I cruised out of Littleton a little before 4:30 to find a very lonely US 285. As I progressed I became increasingly thankful that the local wildlife decided to sleep in on this Sunday morning. After an even lonelier trek over Kenosha Pass and across South Park, I finally came upon Buena Vista. As the sun was just about to break over the horizon, I couldn‘t pass up the opportunity to stop at the famous overlook above BV to snap a few shots of the always photogenic Mt. Princeton. Taking in the view I contemplated whether the town name is pronounced "bwen-a" or "byoo-na". I‘ve heard both. Hmm.
Buena Vista‘s namesake?
About 20 miles south of BV I found the turnoff for the trailhead. The forest service road was in excellent condition, no snow or ice was to be found. My trusty Mazda 6 made it without incident. A few other cars and trucks were present, but there was no shortage of parking spots. A Starbucks would have been nice, but I‘m not complaining.
Aren‘t trailhead signs cool?
After awkwardly changing in to my hiking gear, I started up the well-worn trail. I quickly shed my stocking hat. Then my gloves. Then my jacket. Then my sweater. Then I started to regret leaving my shorts behind. Maybe I‘m just a stereotypical Minnesota native, but it was bloody warm out!
Trees, trees, more trees
The slog through the trees seems like it never ends. At some point I lost the trail and started up a fairly steep slope. I thought I might trigger a pine needle avalanche and meet my end in a rather comical way. I finally reached a ridge and found the trail right before it first breaks out of the woods. A little while later I finally reached the end of the bristlecones.
Free at last!
The trail up to the saddle was easy to follow, but strenuous. I really started to feel the altitude at this point, but I pushed ahead.
Not much left of the Angel
After finally reaching the saddle, I was greeted by some pretty strong winds. I‘d guess in the 60 to 70 mph range. I quickly replaced my jacket, gloves, and hat. A few minutes later I also dug out my facemask and ski goggles.
The final pitch up to the summit from the saddle
Crossing the saddle I had to aim myself into the wind to keep the gusts from pushing me over. Once I reached the start of the summit pitch, I was able to angle over to the east side of the mountain to shield myself from the brunt of the wind. Two guys (and their dog) coming down informed me that the summit wasn‘t much calmer. Well, I‘ve already come this far - what‘s a little more wind?
Looking back down on the saddle
Taking frequent breaks, I progressed up the incline towards the summit. The trail wasn‘t very defined at this point (at least not that I could find) so I took to light scrambling to make my way up.
Looks like Monarch has some snow
Nearing the summit I came across another fellow who told me I was "basically there". Woohoo! A few more steps and I was on top. Unfortunately I was alone on the summit, and a cold wind and automatic timer on the camera means my criteria for "decent summit shot" drops considerably.
After a lunch of GORP and a PBJ tortilla, I took a few more shots.
The "summit pole" looms over Mt. Ouray
Summit panorama looking northeast to southeast. The Collegiates are far left, the Sangres are way off in the distance on the far right.
Summit panorama looking south to west. The San Juans are way out on the horizon.
At this point I decided against continuing on to Tabeguache. The conditions (winds, lateness of the day, my legs) didn‘t warrant the extra exertion required.
The ridge over to Tabeguache
So I geared up again to begin the long descent back to the trailhead.
Ready to head down
It was pretty slow going back to the saddle. I tried to follow the neon markers bolted into the ground, but I lost them about a quarter of the way down. There were a few small patches of snow that I must have missed on the way up, but they were easily avoidable. When I reached the saddle the winds had died down significantly.
So began the trek back to treeline. I repeated my shedding routine - jacket, hat, etc. This is where my ski poles really came in handy. I had never hiked with poles before, but my last two 14ers had left me with bad pain in my right knee (ITB strain I think). This didn‘t appear on this hike, so I think I‘ll continue using them (and maybe invest in a pair of shock absorbing trekking poles).
When I finally reached treeline I was starting to feel like I was almost done - boy was I mistaken! That slog through the woods felt much longer than on the ascent. It just kept going and going and going. ("You know you‘re climbing a Sawatch fourteener when...") By the time I made it to the car I was ready to collapse.
Fading sunlight on Shavano
I stopped for caffeine and ice cream in Buena Vista to keep me awake for the drive home.
This was my first solo fourteener and it was a great experience. The weather (aside from the wind) was just about perfect - especially for mid November! I wasn‘t able to bag Tabeguache like I had planned, but that will be good motivation to tackle this climb again. Overall, another great day in the mountains. 8)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):