| Shavano and the Gooch
Members of 14ers.com that I remember (sorry if I forgot anyone): paulperea, shogun, aerohr, mtngoat, CUaaron25, pioletski, martynda
We arrived at the Shavano trailhead around 6pm and found a few more of our party already set up camp and were hanging out and drinking beer. The beauty of car camping is that you can take everything and the kitchen sink you, which is what we did, we had 4 people in the car and 3 tents between us, a bit of an overkill. There was a nice fire ring in the middle and some of us went to go find firewood, which there was absolutely no shortage of, others set up the tents and get out some more beer. After some stove cooking and a bit of general chit chat, we headed off to sleep with an agreed upon wake up call of 4.30 the next morning.
Even though the night was forecast to be cloudy, windy and rainy, it was dead still with a starry sky and fairly warm; my thermometer read 37 inside the tent. We woke up from our forced 2-3hrs of sleep for the night expecting to see clouds and bad weather coming in. After joking a bit that the forecasters got it wrong once again and expecting a beautiful day ahead of us, we got on the trail at 5.45 am.
We made great time to the snowline at around 11k ft up a mostly snow-free and clearly visible trail. Once the snow hit, we put on snowshoes and did our best to avoid postholing and do some trailfinding/breaking most of the way through the treeline while going over to our left to hit Angel's runoff. We stumbled/postholed our way through the trees to a small boulder field with a clear campsite and then saw some clearing to our left, which greeted us with a clear path to Angel about a mile head and some amazing scenery looking down the mountain. From this point on, the going got much easier and we made it to the base of Angel in about 30 minutes. We took a little snack break, happily stashed our snowshoes, threw on crampons and mentally prepared for the 1500 ft (or so) climb up to the top.
Since it was still early in the morning, Angel was still quite firm which made good use of the crampons, but as the morning sun was beaming directly onto the snow and it was getting noticeably softer as we made it up higher. We headed up the head of Angel which brought us to within 100 vertical feet from the summit. This is when a few of us started to get really tired since we did not stop for any significant break since starting Angel. After a quick Gu break and getting second wind, we scrambled up the rocks (still in crampons to get some mixed climbing practice) to the summit of Shavano hitting it at 10.20am.
Over the next 20 minutes or so, the summit filled up with 11 people. We were just able to see Tabeguache a little ways out. At this point, the weather was getting noticeably worse. While it was not cold, wind and snow began blowing and visibility quickly dropped to almost non-existent. With the weather quickly turning, we started discussing if we wanted to tackle Tabeguache, or the Gooch, as it came to be called the previous night since none of us knew how to pronounce it. Half the people on top at that point had already done it and were heading back, the rest of us (5 people) also seemingly decided that it was not a good idea and decided to turn back. Of course, we didn't actually move anywhere and after a few more minutes of sitting around, we decided that we were all feeling pretty good, clothed correctly, had 2 GPSes, had plenty of time, and knew the way back if we needed to turn around, so with a collective "let's go for it", we started heading down the other side of Shavano at 11am. The forecast was right.
The rock hopping down Shavano was pretty fun and we covered the 500ft decent to the saddle pretty quickly. However, when the rocks stopped, we were faced with a COMPLETE whiteout to a point where we could see the rocks 10ft ahead of us, but did not know if it was a snowfield or a sheer drop right beyond. The topo on the GPS said that it was the saddle, so with ice axes in self arrest grip, we started crossing the saddle. It was a very shallow slope and with some breaks in the snow/clouds, we were able to make out rocks ahead of us, which was the Gooch, inviting us to climb it. After a few patches of rock/tallus, we came to the ridge, which led us straight up to the summit. The ridge itself deserves a note of appreciation because it was knife-edge like with some cornices which made for exciting climbing. It was very stable though and we were able to kick step all the way up quite comfortably. The fact that we were still in a whiteout probably made the exposure much less dramatic. The traverse took us 1hr45mins. The picture to the left is what the mountain looked at around that time (taken by someone who had come down earlier)
And on the mountain:
After spending a few minutes on top of the Gooch and some pictures, we headed back down to the saddle, still with little visibility. At this point, the standard route requires a climb back over Shavano, but we thought we were smarter than that and would cut across the side. Big mistake. Looking back at the GPS tracks, we only spent an hour doing this, but it felt like much longer and was incredibly demoralizing because we felt like we were not making any progress at all. We exited on the ridge just below the pile of rocks that we rested at a few minutes before and began the fairly uneventful descent.
We glissaded close to 1500 ft of soft snow. Of course the fun of sliding down a gully wouldn't last and the snowshoes had to go on for the rest of the trip down. It was good going following down our previous trail, some ski trails and trying to avoid postholing for the most part. Around 11k ft, the sun started shining through the trees, our snowshoes were off and we stumbled back to our campsites exactly 10 hours and 22 minutes after we left. The couple of beers left at the campsite in our "fridge" were a well deserved prize.
This same report is posted on my blog: http://dimam.net/2009/05/shavano-and-tabeguache/
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):