slides here (I didn't bother to snapshot them - search some of my previous trip reports for avy analysis and you'll find some examples).

The second circled area is again borderline - some of the region with the most color is wooded but there are also some exposed slopes. Historical satellite images don't really look suspicious but this is just borderline enough that I'd still be on alert here especially after a storm.

The third circled region is what made me the most uneasy about the idea of doing the standard summer route during winter - it's fully above treeline and has a tall and wide section of slopes in the danger zone. It is at least west facing which equates to generally a little lower danger and it's a pretty broad open area so not much of a terrain trap worry but I went up that way in early June of 2019 and it still had a ton of snow that was steep enough to need traction for so I tend to like to avoid those types of regions unless I'm very highly confident that the avy danger is very low.

So in short, the Southwest Slopes might possibly be ok to do in winter (a couple guys seem to have come up that way the same day as us) but there are a few spots of possible concern. The East Ridge is more reliably safe in that regards - plus it's more fun!

The Approach

Avalanche Trailhead is huge and was very well plowed out when we were there on the last full day of winter. This route starts on the Colorado Trail and went back and forth from snowy to dry for a while before gradually getting deeper snow amongst the trees. While the snow never really got terribly deep it was extremely annoying in its inconsistency - for a few steps it would be hard enough to walk on top then you would suddenly plunge halfway up your calf with snowshoes on. Then you would step back on top for a bit only to sink up to your knees and kick step through deep snow for a few paces before getting back to ankle deep then on top again, rinse and repeat...

I think I actually moved faster going through consistently knee deep snow on La Plata than we did as a group fighting through this pace killing inconsistent snow.

Rainbow Lake in the light of early dawn.
This routes starts along the Colorado Trail and was fairly dry in the early sections.
Snow slowly increased as we got into the trees.
We could often see a faint hint of the Colorado Trail as seen towards the left through the trees.

The route follows the Colorado Trail up to the ridge and then cuts a hard left (to the west) up the ridge to Yale and Mascot. We originally had a 4th member (CaptCO) with our team along with his dog but for reasons unknown to us he broke off from our group and disappeared (perhaps staying more strictly to the summer trail? Though the GPS shows we stayed fairly close to it ourselves after initially trying to follow a winter GPX track for a bit).

We gained the ridge and waited for him only to spot him having taken a hard right on the ridge going east up to some 12k points opposite of the way up Yale. We shouted to get his attention but unable to communicate effectively at that distance we turned to go up towards Yale figuring he would follow. At first he seemed to be coming along but then with some barely audible shouts indicated he was turning back - sounded like he wasn't confident his dog could make it up the route. Looking back on it that was probably a good call as it would have added a lot of challenge trying to take a dog along that route.

Scramble Time

So with our party now down to 3 we went up over the annoying hump that you have to hop before getting to the ridge proper (that hump is very, very annoying on the way back down with some 150ft or so of gain at a time when you'd really just rather be going downhill... though you can skirt around it at least in part).

Coming around the annoying hump.
View of the ridge beyond the hump.

After the hump is over then you start to hit multiple little sections that in winter push into class 3 terrain - nothing difficult or sustained but several short little sections where your hands can finally get into some of the action too as you scramble over the rock clusters (depending on snow coverage and your comfort level you might be able to do a class 2 stroll around many of these features but that would spoil the fun!).

The following section is mostly a photo gallery to try to give some feel of the fun little scrambles along the ridge - there are just enough rocky sections to break up the monotony of the trudge up the ridge without adding too much difficulty - though being 6'2" probably helps - those with less vertical prominence may prefer to go around as some of the photos below might clue you in on...

An early set of obstacles.
Nearing a decision point...
Closer view.
Partway into scramble land.
Looking back at some of the earlier humps.
Coming up onto the next hump.
Steve showing his scrambling action.
Geo demonstrating that the vertically challenged can still overcome :-)
I've always liked the dramatic look of snow coming to a sharp point on top of a ridge.
More fun ahead!
Steve coming up around some rocks and Geo following along behind.
Next cluster coming into view.
This feature gave me some concern - went up the snow slope on the left while holding the rocks just in case.
Steve following me up this uncomfortable little slope, holding the rock as an anchor point.
Steve and I pushed ahead so we could tag Mascot as well but Geo wasn't too far behind - seen here atop the far rocks.
Geo coming down the rocks.
Last little bit before Yale's summit.

Yale and Mascot Summits

After the large rock feature where Geo was shown coming down you're real close to the summit - with a couple little false humps being about all that's left.

We discussed in advance that Steve and I wanted to go up Yale and then tag Mascot while Geo preferred to just do Yale and we verified as we got to the upper portion of the ridge that everyone was comfortable with splitting up to do this. Steve and I used our longer legs to push on ahead and get Yale and timed it such that we came back down to the turnoff point for Mascot just as Geo got there.

We once again confirmed that Geo was fine with summiting solo and heading back down alone to start with (knowing that our long legs would likely catch up eventually).

