| Browns Creek Trio
Trip Report: Browns Creek Trio.
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much, nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." ~ Theodore Roosevelt.
An abbreviated version of these classic words from Teddy were going through my mind as I set off on my most recent adventure. Little did I know that this trip would find me living more of those words than intended, but as solo trips often go, my expectations were filled with the unexpected.
I have had a goal for many years now to spend the night on a 14er. Some who read this will say I achieved my goal while others will say I came short. In any case, like Teddy, my ventures often bounced between victory and defeat safely keeping my spirit out of the gray twilight.
Disclaimer: many photos were taken on the return trip due to lighting conditions but still accurately reflect the location described. This first photo is the view of my non-standard approach taken from the last pavement. My semi-laid-out plans were to combine a backpack trip with a climb of Antero, Tabeguache, and Shavano and literally top it all off with a camp on Tabeguache. I chose the Browns Creak approach because it is seldom traveled and I chose Tab for my night on top because I doubt anyone has ever done it. The logistics of camping on Tab are just too unlikely for it to have been done by the sane before, thus making it a perfect candidate for my style.
5:30 PM gives us a parting shot of the Embassy Suite and all it's comfort being left behind.
Leaving the upper Arkansas valley below as my rather warm autumn evening gets underway.
The first crossing brings me to a big bridge over a little creek. Little Browns creek to be exact.
Just over a third of the way in to base camp a surprise meadow opens up a view of Jones Peak massive. This massive effectively hides Shavano and Tabeguache from the eager eye the entire trip to Browns Lake.
The 2nd crossing half way into my journey brings me to a little bridge over a big creek. This time it is Browns Creek proper which will be my guide for the next 3 miles.
After a seemingly never ending climb through the darkening forest, I gained my first view of Tabeguache peaking around the west slopes of point 13712. Unlike this photo, it was actually almost dark when I got to this point and not knowing where I was, I about dropped my pack and slept right here in the trail, but glad I pressed on because the lake was just over this willow covered hill.
The actual view I had of Browns Lake on arrival, with a sleepy planet marking my way for tomorrow.
With a full days work, a 5 hour drive and 6 pack-laden miles behind me, I was too tired for a tent so just let the stars be my shelter tonight. Sometime during the night I was startled awake by loud crunching sounds near my head. As I grabbed for the equalizer my foggy senses registered and verified a large hairy creature. Several of them actually. Teeth busy ripping, white fur glistening…what…white fur? Yes indeed. I'm awake enough now to let my adrenalin subside and chuckle out loud at the beasts around me. I had unknowingly made my bed in the buffet line of several mountain goats.
Daybreak was spent rubbing feeling back into surprisingly numb toes but the time delay was rewarded with the sun granting me my first daylight view of the challenges ahead.
A quick stop at the lake for a drink and a photo from the same spot as at dusk last night.
An overexposed fuzzy glimpse as I round the lake, confirms I was not dreaming last night. Sorry for my intrusion fellas!
The route that lay before me looking south, as viewed from the flanks of Mount White to the north.
Breaking through tree line gives me a new perspective of the ever increasing angle of the route.
A view back down from the first saddle near Tab, shows the entire route so far from my lakeside base camp.
As I trudge over this saddle I find my newly acquired friends beat me up here without breaking a sweat! Course how would I know if goats sweat or not, I just know they came straight up the hardest part and still beat me!
Finally on Shavano. A view of Tabeguache behind me where I left my heavy pack with camp.
Then on Tab with a view back at Shavano where I had been an hour ago. The grimace on my face is from the realization that this accomplishment had just been trumped by my first mistake today. Looking around the top of Tab reveals not a single area large enough for even my small one-man tent. I was probably right guessing that no one had spent the night here before. While it is flat enough, the rocks are too large to clear a spot. Not ready to give up yet, I decide to forget the tent idea and just sleep in my bag with my emergency space blanket around me. Comforted by this thought I rest and eat as the last hikers of the day disappear back over Shavano to the warmth of their abode below. In the fading light I spend some time glassing Antero and the route that I plan to take tomorrow. With all necessary chores completed I decide to get in my bag a little early to watch the sun set. Now I discover my 2nd mistake today. My survival bag is so old it crumbles in my hands as I try to unravel it. With a very light summer bag and a strong desire to wake up the next morning, I make the decision to pack my camp down to the saddle a few hundred feet below where there is room for the tent.
