Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak
Although I climbed Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak today, my original intent was to climb Mount Massive. My plans had to be modified due to an unfortunate Army Black Hawk helicopter that crashed on Mt. Massive on Wednesday. The crashed occurred high on the second highest peak in Colorado (14,421 feet) at around 14,200 feet. I didn’t hear about crash on Mt. Massive until the day before my climb when friends at worked mentioned the accident to me for they knew my intent was to climb the peak the subsequent day. I called the Colorado Forest Service to find out more details and they indicated the mountain was closed to hikers. Changing my climbing plans was an insignificant detail. Sadly, all four soldiers on board the helicopter crash were killed in the training operation. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the soldiers lost in this tragedy.
With a new plan established, I picked up my stepfather Jim early in the morning and headed for the trailhead. I have known Jim over 15 years. I am very lucky to have a stepfather that I am close to. We enjoy doing similar activities together such as hiking, biking, and spending time in the mountains. He has a quirky sense of humor and we always have good laughs together.
On the way up the mountain Jim expressed how delighted he was to see me climbing all of these mountains and was proud that I am really giving it my all to achieve it. He said he has always viewed Colorado as “a huge playground”. I never really thought of Colorado in that fashion, but as I processed what he said, the more I identified with it. I get to enjoy so much of what this state has to offer including climbing, fly fishing, mountain biking, the snow, the rivers, the spectacular scenery and weather, the incredible sunrises and sunsets, and the people. I experience only a small piece of this state daily and it makes me feel alive. Colorado is a huge playground! This state has so much to offer.
Jim and I arrived at the Blank Gulch Trailhead at 7:30 a.m. to begin our hike. This was a standard route of climb these two peaks from the east but there were only a few cars in the parking lot. To ascend both summits, we would travel approximately 10 miles and gain over 5,400 feet in total elevation. The plan was to ascend Mt. Shavano first and then proceed through the saddle to Tabeguache Peak. We would then have to resummit Mt. Shavano before heading down the mountain.
Preceding the ascent towards Mt. Shavano the hike was along a gentle portion of the Colorado Trail through some aspen groves and meadows. I think that someone may have lived in this location because there was an old fence and large aspen trees were spaced throughout a sizeable meadow. I couldn’t distinguish any abandoned structures but it appeared that someone may have cleared the trees and vegetation to create a more spacious area.
After leaving the Colorado Trail, the beginning of the hike towards Mt. Shavano was along a rocky path. The trail seemed to be along an ephemeral drainageway (intermittent flows) that conveyed runoff during the spring snowmelt. The boulders were smooth probably due to hikers but more likely eroded due to water flow. It was dry now but it wasn’t easy on the knees.
From the start of the hike, I continually moved ahead of Jim. He was steady and consistent in his pace, but it was a slower rate than what I preferred to move at. About a half mile into the hike, I was already a hundred plus yards in front of Jim. As I waited for him, I realized that if we maintained the current pace, I probably wouldn’t be able to climb both peaks. Jim didn’t have any intention of climbing Tabeguache Peak and I didn’t want to rush him. In that moment, I weighed the difficult decision of separating from Jim and proceeding to the summits on my own.
Making the decision of moving ahead alone wasn’t easy. I have a small fear of hiking alone. That fear has diminished with gained experience and knowing there were other people hiking the mountain today. However, hiking alone can still be unsafe. I also had a fear for Jim hiking alone. I think the bigger issue was not summiting Mt. Shavano with Jim. I truly enjoy arriving at the top of a mountain with someone else and to overcome that struggle and to persevere together. Prior to the summit ascent, I will always wait for my friends because there is much gratification reaching the top together. However, I wanted to make sure that I summitted both peaks. I labored over what to do.
When Jim approached I presented him with a good alternative. The hike to Tabeguache Peak from Mt. Shavano was one mile on way. From Tabeguache Peak I had to resummit Mt. Shavano so I figured I could proceed ahead and would join Jim on the summit of Mt. Shavano on my way back from Tabeguache Peak. In doing so I complete both peaks and I am still able to be on the summit of Mt. Shavano with Jim. Jim was fine with the idea and I advanced ahead.
