First an update on our fund-raising efforts: Thanks to you all, Celeste and I have now raised $880 for Denver's Childrens Hospital! Our goal is $2,000, so if you're still considering donating, please feel free to click one of our links below and give a little something to Children's Hospital on our behalf:
In what is now pretty much an annual Summer tradition, Celeste and I packed up the car and met our cousins from Santa Fe, Tim and Michaela, for a jaunt up to the top of one of Colorado's many "14ers", or 14,000 foot peaks. We've done trips to Handies, Elbert and Massive, Quandary and Democrat, and now this year, Shavano, Tabeguache (pronounced "tab-uh-wash," with the accent on the first syllable, I just found out, although I would prefer to pronounce it "ta-wash", so I could sing "ta-wash, ta-wash, ta-wash you want?"), and Antero. In fact last year we were going to climb Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross (and don't forget Cameron!), but as is our style we got started too late and did not feel like we could summit all of those peaks early enough in the day to avoid the temperamental Colorado high-alpine Summer weather. So the original plan this year was to take care of "unfinished business" and climb all of those aforementioned peaks. But the Spring was snowy in and around that area this year, and reports indicated that some of the peaks further South, namely Shavano and Antero, were snow-free and rather more climb-able this particular year. So we changed our plan at the last minute and agreed to meet at the Shavano trail head Friday night to camp.
Celeste and I rolled into the trail head just at dark, where Tim and Michaela had already set up camp near the trail head at the edge of a meadow ringed at all sides by a grove of aspen trees, and dotted with old-growth ponderosa pines, and sporting a close-up view of Shavano. Rather lovely, all told. The weather during the 4-hour drive to the trail head was choppy. We drove through two major rainstorms, one just outside Fort Collins, and another on the way to Buena Vista. The weather lately has been very unsettled, and we all knew that there was a pretty good chance of getting rained upon during our hike the next day, so we agreed that we should get up early and hit the trail before 6:00 am Saturday in order to minimize our risk of getting caught above timberline in a thunderstorm.
So we set our alarms for 5:00 am and settled into bed. Since we were car-camping I brought pillows and our old coleman sleeping bag to sleep on for extra comfort. It was all rather plush and I slept well, until just before 5:00 when I heard the unmistakable sound of ice sloshing violently against plastic; that sound made manifest by an unseen entity dragging our cooler around our campsite. Oh yes, my friends, a bear was trying to abscond with our precious cheese and bud light! First skunks, now this. I'm just glad we decided to leave Ziggy at home this weekend.
I must be the lightest sleeper of the bunch, because I woke up first and said "bear", which although said softly by yours truly, instantly awoke the others into a state of wide-eyed alarm. We all sat in the the tent in silent nervous expectancy (of what? the bear cracking open a beer? or cracking open our tent??) and listened to the sound of the cooler being dragged away. Then the noise abruptly stopped. Tim and I grabbed flashlights and headed out into the dim light of the early morning to assess the situation. We found the cooler on its side, about 30 feet from where we had left it the night before. We didn't see a bear or any other creature, human or otherwise, but we both figured that the cooler was probably too heavy to be dragged 30 feet by a raccoon or lynx or marmot. It didn't appear as though the bear actually took anything, either, but later we did notice that our swiss cheese was missing, although the white cheddar was still intact. So it must have been a Swiss bear. And yes, I know, we made a very stupid mistake in leaving out the cooler, one we managed not to repeat for the rest of the trip. And our tent was a good 25 feet away from the area where we ate and prepared our meals. We actually do know the rules, we just don't always follow them.
Well that was better than any traditional wake-up call, and after a quick breakfast of coffee and cereal, we packed up and headed off towards Mount Shavano. Shavano is the southern-most 14er in the Sawatch range, and is an impressive peak when viewed from the highway leading from Buena Vista to Poncha Springs. And it was an impressive climb as well, featuring 4,400 feet of climbing from our campsite at 9,800 feet to the summit at 14,200 feet in a span of 4.5 miles. The climb was fairly typical for most 14ers: a steep cool ascent through a forest of thin Lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce, then breaking out of the forest at timberline to a wind-swept tundra of lichen-covered stones and traces of winter's snow, and finally a scramble up the final summit cone, guarded by sharp stones, and finally the summit, already populated by gore-tex laden hikers eating trail mix and enjoying the view.
