Mount Shavano, 2018

  • Date: August 5, 2018
  • Partner: none
  • Height: 14,229 feet
  • Range: Sawatch
  • Route: East Slopes (Class 2)
  • Overall Distance: 9.00 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,600 feet (TH to summit)
  • 14ers climbed: 23 separate climbs
  • 14ers remaining: 30
  • Road Condition to Trailhead: This was an easy drive right to the Shavano/Tabeguache trailhead.  A 2WD can make it with some minor bumps the last few miles of the road.

At this point in the season, we know the drill.  I like to arrive for the climb the night before and hike in a few miles to get to the base of the mountain.  This gives me fresh legs, a head start, and less of a climb early the next morning.  So, I arrived to the trailhead at around 6 PM and headed off down the trail.  Almost immediately, it began to rain so I paused and donned my rain jacket.  The first mile of the trail was a gradual ascent over periodic stretches of rocks; no problem.  Eventually, the trail flattened out a little bit and I came to a creek crossing at ~ 10,800′.  There were several tents here with a big fire going so I continued to move up the trail.

Just as the trail hit a talus field and made a sharp turn to the right to begin a major ascent to gain access to a ridge, I bushwhacked into the woods to the left about a 100 yards and found a nice, comfortable flat stretch of ground for my camp.  While this spot is plainly visible on a good top map, here are the coordinates in case anyone reading this wants to find this on their own: 38.60929 Deg N, -106.21631 Deg E, elevation ~ 11,200′.

The rain intensified and I quickly got the tent set up and dove under my quilt.  After listening to a podcast and munching some dinner, I eventually fell asleep to a show of  thunder and lightning.

When I woke up around 5:30 AM, the inclement weather had temporarily ceased.  I quickly had a snack, packed up my day gear, and got back on the trail.  The trail climbed up onto a ridge and then finally broke out of the stunted trees into a vast valley that houses the Angel of Shavano snow field in the winter.  The target across the valley was obvious; a distinct saddle that sat at ~ 13,300′.

Now, once I crested the saddle, the final approach to the summit was obvious.  I saw several climbers ahead of me and something else — dark clouds beginning to boil up over the horizon over the summit.  I picked up my pace in order to catch up with the other climbers.  The final pitch to the summit is the crux of the climb; braided, indistinct trail that goes into a small section of boulders.  All told, the distance from the saddle to the summit was not far; perhaps not even a mile.

When I was less than 100 yards from the summit, in the thick of the boulders, I was now hiking with two other climbers.  Another guy up ahead of us yelled out  “Lightning!”  Instinctively, like a hawk flying over a prairie dog colony, the two other climbers and I dropped down onto our knees.  Sitting there for a minute, the three of us contemplated whether we should continue.  The storm that was welling up was almost on top of us and we didn’t have much time to dally in our decision making.  I am not proud to say this, but summit fever got the best of me and I pushed hard up to the summit.  It was just too close to resist its siren calls!  The wind had picked up, dark storm clouds were all around in the distance in any direction one looked, and a few lighting bolts could be seen zinging out of the clouds.  I quickly snapped a few pictures in no more than a minute’s time and then literally started to trot/run off the summit.  Pelting hail was now falling, stinging my face under my hood.  I came across another climber who asked about the weather conditions up top and, after listening to my risk assessment, without much hesitation at all, and apparently being much smarter, he turned around to head back down with me.  We made it down to the saddle in nothing flat.

The other climber’s name was Aaron (sp?), a very nice man from Evergreen, CO who was a financial advisor and planner.  We had a great conversation the whole way back to the trailhead, pausing to pick up my camp along the way.  This is the great thing about this sport — you really can meet some nice people when you are out on the trail.

So what are my overall impressions of the Mount Shavano climb?  I would say the Class 2 designation is appropriate.  I’d give this around a 3 on a scale of 14er difficulty.  In fact, for those that want something a little bit more challenging than some of the “easier” Class 1-designated 14ers around Denver, then this might be the ticket.  The trail is relatively gentle, relatively easy to find, but still a respectable 4,600′ of ascent over 9 miles of length to let you know that you truly accomplished something.  Also, since this mountain is more off the beaten path, you won’t find the heavy foot traffic as you do on some of the other 14ers.  Happy climbing!


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