Ten minutes later I find a soft piece of tundra and ten minutes after that the tent is up just as the wind really begins to howl. Only have time for this quick photo as the sun mimics the other hikers and leaves me all alone on this mountain. This is what I came for right?
There is no changing my mind now as darkness locks the door to any thought of retreat. Darkness has a way of making every indecision final until morning. The wind is so strong and cold I can't even cook in my tent. I spend the night chewing on frozen jerky and holding my tent poles which have turned inside out from the force of the wind. This sleepless night crawls by as I realize the wind has far more endurance than I do. My silent prayers become more desperate. I find myself asking no longer for just a good, safe trip, but only to live and enjoy another sunrise.
At last the promise of a new day came true. The suns rays lifted my spirit even though the wind was still gale force. I can now claim I spent the night on a 14er; I just can't claim to have slept on one. As quickly as I cheered up I realized my next set of challenges. While my mind was preoccupied all night saving myself and my tent, I had forgot to keep my water from freezing. In fact, the only thing I had that didn't freeze solid was a couple gel packs. I know you should not take them without water but I also knew that I needed the energy now to get off this mountain.
Next I realized there was no way to take down my tent without the wind ripping it to shreds in the process. It was still blowing so hard I could barely stand up. I was just about ready to leave my tent when I had a wild idea. Leave all the stakes in and take it down while I am still inside of it, then slither out and remove the stakes while laying on top of the collapsed tent like a human paper weight. With all my other tents this would not have been possible but this style allowed me to pull it off. If anyone would have seen this daybreak ordeal they would have thought me nuts, and maybe rightly so. In any case it would be a great laugh today had I a partner to capture it on video, but memories are what we make of them and will have to suffice once again.
A parting shot of Tab as I try to get out of the wind with all of my 5 layers of clothing on. This boulder field was quite fun coming up but proved to be treacherous descending with tired legs and the wind grabbing my pack like a sail. All the way down I had visions of a twisted knee so took it extra slow.
After a short rest and refuel in the valley I felt much better so made a push across it for Antero. The wind was still howling all day but with just a day pack and easier terrain I made good time of it. I took this photo from Antero looking back south at Shavano and Tab framing my head. The saddle by my hat is where I spent the night on Tab and the steep boulder field just left of my hat is where I took the last photo.
Next morning near Browns Lake again, I awake to a beautiful rising moon and calm air. After 40 hours of no sleep and 3 peaks I actually felt pretty good. It was so nice to just lay there and reflect on it all….ahh and the sweet quietness. It will be ok with me if I don't hear wind and flapping tent fabric for a long time.
Six downhill miles and one blue toenail later, I am back at the Embassy Suite eating the meal of all meals. I have only had a handful of meals in my time as good as this one was. My fellow adventurers will understand….its not what you eat but what you've been through before you eat that ranks a meal like this.
And now for the worst part of the entire trip…getting home. The normal 5-hour drive stretched in to 8 ½ hours starting with this 2-hour detour through Fairplay.
Things this trip taught me
Experience is one of the best teachers; however, it does not respect its students. It would just as soon kill you as it would give you a passing grade.
Necessity is a great inventor.
Toes can get near frostbit stage while you are sleeping and without you knowing it.
Always be sure your survival gear is in proper order before you go yeonderin.
Baby wipes are a great invention anytime but they are a god-send during windy nature calls.
A good clean water source may not always remain that way for your return visit.
Saddles are generally much windier than the top of peaks.
Mountain goats look very big when you are alone laying under them in the dark of night.
My tent can be taken completely down from the inside out without removing a single stake.
Things I did wrong
Assumed my survival bag was completely useable.
Allowed my water to freeze.
Carried too much food (this one gets me every time even though I know to reduce).
Chose to use a tent on Tabeguache without inquiring the type of summit terrain.
Forgot my sunglasses for much needed protection from the gale-driven sand on Antero.
Assumed the return trip traffic couldn't be worse on I-70 than it was on 285.
Things I did right
Among other things, I enjoyed the bad with the good and remembered that I am a very privileged bloke to have had this awesome experience.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):