The Angels of Shavano
Although Shavano was my 14th successful unique 14er summit (a nice bit of symmatry there!), I do not consider myself a "peak-bagger", obsessed with summitting all 50+ 14ers in the state. Not that there's anything wrong with that; I admire the Will that drives people to want to accomplish such things. I think I'm just a little too lazy to seek out all of the far-flung peaks, and find myself climbing the ones closer to home over and over again. For example, I think I've climbed Mount Quandary four times, simply because it is so easy to get to from the highway! But I do enjoy the novelty of each mountain, and I particularly enjoy the unique vistas provided by each mountain in turn. The view from Shavano is similar to the view from Quandary, you know, lots of other mountains and what not, but at the same time the view is wholly unique and special in its own way. For the views, I suppose, I would attempt to climb all of the 14ers. We'll see if I get there.
Ah yes, the views. And the clouds.
And in order to climb all of the 14ers, Shavano guards the approach to another 14er, Mount Tabeguache(-chu want!?!). Tabeguache is only assessable (by normal people) via a high ridge that separates it from the summit of Shavano. So in order to climb Tabeguache one has to summit Shavano, then hike the exposed ridge between Shavano and Tabeguache, climb Tabeguache, and then return via the same connecting ridge to Shavano. It's fairly exposed, but not technically difficult, and the round-trip takes about 1.8 miles. The general rule for 14ers is that one really should be off the summit before noon. After noon, the weather on the peaks gets rather dicey, and there is literally no place to run or hide in the event of a thunderstorm. We had decided that if we attained the summit of Shavano by 10:00 am, that we would allow ourselves to hike the ridge to Tabeguache and summit that peak as well. An in fact we did summit Shavano by 10:00, but since the weather had been so unsettled, we noticed far more clouds than usual on the summit at this time of day. We decided that even though we had made our time goal, that the weather was just too sketchy today, and decided not to try for Tabeguache. In my opinion, a big part of being a good mountaineer is knowing when to turn around. I'm as bad as anyone when it comes to contracting a case of "summit fever", but I know when it's time to pack it in and live to climb another day. So we bid Tabeguache a farewell from afar, with a promise to return someday, and made our way back down the windy summit of Shavano, and back to camp. Not one hour after we made it back we got hit by a short and fierce little rainstorm, which seemed to reinforce our decision.
After a dinner which consisted of an appetizer of cheddar cheese on triscuits, another appetizer of cheddar cheese quesadillas, an entree of cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches, and for dessert, more cheddar cheese on triscuits, we thoroughly secured the campsite and went to bed. The next morning we were originally going to climb either Mount Antero or Mount Princeton, or the high-13er Mount Ouray, but in the end we opted to sleep in and hike the Colorado Trail, which intersected the Mount Shavano trail very near our campsite. Also the weather played a factor in our decision; we got another rainstorm at 2:00 am that night, and woke up to a sky filled with heavy clouds. I'm sure we would have been fine, climbing another 14er on Sunday, but ultimately we decided on the easier and more convenient option of the Colorado trail, since it meant we would not have to drive anywhere or break camp.
That's how you ford a stream!
We enjoyed a delightful 11 mile hike on the famed trail, passing by several groups of people that were "through-hiking" the entire 470+ mile span of the trail from Denver to Durango. We plotted and planned our own through-hike adventure (someday!) and enjoyed several vistas of my new favorite mountain, Mount Ouray. Mount Ouray is not a 14er, but it's darn close (13,961 feet), and it enjoys a prominence that give it an impressive air that many of its taller and more-often-climbed neighbors lack. It is, in short, a beautiful mountain and I intend to climb it; partly because it comes so close to being a 14er and I assume simply by dint of lacking a mere 39 feet of prestige, is almost completely ignored even though it is undeniably more impressive and beautiful than many other peaks that by some accident of commercial standards sit above a completely arbitrary numerical threshold of elevation. What if the length of a "foot" was only 0.3% shorter? Then Ouray would also be a 14er, and would be undoubtedly be one of the more popular ones, to boot. I understand the desire to climb the tallest peaks in the state, for the adventure and sense of accomplishment (and the views!), but I get the feeling there is a significant drop-off between the number of people who climb, say, the 10 least tall 14ers, and the number of people who climb the 10 tallest 13ers. I'm guilty of that as well; I think I've summitted 3 or 4 13ers, and as mentioned, 14 14ers. Maybe it's time to even the score.
Many more pictures:
And if you're interested in donating, here are the links once again, thank you!