Climbing alone I found myself pushing intensely as I moved uphill. I felt a drive to just keep climbing. I would look in the distance and say to myself, “When I get there, I will stop and take a break.” But when I arrived at that destination, I found myself not stopping and continuing to push forward. I took a couple breaks but for the most part I pushed towards the summit. I wanted to be at the top and it was just the mountain standing in front of me. Nothing I couldn’t overcome and nothing holding me back. The independence was freeing.
I enjoyed the hike up to the high saddle below the summit of Mt. Shavano. The route left the protection of a striking forest full of aspens and pines and gradually ascended along a defined trail. I reached the saddle fairly quickly, where I witnessed a beautiful view of Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak in the background. The saddle was large, flat and provided a nice relief to the ascent. The size of the saddle and the perspective it provided of Mt. Shavano made the final ascent to the summit of Mt. Shavano appear deceiving. From the saddle, the final push to the summit did not give the impression that it was very difficult. Like they say, looks can sometimes be deceiving.
The final portion from the saddle to the summit was not extremely difficult but was more demanding than what I first thought. The remaining 800 feet vertical was over loose talus, which slides with each step I took. I felt like for every two steps I took forward, I went backward one step. There was also some minor boulder scrambling. It wasn’t horrible but it was more difficult than first perceived.
The summit of Mt. Shavano was perfect. The weather was calm, the skies were clear and the sun glared down upon me. Shortly after arriving, the one person who was on the summit was leaving and heading to Jones Peak. I was on the top of Mt. Shavano by myself and I basked in the serenity and seclusion. There was something great about being up there alone. I opened my Fat Tire and relaxed. I found a comfortable rock and kicked my feet up and just looked to the north. I could see so many beautiful peaks… Princeton, Yale, Antero, Harvard and Columbia. It was perfect!
After I enjoyed my Fat Tire and a little time alone, I packed up my gear to begin the hike over to Tabeguache Peak. I hiked down the gradual 700 foot drop from Mt. Shavano to the saddle between the two mountains. The route required some easy boulder scrambling. From the saddle, the 600 foot climb to the top of Tabeguache Peak was along more talus. This climb was fairly easy.
When I arrived on the top of Tabeguache Peak there was an older couple probably in their 60’s getting ready to leave the summit. They just hiked to the top of Tabeguache Peak from Browns Lake. I was impressed with what they had accomplished. Prior to climbing down I was able to get them to capture a couple pictures of me on the summit. Once they left, I again had the summit to myself. What a beautiful day. I was lucky to be as isolated as I was. I felt boundless.
I spent some quality time on Tabeguache Peak before descending. I didn’t want to wait too long because I wanted to meet Jim on top of Mt. Shavano. I resummited Mt. Shavano to find no one on top. From the peak I could see the saddle below from where Jim would be ascending but I couldn’t find him. There was a person sitting in the saddle but I wasn’t sure it was him. I then questioned whether I should descend or wait. I figured if Jim was still ascending, I would have to pass him since the trail was fairly defined and open. So, I descended towards the saddle. When I arrived to the saddle, the person I thought may be Jim was not. From the saddle, I obtained a great point of view of the trail leading up and I could see Jim descending about a 0.5 mile in front of me. So I needed to catch-up and began descending.
I met Jim at tree line. He stated that he had made it up to the saddle below Mt. Shavano but didn’t make the final push to the summit because he didn’t have the energy. He was still happy to have made it up to the saddle. That made me think, I place so much focus on getting to the top that sometimes I forget to appreciate that I might not make it to the top. I imagine at some point that bad weather, difficulty, or injury will prevent me from getting to the top of a peak and I need to appreciate my fortunes thus far. I also need to enjoy all the components of the ascent. Getting to the top every time is great but in the event I don’t make it, I need to appreciate where I made it to and learn from it. I am glad Jim made to the height he wanted to reach and how he was thankful for where he ended.
On the descent my knee was once again in pain from all of the hiking; a combination of this climb and my previous climbs. I knew that I needed to purchase a knee brace to minimize the damage and pain in my left knee after climbing Mt. Elbert but I was lazy about following through. I was not being smart. Purchasing a brace would be a must prior to my next climb. It was miserable.
We arrived back to my truck at around 3:30 p.m. It was a great hike and two more successful summits for me. That makes 14 peaks in less than 7 weeks with more to come. Aaaaaahhhhhh yyyeeeeaaaa!!!
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