| East Ridge & The Angel
Mt. Shavano 3/10/ 2008
I watched Shavano for several years. I saw it blanketed from top to bottom on a few rare occasions, but it never lasted long. The Angel snowfield fills in, but near the summit only the wet sticky spring storms cover, then the snow is eventually scoured off. Riding its entirety was becoming an ongoing joke in the drought years. I had to put time in waiting, watching, and failing. Climate trends are discouraging for this project, and I am only making it worse with my own carbon contribution. I honestly hinged a lot of this project on Shavano. I remember Crossen's desperate initial reports, and saw my own conflicted reality. Maybe things had just changed since those books were written.
Optimism is the fundamental requirement for Shavano. In the spring of '07 the Sawatch received a few nice storms that brought the snowline to the trailheads, but the wind prevented accumulations from being exceptional above treeline. The next system came in slowly over the weekend, and quietly moved on by Tuesday, leaving a nice heavy wet blanket over the Sawatch talus fields. I knew it, and still went in to work on Tuesday like a good smurf. My buddy Josh at the BLM ranch in Lake City was thinking the same thing, but we let the thoughts pass on without action. Fabio visited the next week, saying that his Grandpa in Salida was talking about how much snow was up on Shavano. 'It looked good enough to ski for a few days, then the wind came and took it all away again.' I recently read a report for Shavano dated just after that storm, but they were on snowshoes: can't make turns on those, but the photos confirmed the line was passable. The storms of December 2007 had hit Shavano again, but there was no base, and the avalanche hazard persisted until Shavano's pattern baldness had relapsed again. I checked the Blanks Gulch TH by sled in late February, but didn't make the first ravine crossing in the facets.
Monarch reported a 400" base by March in 2008. Shavano was just one calm storm short. A few light and foggy storms moved through during the workweek, so I headed over the pass again, turned onto FS 250 and dumped the sled after a cattle guard. There were signs for the Mt. Shavano TH. At the big opening I stayed low and to the left to find the crossing through the ravine, and followed the mellow rib through thin trees on a nice crust. Shavano lit up with the sunrise. The trees got thicker and the crust ended. I was probably 9,300, and only a couple easy miles from the trailhead, but breaking trail with a big machine alone, and into unfamiliar forest was stressing me out for a few reasons beyond the obvious. I stopped and stepped off the treys, breaking through to my crotch in low elevation sugar snow, and feeling the ground beneath. This bothered me because it was likely to get worse later in the day and getting out wasn't something I wanted to leave as an 'IF'. I turned back to get a look at the peak again from the clearing. It actually looked pretty good today. The Angel snowfield had reached its arm to the ridge, and under lifting clouds, the new snow looked like it was sticking. Back at the truck, with the sled loaded up again, I headed for Maysville and the Angel Campground for another chance.
I headed out at 9:00 Daylight Savings Time on the Colorado Trail, a thin ribbon of snow across a brown hillside to the aspen forest. The trail was still defined after 6" of new. A light snow fell, and I kept my expectations low traversing to the Blanks Gulch TH, passed it at ten, and followed the Colorado 1/4mi further to a left turn west, following a snowshoe track under a foot of new. I stuck to this trail, finally letting my mind unwind a bit after the calamity this morning. A light snow moved in, and the tracks stopped at the top of a knoll. Mountains appeared behind me for some reason, but I wasn't sure because of the low visibility. Sure enough, my compass said southeast. I retraced and took a northwest course down through a gradual saddle to the main ridge again. It was noon at treeline. I trended left from some of these slopes.
There was blue sky overhead for awhile.
There is a bad false summit on this ridge, and if my progress was slow going up the talus to this point, it was sloth-like gaining the actual summit.
The storm was breaking, and low clouds drifted across the Arkansas River valley. I tried to trace out a line to follow from the summit, but found the true highpoint to be a few more yards north.
Fortunately the snow was even better over there, and I could see a way to get back over to my tracks between all the rocks. When it was finally time to ride, it was half past four. I dropped in from the summit, missing most of the rocks. I had the wrong wax on, so did not have to turn as much. More turns meant more edge damage, and bases are easier to fix than edges.
I hit a bunch of chicken heads traversing right, over to my tracks, but it was pretty good to the saddle.
I was having trouble deciphering the older refrozen snow of the Angel's arm from all the new snow. I decided to try to follow a feint traversing line to the Angel's Head. I hit so many rocks, that at times I could smell them spark. I managed to stay off my face by riding with poles. My base was probably Swiss cheese by the then. It was strange how the upper part of this snow formation is not deposited in a depression, but a raised wind drift sitting in the middle of the slope. It was narrow, but thick enough to stay off the rocks. The slope rolled over to the main run, and I trended left to the crust, then eased back around past the wind-affected snow. Where I did get this snow, the usual 'hollowness' that seams to come with windy March snow, was absent.
My chewy underbelly made for some strange handles coming down the Angel. A classic run with great snow! I made it to the next meadow with the poles, and split at treeline. I found my skin track off to the left, and glided to the Colorado Trail again, kicking along through the aspens in the calm of late afternoon. Very sublime, knowing my project had finally reached this benchmark. I was back at the truck by 6:00
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):