A few weeks ago my climbing partner Cole and I tried to make an attempt on La Plata Peak after a week of solid snow fall. Needless to say it was an attempt and not a summit. The snow has been hitting the high mountains pretty off and on, and unfortunately when I have a chance to get out it is usually right after a big dump of snow. Well, you have to make the best of things and get out when you have the chance. I was in need of a rebound after La Plata’s attempt and I wanted to step foot on a summit.
My regulars wouldn’t be able to join me this week so I threw out an offer on the 14ers website to try and get a partner. Two guys; Bill and Kelan were up for a climb. The target was Mount Shavano and Tabeguache (Tab) Peak in the Sawatch Mountains. These are both 14ers and are most commonly climbed together. Shavano is the southernmost 14er in the Sawatch Range. Shavano has always interested me because it has a very unique feature called the Angel of Shavano.
This is taken directly from The Colorado Fourteeners From Hikes to Climbs by Gerry Roach:
“The Angel of Shavano spawned the colorful legend of a Native American princess who prayed for rain at the base of Shavano during a severe drought. The princess sacrificed herself to the gods and reappears every year as the Angel of Shavano. As she melts, her tears send life-giving water to the plains below.”
I had done a lot of research wanting to climb the Angel of Shavano route, so that was the plan, ascend the Angel of Shavano and complete the traverse over to Tab. As I researched the climb and access road during the week I was put-off a bit by the news that the access road was blocked by a large chunk of ice. The reports were saying on a bend of the road a slab of ice about 50 feet long blocked the road about 2.5 miles from the TH. I figured we would take our chances and show up and see how really bad it was. Adding another 5 miles and 1,000 foot vertical wasn’t enough to turn me back.
|In the Body of the Angel of Shavano|
Shavano is about as far away from Denver as you can get in the Sawatch Range, so we knew we had to either drive over the night before or make it an early, early day on Saturday morning. It worked out that we had to do an early drive so our group met at the Meyers Ranch parking lot off of HWY 285 at 3:30am. That meant I had to get up at 2am which I wasn’t looking forward to, but I will make exceptions if I’m climbing mountains. To get to the TH from the Denver area we took HWY 285 almost into Poncha Springs. About a mile north of Poncha Springs is Country Road (CR) 140. Turn west on CR140, then turn north on CR250. Follow CR250 until coming to CR252. Turn slightly left here and follow this road to the TH, or as far as you can in our case. We had to start our climb from a small S turn in the road about 2.5 miles from the TH. We made pretty good time, arriving a little after 6am and on the trail (road) by 6:30am. The walk to the normal TH took us about 45 minutes, so it was a good wake-up…I guess.
The trail is easy to follow and well-marked with signs. If in question a gpx track can be loaded to your GPS or phone for you to follow. My gpx track is available on the link at the bottom of this TR. There was snow here and there in the trees, but no traction or snowshoes were needed for some time. Once around the 10,500 foot elevation we had to put on snowshoes. The trail was still well defined, but the post holing had begun. This left us all weary of our route choice. After post holing with snowshoes on for a while we decided to take the East Ridge route instead of the Angel.
|Me on the Summit|
The East Ridge route was not really set in, so it’s a bit harder to follow. We went along the trail for a bit till it started wrapping easterly around the southern rib. There was some clearings in the trees at the beginning so I decided it was time to hoof it straight up. From about the 11,300 foot mark to 12,000 foot mark is what I would call the crux of the day. This was slow going, trenching in areas, but our persistent progress finally got us up and out of the trees. A few times I sunk in almost to my armpits, and had to bear crawl in places. As we took a break near tree-line it started snowing pretty heavily. These intermittent cells of extreme weather would be in and out for the rest of the day, but for the most part it was warm out.
The main ridge still had a good amount of snow cover so I selected a bare line lower on the slope. I was able to make good progress heading directly to point 13,617. My climbing partners were having a tough go of it so I found a good area to wait for them to catch up. From this point I only had about 800 feet vertical to gain to summit Shavano. I wasn’t sure if we would have time to add on Tab, since the going was so slow. Once Bill and Kelan were within shouting distance I got to the go-ahead to continue up Shavano and decide if I was going to go for Tab.
|The summit of Shavano|
From the saddle that separated Shavano and point 13,617 I found a large boulder and stashed my snowshoes. There were many faint trails leading the 600 vertical feet to the summit. I made good time and finally made the summit of Shavano around 2:30pm. I knew it was too late to head over to Tab, so I was pretty disappointed about the amount of time it took to ascend. I decided that I had to settle with one summit and would have to wait for the others to join me. I found a spot out of the wind to have lunch and take some pictures. About an hour later we were all together again on the summit and were starting to make our preparations for the descent.
The quickest way back was to glissade the Angel of Shavano. From the saddle we could glissade about 1,500 feet vertically which would save a lot of time. The weather had kicked into a full white-out at this point. We all called our loved ones to make sure they didn’t send out search and rescue, this was going to be a headlamp descent. The snow wasn’t too fast, we didn’t even need ice axes, but once we got going it felt pretty good. In about 20 minutes we were down the “slide” and were back into a hoofing it out position. As we were gearing up with headlamps and snowshoes the wind really picked up and nearly blew us all over a couple of times. I wanted to get to the tree line as quick as we could. We followed the ski tracks that eventually met up with the main trail.
From here is was a walk out of about 3 miles to the normal TH, then an additional 2.5 miles to the car. Luckily I was feeling good so I just kept moving. Time was ticking by pretty quick and somewhere around 8pm we made it to the normal TH. The stars were out, so we at least had a good view. We got back to the car around 9pm making it almost a 15hr day on the mountain.
I would say if there wasn’t any extra waiting this route with Tab could have been done in about 9hrs car-to-car. I have to come back to get Tab, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m hoping to get back up there the last weekend of the month, and maybe tack on a few more mountains in the Sawatch before the summer climbing season begins.
A side note. I am using a new GPS App on my IPhone6 called Gaia GPS. So far I am very pleased with how it works, and it is very affordable in comparison to the Garmin software I had previously. With this program my gpx and klm route can be downloaded and used on Google Earth or any other GPS unit. This is a nice new feature that I like being able to share with other climbers. The data on this climb is a bit skewed because I drained my battery. While I was waiting I found myself messaging and Facebooking quite a bit..which I know is a big no, no in the mountains. Oh well. Haha
Date: April 9, 2016
TH Elevation: 9,000 feet
Mount Shavano Summit: 14,229 feet
Total Ascent: 5,410 feet
Distance: 13 miles
Partners: Bill, Kelan