Date Climbed: September 9, 2016
Elevations: Mount Shavano (14,299') Tabeguache Peak (14,155')
A chance to sleep in and summit on a blue bird day? Who could pass up an opportunity like that? The forecasts called for fair weather the next few days, so I settled on one of the few "double-peaks" I had left: Shavano and Tabeguache. The drives are getting longer and further away from Denver as I check each peak off the list, but soon my journey up the 14ers will be done, and I can concentrate on some more exciting climbs, like first ascents and remote peaks. For now, however, my energy is reserved for the 14ers.
8:30, Salix and I roll into the now full parking lot of Blank's Cabin Trailhead. Boots: check; jacket: check; sunscreen... half-check? Unable to find my spray on, I had to use my emergency ration (which was running very low now). No trekking poles either. At least my knees would feel a good burn! Off we went, Salix sprinting ahead, chasing every squirrel she could find, but staying just close enough to keep an eye on me. Like the rest of the Swatch Range, Shavano and Tabeguache were steep grinds, requiring more willpower than skill. The biggest problem was not so much the elevation as the distance we needed to cover. Though technically not very long, either, it seemed that Shavano was days away rather than hours, with the peak far in the distance, and only barely visible through the trees.
Soon enough, we were in the sub-alpine zone, characterized by wind blasted, stunted trees and loose crumbly rock. Ahead the saddle and summit were just coming into view. Just as we began to exit the trees, I decided to plop down and take in some food and water. Behind and beneath us, the Arkansas valley and Buena Vista sprawled in a wide-open swath of land, gold in the late morning sunlight. As I always do on these hikes, I tried to imagine what this place would look like in the snow of winter. Dangerous and beautiful, no doubt. Despite the danger, I knew this was actually a very popular winter climb, mainly because the avalanche danger could be avoided, and the classic "Angel of Shavano" snow climb allowed relatively quick access to the summit along with a quick descent. This particular trail would be buried and hazards in winter, but the basin far below would offer safe passage in the right conditions.
Each inset gully intrigued me as a possible mid spring couloir, although I was not convinced the inevitable wallowing through snow would be worth it. We set off once again, continuing up the well-marked trail. Ahead we could see a number of hikers slowly making their way up the gentle trail. We caught them all, one by one, first to the saddle, then on to the peak itself.
The hike was uneventful, and after a quick break on the summit chatting with a few Texans, we began our journey over to Tabeguache. Again, in the steady rhythm of breathing and stepping, my mind drifted off to a large peak not far ahead: Mount Antero. Two years ago, near the beginning of my adventures, I had climbed the peak with my parents. The whole time we were grumbling as we walked up the rocky road, bemoaning the fact that we had left our atv's behind. An idea that had gripped me about a year ago came flooding back: a winter ascent of Tabeguache from the Antero Road.
I knew it had already been done before, but the fact that there was no trail and likely to be no one else attempting it spoke to me of a real adventure. Not of the tedious drudgery so common with standard 14er hikes. I wanted adventure and solitude, not conga lines and boasting. But the faster I was done with the 14ers, the faster I could pursue more remote peaks. I did not want to be 50 and still trying to finish the 14ers. I had bigger things in mind, so the easy way was the right way for now. Real adventures would come once winter had reached Colorado. For now, it was all about the numbers and the views from the peaks.
While on the summit, another Texan introduced himself, asking if he could get some pictures of (and with) my dog. I saw no harm, so I agreed, and we shared some of the mini hot dogs I cooked on my little stove. It was a filling lunch, unlike the usual PB&J sandwiches with a Twix. Happy and full, I grabbed a short rest, taking in the epic views from the summit. On our way back over Shavano, I caught up with the Texan I had met on Tabeguache. He graciously shared his water with us since I had run out between trying to keep Salix and I hydrated. We had a good talk on the way down, sharing stories and adventures in Colorado. After we caught up with his partners, we split up as he stayed behind with his group and we moved ahead. Once we reached the truck, I cleaned and bandaged Salix's blisters paws (she had stepped on something in a creek crossing), and we took the long drive home, two summits closer to the end.