One item to note on going over to Mascot - in June 2019 (a year when the snow stuck around) I did this peak combo from the Denny Creek side and while going over to Mascot and I came just a little too close to the cornices and plunged up to my chest - narrowly avoiding what could have been a catastrophic plunge into a deeper pit among the rocks. The moral of the story, which I put into practice this day:

STAY WELL AWAY FROM THOSE CORNICES!!!! That may sound like a 'well duh' kind of statement but I still remember the shock from 2019 of thinking I was back plenty far enough...

View while coming up Yale's East Ridge of the traverse to Mascot
View looking to Mascot from further up. Note the cornices on the left (east) side.
View from Yale.
Steve on Yale.
Partway to Mascot.
Getting closer to Mascot - stay well away from the cornices on the left (east) side!!!
Steve on Mascot with Yale in the background.
The painful ~1k regain to Yale's ridge.
View of Mascot after regaining the ridge.

The Return

I'll add here a section noting a couple teamwork aspects of the descent and how we dealt with safely separating our party.

I already mentioned how we had confirmed a couple times both before and during the hike that Geo was ok with finishing the last bit up Yale solo and starting back down alone. Upon summiting Yale Geo came down to where Steve and I had dropped our packs before going to Yale and put a signature into the snow as a way of indicating all was well. Another signature in the snow below a steep rocky section indicated that the 3rd member of our team made it down safely past a potentially hazardous spot on the trail.

This is a handy way of low tech communication for occasions when your party might decide to split up (it was clear weather and nothing worse than class 3 terrain with a very easy to follow ridge route, otherwise we likely would not have split up).

Geo's signature near where we dropped our packs - an indication of a successful summit and return from Yale.
Down at the bottom of these rocks you can just barely see another signature from Geo indicating safe passage.

The Mascot detour took Steve and I about 2 hours. By that point it was getting late in the afternoon and I told Steve I wanted to try to get back to treeline before it got dark so as to be completely sure there was no issue finding the right entry point back into the trees. He said he was fine with us each taking our own pace.

Having at least a few inches on Steve, and a propensity to go fast downhill anyways, I shot down ahead of him. I did pause every now and then for a quick glance backwards just to be sure he didn't have a freak slip coming down the snow covered class 3 sections. Upon successfully reaching treeline shortly before dark I waited for him to catch up just to be positive we both got onto the right trail before dark.

After once again confirming he was ok solo I shot ahead again and eventually caught Geo. As we chatted about what had happened since we split up Steve again caught up.

I let them both know I was eager to wrap the hike up and that I had an insulated bag back in the Jeep with a bunch of small Gatorades in it that I was willing to share. We checked that everyone was doing ok and we were all ok taking our own pace back to the trailhead where we would wait until the entire team was back before taking off in our own vehicles.

I was the first to arrive and confirmed that Alec's truck was gone - happy to see that he had apparently made a safe return. It was unfortunate that he had wandered off just before the ridge but we knew he was capable of handling himself and we had confirmed that he had decided at the ridge to turn back, as mentioned earlier. That was a notable glitch in the otherwise successful teamwork that day but there wasn't much we could have done about given the circumstances.

Later Steve arrived and eagerly accepted some Gatorade with Geo strolling in a while after that.

Several Gatorades later, after a little debriefing we congratulated each other and headed out.

Example of part of the trench through the trees.


I didn't record as many points as normal but here are a few key spots:

6:16am start from Avalanche TH

2:34pm Steve and I on Yale summit

2:58pm Steve and I drop packs to go to Mascot

3:48pm Mascot summit

5:02pm back on Yale's ridge

9pm sharp - I made it back to Avalanche TH (Steve and Geo follow, um... later...)

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37

Comments or Questions
Very nice report...
03/23/2021 09:53
... as they always are, David. Thanks for posting this one. A well earned snowflake for the 3 of you!

wonderful report
03/23/2021 17:56
That was a great report. I enjoyed the detailed avalanche analysis at the beginning of the report, and ths great photographs.
It was interesting that you mentioned plunging through the cornice on mascot in 2019.
It immediately reminded me of a similar experience on Torreys Kelso ridge one Feburary day long ago. I wondered to close to the left edge looking at the scenery and down I went. Snow was kind of thick, so I caught myself with both arms about a foot passed knee deep. It certainly kind of spooked me as the terrain below was steep. I dug myself out, and have Always stayed away from such areas since.
Thanks for posting this.

Last snowflake this season
03/23/2021 18:24
It was great to meet you on this hike David! Perfect suffer-fest w/excellent views to close out a fun winter!

Many thanks
03/23/2021 20:45 you and Steve for doing 99% of the trail-breaking and partaking in at least 150% of the suffering on my winter goal victory peak!

Seems worth noting for the record that the signature idea (I also drew some arrows pointing downhill at other spots, though I don't know how visible those were as the light faded) came from where it's due and all!

03/24/2021 21:46
Jay, Fish - thanks, and you're welcome!

Steve, likewise! We'll have to hook up for some good scrambles this summer!

Geo, no problem! Pleasure hiking with you as always. Glad TG passed on that tip - that's a great winter trick for communicating after splitting up.

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