Monday, July 23, 2012


Mount Shavano & Mount Tabeguache

14, 229'  &  14,155'

July 23rd, 2012


Winner, winner, chicken dinner!  Blackjack!  As easy as that right?  I wish number 21 would have been that easy.  But the hard fought victory is all the sweeter correct?  Once more down to the Arkansas Valley.   I will be happy to finish off the Sawatch Range, and get to head to another part o the state for a while.  While the views are awe inspiring,  I am just getting tired of the drive.  
Doug joined me on this outing.  Even though he did it last year, he thought it would be a good training hike for his upcoming trip up Mount Rainer.  We bivied the night before just below the trailhead.  Luckily I put my tarp up, as I was woken in the middle of the night by rain falling on it.  Not too hard, but steady. 
With headlamps on we headed out at 4:40 a.m. The clouds from the night before, were gone, and the moonless sky was alive with stars.  The seven-sisters watched our backs as we headed up the trail.  The first quarter mile of the hike follows along the Colorado trail, before branching off to the west towards Shavano' summit.  From this point the trail climbed steadily upwards, on "baby-head" (yep.. just the size you are thinking they are)  rocks for a mile.  Once again the darkness and the limited beam of the headlamp created an isolated hiking experience.  With the trail view limited to the fifteen feet in front of me, the true steepness of the trail failed to register in my mind, though the effort was felt by my body.  From the get-go I had been feeling off.  I am never quick on 14ers, but today I felt even slower.  This sluggishness lasted throughout the day, and would take me to the edge of bonking on the way down.
After the baby-heads. the trail smoothed out, and passes through the blow down section.  Apparently there were fierce windstorms this past winter, which blew down a significant number of trees, both conifers and Aspens.  In the dark and from the trail all we could see was where stumps where the Forest Service had cleared the trail.  It was not until coming down, later in the day, that we saw the full force of the winter storms.  My hats is off to those who preserved and worked their way through the blow downs, and continued to the summit, before the forest service did their great work.  I know I would not of had the fortitude to push through.
Once you break through tree line the trail moves westward, traversing the hillside above the Angel of Shavano.  With the light snow this year, the Angel was now all rock.  Doug and I both agreed that it looked like the Angel would be a great snow route.  The trail gains the saddle below Mt Shavano at 13,380'.  The saddle gave a quick respite as we turned northward for a quarter mile, before climbing again and gaining the final 900 or so feet of elevation to Shavano's summit.  Just before reaching the summit, we were past by another party of two.  I was feeling pretty beat at this point so I did not put on the afterburners to try and beat them up.  One step at a time was all I could manage.

Worried about the possibility of afternoon storms (the weather report called for a 69%  chance of afternoon thunderstorms) we only took a quick break on the summit before heading onward to Mount Tabeguache.  I should have used this break time better, and refueled, but I did not.  I was to pay the price of this later, as I ran out of energy and my stomach turned on me.  We reached the summit at  9:10 a.m.; five hours 20 minutes after leaving the trailhead.
The descent off Shavano's summit was not as steep as I had imagined.  The first section involved some boulder hoping to move along the ridge before descending 600 feet to the saddle between the two peaks.  We started off the summit with the other two climbers, but they quickly left us in their wake.  By the time we reached the saddle they were more than half way up to Tabeguache's summit.  Way to move guys!  From the saddle  Doug lead the way switching between one faint trail to another.  Once again the ascent was not as bad as it looked.  We made it up to the summit. in just under 30 minutes from the saddle, and one hour from Shavano's summit.  After a few quick pictures and a brief break (no food for me once again), we were on our way back down again, as we still had to reascend Shavano to get back to the trailhead (does this count as three 14ers for the day?).  Descending off the summit we made the saddle quickly, and I was actually feeling pretty good.

