| December Shavano
In early December, I responded to a forum post from Terry Mathews looking for hiking partners for Shavano. Though it was December, snowfall was light and we did not expect winter conditions. This was good because I had neither winter gear nor winter experience! I told Terry as much, and that if things got dicey I had no problem turning around on my own. Of course, he was fine with that and encouraged me to join.
Terry had written up a report for this hike, but I see no way to find it now. The only photos I took were from the summit; I'm not sure how many more he took though. It was a pretty straightforward day but a pretty cold, windy, and generally camera-unfriendly one.
We agreed to meet at the trailhead around 6am, but as always, I took too long to rise and didn't get on the road until a bit after 5. This lead to my biggest mountaineering close call to date when a herd of elk appeared in front of me on Saguache County T road (this herd has since moved south a few miles into the wetland area, and is rarely seen on the road anymore). It was rather fortunate that they cooperated in getting out of the way. Chastised, I continued at a well-under-the-speed-limit pace through the darkness. After a phone call with Terry, I met him at the turnoff from 285: he had already driven out to the trailhead to inspect road conditions, and returned to escort me in my passenger vehicle through a few sections of light snow.
At the trailhead, we geared up. As I had no winter gear, and Terry lent me a pair of gaiters which would be the only missing piece needed today. He turned on his GPS, I consulted my map, and he lead right off around 7. Terry was quite confident of the route, and I became complacent in letting him lead the way. In hindsight, this was a lesson learned, as I am not positive I could have easily found my way back to the trailhead had we become separated. I had map and compass, but with the first hour or more going through forest there would have been relatively little to use as landmark. This was probably also a sign of how much I trusted Terry's route finding, even though this was the first time I'd met him.
It was a pretty standard late-fall hike, through pretty shallow snow. For some time the route was pretty well trenched, but eventually we left it and were basically off trail. The forest was pretty thin though and this didn't slow us down much as Terry kept us going in the right direction. After an hour or two we were in the vicinity of the switchback along the east ridge, and after a bit of discussion turned and cut straight up the ridge. All of a sudden Terry, watching his GPS, stopped and announced we were back on the trail. We sat down for a bit and had a snack. While we were sitting, another hiker - Paul - caught up with us. He'd spoken with Terry also about this hike, and pushed to catch up with us after we'd already left the trailhead behind. The three of us turned west and followed the snowy trail as it contoured along Shavano's east ridge.
Looking northwest from the summit: Tabeguache and the Elks in the distance
Shortly afterwards we crossed through treeline. Here the wind overpowered the cold, sweeping the slopes clear of snow; wind would be a constant theme from here on. The views also picked up; with the cold dry air there was great visibility. I'm not sure if we ever stopped for pictures along this stretch, though we certainly should have.
Eventually we had to cross the arm of the angel. This was a semi-steep snow slope with "not a particularly safe run-out", as Terry put it. However, the snow was hard and footprints were mashed deeply into it. A slip here would have ruined the day, but probably not been fatal. I talked about this particular crossing with Terry a year afterwards and he didn't seem to think it was particularly dangerous, so perhaps I was overreacting.
Straight north from the summit: Antero and the Sawatch
A little ways past the angel we came to another snow crossing, this one with less effective footprints. Here I convinced the other guys to abandon the trail and head straight up the tundra slope, rather than following the trail all the way to the south ridge. As we headed rapidly uphill now the going became tougher, and the lack of oxygen started slowing me down. On the bright side however, the wind was coming from the west and by staying on the lee side of the ridge we were out of most of it.
A slow uphill trudge with frequent pauses for sightseeing brought us to the summit soon enough.
The summit was seriously windy. Actually we still stayed out of the worst of the wind by remaining just down the eastern side of the summit, but the noise was still quite something. I remember we looked all around us, admiring and discussing the views. Far to the south the Crestones were visible, and I was a bit confused that Crestone Peak seemed visually to be to the left of Kit Carson. To the east we could see Pikes, and to the northwest the more heavily snow-covered Elks. Straight north of us was the uninspiring view of Antero, with the road up it clearly visible, and beyond that the rest of the Sawatch.
Paul (L) and Terry (R) on the summit
Terry found 3g on the summit and took the opportunity to update his facebook status (or something)
Look at that pack! It was heavier than mine and Paul's combined.
Terry and I had both wanted to climb "Esprit Point" just to the south of Shavano, if we had time. Humorously, Terry had this peak confused and thought it was Mount Ouray! I insisted it was not, but didn't really push the issue. He kept trying to look it up on his GPS, but either never found it or didn't find the answer he was looking for.
South from the summit: "Esprit Point" and Mount Ouray
Me on the summit (photo by Terry with my camera)
The descent was straightforward, with none of the route finding difficulties that we'd had on the way up. We decided to skip Esprit Point because the day was getting late and it would entail extra snow crossings. Paul and Terry headed north to Eddyline for dinner, but I had to go in the other direction and so we parted ways at the 285 intersection.
This was my first December summit, and I was impressed by the distribution of the snow. Between 10k and 12k feet there was an increasing amount of snow, but higher up it would disappear. Overall this made for quite enjoyable hiking conditions, though wind is also a staple of this season.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):