Mt. Princeton to Mt. Yale

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Route Overview: Mt. Princeton to Mt. Yale
Route Overview: Mt. Princeton to Mt. Yale
Route Profile: Mt. Princeton to Mt. Yale
Route Profile: Mt. Princeton to Mt. Yale

Nolans Line

From the summit of Mt. Princeton, the Nolans line descends by following a northeast-facing ridge off of Mt. Princeton down below treeline until it reaches the Colorado Trail. Above treeline, the ridgeline here is easier than the ridgeline coming up to Mt. Princeton, albeit loose. The key is finding an abandoned mining road that takes you down through treeline to the Colorado Trail, near where it crosses Maxwell Creek, a fairly dependable seasonal water source.

Once you cross Maxwell Creek, keep following the Colorado Trail across CR 306 and through the Avalanche TH. Here, the trail climbs up to a high point of almost 12,000′. At this point, leave the trail and hike west up Mt. Yale’s East Ridge (Class 2). Refer to this route narrative on for more details of this part of the hike from Avalanche to the summit of Mt. Yale.

Although only rated Class 2, I would call this route one of the more harder Class 2 14er routes.

Several shortcuts can be taken advantage to those looking for more of an aggressive line:

Once the Colorado Trail crosses CR 344, take a right onto CR 344 heading north, then take a left onto CR 306 heading west and walk this busy road to the Avalanche TH.

Once back on the Colorado Trail after the Avalanche TH, you can shortcut the East Ridge route to the summit of Mount Yale by leaving the Colorado Trail near Hughes Creek heading northwest and taking a very steep subsidiary southeast facing ridge to the main east ridge of Mt. Yale. A far bit of steep bushwhacking and routefinding will greet you, so put on your misadventure pants and be prepared for the unexpected.

Slow-lans Alt.

Descending Mt. Princeton

If more ridgeline walking/aspen tree bushwhacking is not to your liking, take the standard, east slopes route off Mt. Princeton (14ers route description). This route isn’t the most pleasant of all the 14er routes, as the east slopes are somewhat loose (more annoying than dangerous). The route will turn from a trail through the talus, into a dirt road near treeline, before hooking back up to the Colorado Trail. Take the Colorado Trail north and enter back onto the main Nolans line at Maxwell Creek.

Ascending Mt. Yale

When the Colorado Trail crosses CR 306 (road), take CR 306 west to the Denny Creek TH. Take the standard Southwest Slopes route up Mt. Yale (see this route description on This route has been used for part a successful Nolans run. It’s also an easier route than the East Ridge route. Having to hike on the busy, paved, CR 306 makes it a little less attractive.

Do double-check on road construction – there is a chance that the Denny Creek TH will not be accessible.


Water is first available on Maxwell Creek, right after you descend the ridgeline and rejoin the Colorado Trail. There may well be several seasonally flowing creeks along the Colorado Trail towards CR 306.

Water is available on the south side of Middle Cottonwood Creek on the Colorado Trail, before it goes across CR 306. Water should be available at the very beginning of the East Ridge route of Yale, just a few hundred feet after the parking lot for Avalanche Gulch. Water again may be available on the Colorado Trail at a seasonal creek that feeds into the main Hughes Creek as it paralells close to the Colorado Trail itself.

Water may not be available again until after you descend Mt. Yale, and reach North Cottonwood Creek, on your way to Mt. Columbia.


Dispersed camping can be found on the Colorado Trail, with the easier-to-find spots more near to where the Colorado Trail parallels CR 306.

A dispersed campsite can also be found at the start of the East Ridge route up Mt. Yale, where then route branches off from the Colorado Trail.


The closest town in the line between Mt. Princeton and Mt. Yale is Buena Vista. Hitching from CR 306 east will bring you right into town – CR 306 itself will turn into main street. Buena Vista has many of the luxuries of a trail town including grocery stores, restaurants, spirits, a gear shop, post office, and motels to sleep in.

From Mount Princeton

From the summit of Mount Princeton, the most expedient route off would be to take the standard east slopes route. The main Nolans route follows a long ridgeline which is no where you want to be in a thunder/lightning storm. Return to the main route exactly as if you were taking the Slow-lans alternative, which also uses the standard east slopes route for descent.

From Mt. Yale

No matter the route, simply reversing your route down to CR 306 would be the wisest choice if bailing climbing up Mt. Yale. The Nolans line down Mt. Yale is highly exposed above treeline, and descending into the valley floor below consists of descending down a particularly steep avalanche chute. In this sense, taking the East Ridge route up Mt. Yale could be more attractive, as bailing means going back to the Colorado Trail, where you could continue North towards Mt. Columbia, or to camp below treeline to treeline the next day.

Skipping Mt. Yale

From the Colorado Trail/CR 306, continue north of the Colorado Trail to the Silver Creek TH. Hike west on CR 365 for about a mile to the North Cottonwood Creek TH. Pick up the main Nolans line near the Horn Fork Basin and Kroenke Lake trail junction.

Next: Mt. Yale to Mt. Columbia and Mt. Harvard

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