That good feeling did not last!  As soon as we began to reclimb Shavano my body slowed, and doubt crept into my mind.  It took all I had to keep moving 20 yards at a time.  Which each step I could feel my stomach cringing.  I know that if there would have been anything in it, it would not have stayed down.  While resting at one point, I looked northward to Mount Antero and could see the clouds already building and darkening over it.  Shavano's summit was still cloud free, but we could see them building to the south.  Not wanting to get caught in a storm I moved as quickly as my tired body would allow.  We barely stopped at the summit, before heading down to the southern saddle.
Looking north to Mt Antero
Looking south to Mt Shavano Summit (taken at same time as above)

I lead the way off the saddle back towards tree line. It took a great effort to keep pushing on.  All that was going through my mind was to keep going so we did not get caught above the trees in a storm.  I knew that as soon as we were back beneath the real trees we could relax and take a good break.   Once I felt out of the danger zone, we took a 15 minute break.  I laid back on the ground and tried to get myself back under control. I managed to eat a little bite of peanut butter crackers that Doug had given me the night before.  It helped and I started to feel a little more human.  I continued to take small bites on the cracker as we moved downward to the trailhead.  By the time we reached the trailhead at 2:40ish, I was feeling back to normal;  just tired legs.  We had managed to outrun the storm and avoid all  but a few sprinkles of rain.  Once back on the main roads the  storm let loose and we were treated to a great light show almost all the way back to Denver.
Two more peaks into the record books for me.  Lesson learned on these two:  Eat!, Eat! and Eat some more.  I will have to try to find some better breakfast food for me to start the day off right. I have never been a big breakfast eater, but on 14er days I better learn to be.

Postscript:  I found out from my wife that Doug had called his wife from the summit of Shavano and had her schedule a doctor's appointment for the next day to have his ribs looked at.  He had a mountain bike crash a few days earlier, and was apparently feeling it in his ribs today, though he never let on.  X-rays showed a cracked rib.  Makes me wonder what the heck I was whining about, with my tiredness and stomach.  These old guys can be tough!!  A few (well more than a few) years and I will be there.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mt Antero

Mount Antero

July 2nd, 2012


Sometimes you just have to pinch your nose and swallow your medicine.  In my quest to climb all 54 ranked 14ers in Colorado, Mount Antero seemed like it was going to be one of these times.  A ten mile round trip with over eight miles of it being on a well used 4WD road, did not sound like my idea of an ideal wilderness outing.  But remember, "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."  A last minute call to J.C. and I had a partner for this trip.  It would be his first 14er of the year. 

So once more this year I was headed back down into the Arkansas Valley.  Karen and I should have attempted this peak when we were down here two weeks ago, as the trailhead was only 10 miles or so past Mount Princeton Hot Springs.  We left Fort Collins at 4 p.m. with the hope of being able to get up the first 3 miles of the 4WD road, up to Antero, and over the creek crossing to set up camp before dusk.  We started up the road at 8 p.m. and made it into our camp just before dark.    This is the toughest 4WD road that I have driven on.  While it was wider than the road up to the radio towers at Mt. Princeton, is was much more rutted and rock studded.  I had a firm grip on the steering wheel of the X-terra as we slowly climbed up to 10,840'.  It was a relief to finally reach camp and turn in for the night.
With the weatherman calling for a 40% chance of thunderstorms after noon, we hit the trail at 5:45 a.m.  Trail is a misnomer, as four of the five miles up this route are on a well used 4WD road.  The road climbed a little steeper than I had imagined, but we managed to keep up a steady, but slow pace.  I was feeling sluggish this morning for some reason.  I did not seem to get my usual hiking legs, after warming up.

After climbing southwards for a mile and a half or so, the road begins a series of switchbacks leading up to Antero's south ridge.  Just past the first switchback I spied an obvious rocky wash, leading upwards to a steep grassy slope, which topped out a couple of hundred yards below the south ridge on the 4WD road.  It looked like this route would go and avoid most of the switchbacks.  I would like to say I by-passed this option because I wanted to get the entire Antero experience, but truth be told, while this route looked do-able, it also looked steep, and frankly more work than I wanted to put in this early in the day.  Jon and I continued to hike up the road and eventually gained Antero's south ridge at 13,089'.    A half mile below the ridge we were passed by an older Ford Bronco on its way down.  The driver was amazed by the fact that we had hiked up from the stream.  I was amazed  that he drove up.  While the road  was better than the first three miles we drove up, I do not think my nerves would have held up for me to drive all the way up here.  On the ridge is a sign talking about the history and gems of the area.  I noticed a patch of what looked like mountain goat hair imbedded in the wood of the sign, with a larger clump on the ground below.  It looked like a goat had used the sign as an itching post to help shed its winter coat.

