The route down from Yale’s summit to treeline is particularly exposed and not the best place to be in a lightning storm. Below treeline, the route is steep, much bushwhacking is found afterwards. Then there’s a tricky creek crossing.
From the summit of Yale, hike west, then northwest initially following Yale’s standard Southwest Slopes route. Break from it fairly soon and descend Yale’s northeast ridge. At this point, you can easily hike right on the ridgeline, but at a saddle between Yale and Point 13105, it’s much more efficient to side hill it on the southeast face, traversing east and down to a much broader saddle between Point 13105 and Point 12619.
From the summit, you started west. Now, you are facing east, having navigated around Silver Creek Basin in a huge, “C”.
From this saddle, hike north descend towards Cottonwood Creek. The going starts as easy talus hopping at a reasonable grade, but will become much more steep, once you dip below treeline into the Airplane Gully. This gully is filled with young trees – a sign of much avalanche activity. Most likely, this will be some of the steepest hiking you’ll experience on the entire route!
Pick your way safely down this gully, weaving in and out of the strands of trees. A creek may be flowing in the middle of the gully, if you’re running out of water – listen to its gurgling.
This gully is steep, but it doesn’t last long, and soon the grade will ease up again, but only to present you with the next challenge: some fairly stout bushwhacking. The middle of the gully features overgrown shrubbery. To the east you may find older-growth forest, complete with a mess of downed trees. Some game trails may be useful in this area. Look for bountiful stashes of raspberries as well!
Your last, and final challenge before reaching an honest to goodness trail is crossing Cottonwood Creek. Pick your crossing point carefully – a large downed tree or two may provide access by tip-toeing across their trunks. Don’t go for a swim.
Attain the trail, which splits just a few paces to the west. The southern/left fork will take you to Kroenke Lake. Take the northern, right fork that goes to Horn Fork Basin. You’ll be on this trail for only a few minutes before yet again setting off up a loose, steep slope to bushwhack north up Mt. Columbia.
The route up Columbia is direct and it isn’t exactly pleasant, so be ready for some challenges until you get up past treeline. You may again find a game trail or two to help you through the mess of trees and small cliffs. When in doubt, keep going up!
Find your way onto the south ridge which is just to the west of a gully that may be running with a seasonal creek. The creek isn’t easy to access, so don’t count on it for water. Hike north to the broad ridgeline of Mt. Columbia, and take it all the way to its summit. You’ll meet up with the standard route before summiting.
From Mount Columbia, follow the Harvard/Columbia traverse route commonly used by peakbaggers (this route should be at least partly cairned): follow the northwest ridge of Mount Columbia until you reach a small saddle, then drop from the ridgeline itself to the northeast side of the main ridgeline that connects Columbia with Harvard. The main ridgeline can also be taken on, but the crux goes at 5.7.
Ascend Harvard’s southeast ridge and follow it northwest to the summit of Mount Harvard. This traverse isn’t the most pleasant – prepare for a lot of loose side hilling and talus hopping.
The Nolans line is as “classic” as it gets for this style of bushwhackin-eering. It’s also the most direct line down to Cottonwood Creek by a considerable margin. Many alternatives exist if you’re not feeling the very exposed ridgeline, the steep avalanche gully, the mess of downed trees, or creek crossing.
Yale’s East Ridge
From the summit of Mount Yale, descend Yale’s East Ridge Route (Class 2) to the Colorado Trail. Take the Colorado Trail north to the Silver Creek TH. Follow CR 365 West to the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead and rejoin the Nolans line at the Kroenke Lake/Horn Fork Basin trail junction.
Kroenke Lake Route
From the summit of Mount Yale, descend Yale’s Northwest Ridge, towards Peak 12,995. Head north before ascending Peak 1,995. You’ll Kroenke Lake trail west of the lake itself. Follow the trail northeast, then east until you reach the Kroenke Lake/Horn Fork Basin trail junction and rejoin the Nolans line.
Ascending Mount Columbia
Take the standard West Slopes route up Mt. Columbia. This alternative has been used before for successful Nolans runs. When the new west slopes trail gets built, it most likely will be the best choice.
From the Kroenke Lake/Horn Fork Basin trail junction, continue onto the Horn Fork Basin Trail, past where you would break off from the trail to ascend Columbia via the West Slopes route. The trail up this peak is currently devastatingly terrible, but trail work is being done to create a new, sustainable trail. Use the new trail when it’s available, then let the old trail heal itself.
Mount Columbia to Mount Harvard
Water is scarce from the summit of Mount Yale, until you get to North Cottonwood Creek. On the main line, the steep avalanche gully may hold a small seasonal creek.
Cottonwood Creek makes a fine water source, but do make sure to treat the water, it’s a high-use area, including guided horseback groups.
If taking the Mount Columbia alt. and/or the Mount Columbia alt, plenty of running water is available, until you start ascending the west slopes in earnest.
Good dispersed camping near water sources is available in both the Horn Fork Basin, as well as along the Kroenke Lake Trail. It’s suggested to camp just below treeline. Bear Lake looks like a good choice for camping, but it is above treeline and somewhat exposed. Check weather reports before considering this as a camping stop.
Once you ascend any of the slopes/ridges, camping (as well as water sources) will dry up. There’s little option on the standard Columbia/Harvard traverse – the footing is just too rocky. It’s possible to drop northeast towards Frenchman Creek in the middle of the traverse to make a rough camp around 12,200′.
Your next option to camp after Harvard will be at Pine Creek.
Reach CR 365 from the main Nolan’s line by hiking east on North Cottonwood Creek trail, to the trailhead. Buena Vista is easily reached from CR 365, and chances of catching a hitch into town are great.
Leaving a well-hidden resupply cache at the N. Cottonwood Creek TH is also an option.
Reach CR 365 from the main Nolan’s line by hiking east on North Cottonwood Creek trail, to the trailhead. Continue east on the dirt road, until the Colorado Trail, and take the Colorado Trail north until the Pine Creek Trail. Take the Pine Creek Trail west until you’re south of Mt. Oxford.
Slow-lans Guide Navigation:
- Slow-lans Introduction
- Caltopo Route Map Legend
- Start to Shavano + Tabeguache
- Tabeguache Peak to Mt. Antero
- Mt. Antero to Mt. Princeton
- Mt. Princeton to Mt. Yale
- Mt. Yale to Mt. Columbia and Mt. Harvard
- Mt. Oxford, Mt. Belford and Missouri Mountain
- Additional Resources
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