| Climbing the Angel
Peak: Mount Shavano
Route: Angel of Shavano
RT Distance: 8 Miles
Gain: 4,600 Vertical Feet
Monday, June 16th was a day I had set aside a week prior to go climbing. Originally I was just going to go hiking on a 13er in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near where I live, but Sunday evening I suddenly remembered that I had wanted to climb Shavano and its famous Angel. I had seen it the day before from the town of Salida and knew it wouldn't be long before it melted out entirely, but for now the southern arm remained continuous almost all the way to the 13,380 saddle south of Shavano's summit. So, at around 8 PM Sunday night, I threw my climbing stuff together and headed off to the Mount Shavano Trailhead. Thus began the heaviest climbing week of my life.
My poor car drove up the first 10 miles of the mountain for me. There was some pretty intense moonlight when I arrived at around 10 PM, and I wondered how I would sleep. Sure enough, despite probably the most comfortable sleeping arrangement I had ever set up for myself in the back of my car, I didn't sleep well. I thought to myself, "Well at least I'll have some moonlight to hike by when I get up."
What luck. When I did get going, the moon had gone down. I'm not one to get scared of the dark, but when it's 3 AM, I'm hiking my first solo 14er, there's not a sound besides my own footsteps, and it's so dark that the only thing in the world is what exists in the beam of my headlamp, I get a little spooked. I moved along the trail slowly, not even realizing how steep it was. I felt so glad when I finally got to the stream that was running along the trail, just for the sake of a little noise. I managed not to lose the trail and it was only starting to get a little light when I got to the part of the trail where I was supposed to start the bushwhacking to the base of the Angel. Just to make sure, I got to the hard right in the trail at 11,200 feet so I knew to turn.
Through the woods I went, and the going was easy. The worst obstacles were a few fallen trees; otherwise it was just grass and forest. Everything gradually got lighter as I moved off to the left. I managed to break timberline a little earlier than I would've otherwise and started hiking along some talus hills. I spotted the Angel and knew I was making good vertical progress. I shut my headlamp off and left the trees completely.
Before sun hit the mountain, I had hiked up to the base of the Angel. My guess is that the snow started around 12,000 feet. I took my first real break to put on my crampons and get my ax out. That achieved, I turned around and looked up the 1,100 vertical feet of snow. I started up. The snow was pitted from recent sunshine, except for a glissade track which ran down the middle of the snow slope. It never got really steep, and felt more like a hike up a snow slope than a couloir climb.
I reached the part of the Angel where it normally splits into the head and northern and southern arms, to find that the southern arm was definitely the obvious choice. The poor Angel was decapitated! Damn that solar radiation. I continued up and left, keeping just to one side of the glissade track as I hiked.
By the time I ran out of snow just under the saddle south of Shavano, the sun was up and it was almost 7:00. I stowed my crampons for the day and started hiking up the rock pile that is Mount Shavano's summit cone. There were little trail segments everywhere and I used them when it was convenient to do so, but it was all basically talus and scree. It took me about an hour to get up the last 800 vertical feet, and I sat on the summit happy about my overall time so far. There was a bit of wind in an otherwise beautiful day. I was amazed how far I could see from the summit… all the way to the Sierra Blanca, maybe 100 miles to the south.
The whole time I was descending the summit cone, I kept reminding myself that once I got through the looseness I had the fun of glissading the Angel to look forward to. Once I arrived at the top of the Angel, there was no hesitation. I already had my ax out, so it was just a matter of walking up to the beginning of the glissade track, sitting down, and pushing off. The longest glissade of my life so far was definitely a blast. There was only one spot, just before the slope got steeper, where I had to stop to get over a few rocks, but beyond that it was a fun ride all the way down. The glissade track had formed banking turns and piles where people had stopped and created snow mounds… in my case, jumps!
It took me ten minutes to descend what took me over an hour to ascend. I put on the break and skidded nicely to a stop just before the snow turned to rocks, and found that I had had an audience of a solo hiker and his dog. We exchanged pleasantries briefly and he continued on. I took off my glissade uniform of death (rain coat and pants that are slicker than grease), stowed my ax and started hiking back down the basin.
I didn't find the trail as high as I had left it, but I found it nonetheless, and the going was no easier once I did. It seemed much longer and steeper on the way out than it had on the way up, but that's night hiking for you. Just before I got back to the Colorado Trail junction I came along a very large youth group outing, who were hiking up with massive packs to spend a few nights out. I wished them well.
I was back at my car right around 10 AM. Amazed that I was able to complete the hike by that time, I headed home, and was back at noon with nothing to do. I guess that's when I set to planning. The rest of the week brought me an off-trail hike up California Peak (9.2 miles, 4,800 feet of gain), a climb up the Grizzly Couloir in the Sawatch Range with two 13er summits (9.75 miles, 4,000 feet of gain) and a helicopter ride into the high Willow Lake basin in the Sangres plus a 1,000 foot ascent to an injured climber (with 6 miles of hiking to get back down.) All said and done, I had achieved around 14,400 feet and 33 miles of hiking! Like I said in my Grizzly report, I then took a week off.