We continued moving eastward on FR 278A.  To the south we had a great view of Mount White.  There was an SUV parked on the ridge below White's summit, which looked really cool in silhouette.  After a half mile or so the road once again began to switchback towards the road's end.  I ended up cutting the last switchback and headed cross country to reach the end of the road, where I was greeted by a mamma mountain goat and her kid.  I sat on a rock and waited for Jon within 20 yards of them. The kid was a little jumpy but mom seemed relaxed.  Just before Jon joined me, five minutes later, the pair had ambled out of sight.  What a treat for me!

Where the road ends, the fun begins.  The remainder of the route to the summit can be broken down in two sections: the ridge, and the rocky summit push.  The ridge consists of a class II scramble.  Nothing difficult, but enough variety to make this section fun and interesting.  Great views could be seen below each side of the ridge to the east and west.  The final summit push was through a boulder field.  There were two options for this push, a direct ascent to the summit or a traverse eastwards then a final switchback to the summit.  Once again I went with the more gentler option.  I reached the summit a few minutes before Jon, an enjoyed the solitude.  The weather was perfect; blue sky, no significant clouds, and no wind.  We relaxed and fueled up for 30 minutes, with no other company, before heading down.

Half way back across the ridge we noticed that the sky was beginning to darken.  The clouds seemed to appear out of nowhere.  We made it off the ridge and 100 yards down the road before the thunder began.  Shortly after the thunder, lightening streaked horizontally across the sky just to the west of us.  I did not need any more encouragement to pick up the pace.  I have only been caught above tree line in a lightning storm once before, but once was enough for me to know it was not a place I wanted to be.  As the road curved back onto the south ridge, Jon and I both put on our rain jackets.  Within 5 minutes the rain had turned to a hail/sleet mix.  We were passed by several vehicles that decided it was time to head down as well.  When we turned north off the south ridge we walked into the full force of the storm.  With the sky still dark and thunder rolling on I decided I needed to get down as quick as possible.

After a quick consultation with Jon, I headed down the steep grassy slope that I had first noticed on the way up.  While it was steep, the ground was solid and I made quick work on the descent.  I kept looking back to make sure that Jon was doing good as well.  The lower we got the better the storm got.

The bottom of the grassy slope gave way to the rocky gully.  Both Jon and I kept our eyes peeled for crystals as we worked down the gully.  No luck though.  The gully deposited us back on the road, at tree line.  It was great to be back below the trees again.  With a big sigh we started down the road towards the car again.  We made it back to the car by 1:30.  As happy as I was to avoid getting zapped in the storm, we still had the drive out to contend with.  I was worried that the rain would have made the road slippery, making for an interesting ride out.  turned out that it was a needless worry.  The road was in as "good" of shape as when we came up.  When we made it to the main road, there was no sign that the rain had made it that far.

Antero is not my first choice for a 14er to do again.  It would be a good first 14er to take someone on, if you drove all the way up to tree line, to avoid much of the road walk.  They would not get the '"required" 3000' elevation gain to "officially" count, but it would be a nice intro to 14ers. 

3000' elevation gain, is as Roach says, the "Purists" goal on each 14er.  Is this something I need to stick to? Does is matter if I do not gain 3000' on each attempt?  After all this is my own project, can't I set my own rules?  If I do start setting my own rules, where do they end?  Couldn't I just drive up Pikes Peak and call it good?  It may be my project, but it is their game, so I have decided that I need to play by their rules as best as I can.  I do not feel that I have to gain 3000' on every 14er separately, but rather on each outing ( for example the Lincoln, Democrat, Bross group).  Hopefully this is enough to gain the respect if the 14er community, once (if) I complete  all 54.  Respect is not why I am climbing these mountains (that is a whole separate entry someday, once I figure it out myself), but I would like to think that others would say I played the game honestly.