| Angel of Shavano
After climbing a couple 14ers last weekend and one the weekend before that, I would've thought we'd be more than ready for big-bad Mt. Shavano. But the mountain had other plans in store for us.
On the drive to Buena Vista late last Friday, I guess I underestimated my truck's 265 horses and the weight of my fat foot, because speed came easy. And because of it, I got pulled over. Fortunately, the Trooper was cool and he only gave me a warning.
The next morning, the drive to the trailhead started out dry, which was nice, but ominous clouds loomed behind all that sunshine.
Farther up the road was a bit more slick and snow covered, but someone, who I later learned to be RatherbeintheMtns, made it to the parking area in an Accord without any trouble.
At about 7 a.m. Jen and I started up the trail, which was frosted with fresh snow from the night before.
As we worked our way through the forest, following some tracks in the snow, we did a little postholing here and there.
As it turned out, snowshoes weren't completely necessary, which was nice because I forgot to bring them.
At about 11,000 feet we saw some tracks veer off to the left but we continued to follow the tracks upward. But it didn't really matter, because the tracks we followed eventually veered left as well. No tracks went up the summer trail, which was buried under snow.
BTW, my new GPS was fun to play with in this section.
After following a circuitous route through the woods for a while, the forest spit us out into the open valley.
This is about the time the mountain turned things up a notch. Specifically, we began encountering relentless headwinds and deep drifts of powdery snow.
Upon making it to the base of the Angel, we could see two lone climbers ahead of us (we later learned the first climber was RatherbeintheMtns and the second climber was Altidude). At times, visibility was very limited.
We slowly ascended the Angel's lower body – climber's right, near the rocks.
It was like climbing a massive, high-altitude sand dune, only worse. Every step up sank half a step back down. And in some snowdrifts, we postholed up to our knees.
I can't recall taking so many short breaks on a 14er – ever. We'd climb up 10 steps and then we'd stop for 10 breaths. Then we'd repeat.
Eventually, we moved onto some rocks in search of relief.
But we were only met by new challenges: slippery, ice-covered rocks and leg traps – deep, hidden rock pockets in the snowdrifts.
The higher we climbed, the stronger the winds became. Blowing snow became a factor as well, as it exfoliated our exposed cheeks.
We couldn't tell for sure, but it seemed like the weather was getting worse the higher we climbed. For a moment there, we even considered turning back. But there were brief periods of clearing skies, which showed promise, so we pushed on, albeit at a much faster pace.
Just before the summit, I could see a patch of blue skies and some areas of clarity in the valley to the west.
But then, just moments later, once we actually gained Shavano's summit, clouds once again obscured our views.
Needless to say, we didn't spend much time up there. Just long enough to pimp ourselves some Which Wich subs, baby!
At about 12:15 p.m. we started back down.
As I was scampering down one particularly rocky section, I heard a pop. Nothing major, just my gaiter strap, I thought. But after taking a few steps with it flapping below my boot, I could feel snow working its way into my boot and then immediately melting into my sock. Not a good thing at all.
Luckily, I was able to salvage some of the strap and fit it around the bottom of my boot through the last available hole.
Back when I was in the seventh grade, my parents signed me up for a summer track team. I think they did this so I wouldn't spend my summer playing Atari. Regardless of the reason, I vividly remember my first day of practice, running as fast as I could while trying to keep up with the longer-legged kids. I pushed myself so hard that I later puked from the overexertion.
That's how I would describe the nausea I felt on the descent off Shavano. It wasn't altitude-sickness nausea. It was overexertion-under-nourishment nausea. Bonking, in other words.
Once we made it back down to the base of the Angel, we took our first sit-down break of the day. I felt like puking, but I was also hungry and I felt depleted of electrolytes. Unfortunately, I didn't have any Gatorade, Gu or Sport Beans to replenish myself with, but after eating some salty Combos and some Sour Patch Kids, I started to feel better.
View from our break spot (Altidude can be seen making his way down):
Back in the trees, with the sun glaring down on the forest, we kept getting pelted with melting snow dropping off the trees.
Of course, in typical fashion, the weather continued to improve as we made it back to the trailhead at about 2:30 p.m. This is where we met Altidude. After seeing his 14ers.com shirt, I just had to strike up a conversation.
View of the mountain from the road:
Post-climb, we stayed at a hotel in Buena Vista. And after pumping some salt, carbs and beer into my system, I felt well enough to walk a mile to the Eddyline Brewery for many more beers … and even a little play time on the jungle gym across the street.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):