| Stormy on Shavano
About a year ago, my brother asked me to hike up one of the Colorado 14ers with him for the occasion of his 50th birthday. This sounded like a great idea, and I figured it wouldn‘t hurt to lose some extra weight and get in better shape as a bonus. We had asked a cousin to join us who previously had climbed up some of the peaks in the Sawatch, but his job ended up interfering, so at his suggestion, and a little guidance, we decided to hike up Mount Shavano on July 3. My niece, who had just turned 16, was going to join us to honor her dad‘s birthday.
Our plan was to camp up about a mile and a half along the trail, putting some of the 4.5 mile hike behind us the afternoon before. Unfortunately, my niece had broken her foot earlier in the year, and as we worked our way up the rocky trail, her foot started swelling pretty bad, and we ended up camping overnight, and then returning to the trailhead the next morning, not having made it much beyond treeline. About all I can say for that experience was that the weather was stunning, and I lost my favorite Maui Jim sunglasses. Ah well – we had a great campout and enjoyed the hiking that we were able to do. We also learned that we were in fine shape to complete such a hike.
When we got back to Oklahoma, and vacation over, I was talking with my brother and told him that we couldn‘t just give in to that, and that he and I should go back and "finish it off". So, we found a compatible week off of our jobs, and headed back out to Colorado the last week of August to complete our mission and summit Shavano for his 50th. As it turned out, our actual hike happened on my 49th birthday, so we had a sort of combined celebration.
We stuck with the same plan - hike up part way the afternoon before and find a good camping spot, and then get an early start the next morning to view sunrise from above treeline and give our slow selves a chance to make it. As it turns out, we were making pretty good time, and got to a spot around 12,000 feet just about daybreak. The downside was that it was extremely foggy that morning, and so we were walking in a mist that had come up the valley. Being from Oklahoma, we weren‘t quite sure what to make of this, and wondered if we were seeing the beginnings of a storm, or was it just fog? So, we decided to play it safe and sit a while close to treeline in case this was a storm brewing and we needed to be back in the trees in a hurry.
After about an hour, we decided that the fog was thinning out and we should just push on ahead. We hadn‘t gotten far when a guy from Texas came walking up with his dog and he thought things would clear up. Sure enough, the fog started to thin out, and blue skies were punching through, giving us a really nice morning walk up past the Angel - although she was dry in late August.
After a brief break on the saddle to eat/drink and unload a little extra weight from our daypacks, we climbed up the steep talus to the summit, completing the climb around 10:30am. The clouds that had burned off were quickly reforming, so we decided it was best to stay only a short time and get ourselves back down. Our Texas friend had already moved on beyond the summit towards Tabeguache, but we didn‘t trust our speed combined with the weather to give us a chance of making that extra peak.
Hey – fifty isn't so bad… Now if these clouds would just burn off...
From the summit looking over towards Tabeguache. The clouds were really starting to build by this time – it was looking pretty socked in to the east.
Once back down to the saddle, we sat to collect our daypacks, etc, and saw our Texas friend coming back down. He said that he had gone as far as the saddle between Shavano and Tabeguache before deciding that the weather required him to turn around. It was here that we experienced the most incredible weather. A literal wall of cloud was pushing its way up the mountain.
The minute we turned left and started down from the saddle and walked into this cloud, it started to rain and sleet about the size of rock salt. We started moving pretty quickly down – almost a slow jog down the increasingly slick and rather steep trail. As we neared treeline, we began hearing thunder coming from behind the summit and knew that we had made the right call to not to push the hike to the other peak. Once we got below treeline, the weather cleared up a bit, and we were able to slow down and enjoy the remainder of the hike back to the trailhead.
So, despite freaky weather, we had a very memorable "first 14er". The exhilaration of standing at what felt like the top of the world made all of the days at the gym well worth it. And it made for one heck of a birthday party. We finished up the day with pizza and beer at Amica's in Salida, with definite plans to come back again.
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