| Glissading the Angel
Route: Mount Shavano via the Angel of Shavano
RT Distance: 7.5 miles, 4600 feet
RT Time: ~9 hours
Climbers: Jeff (SurfNTurf), Matthew (speth), Chris (ChrisinAZ), Abe (FireOnTheMountain), Megan
Route in Red
Every climb is exciting (OK, most. I’m looking at you, Lake Como Road), but there are certain routes you idealize and think about over and over and over until you get out and do them. For me, the Angel was one of those lines. Apparently I’m not alone. Within a day of floating the idea to 14ers.com and a few friends, I had four people signed up as “definites” and a slew of “maybes.”
I picked up Matthew (speth), Chris (ChrisinAZ) and Megan after work Friday, and we departed Denver at about 6:50 p.m. The sunset behind the Fairplay 14ers was stellar, and to our surprise a full moon popped up in the night sky. There’s not much better than full-moon camping. We also passed the carcasses of three semi-trucks that had been knocked over by high winds and a dead bull elk with its antlers halfway into the driving lane. Apparently it had been a nasty day on U.S. 285.
We stopped for dinner and beer (carb-loading!) in Fairplay and reached our campsite at roughly 11 p.m., where Abe (FireOnTheMountain) was already waiting. We pitched our tents and passed out almost immediately. The wake-up call came at 4:30 a.m.
We’d camped slightly below where 252 is blocked by a pretty much impassable snow drift. We were looking at a three-mile road slog just to get to the proper TH, but thankfully Abe was able to gun his Tacoma up a steep dirt slope and make it around the drift. After that, the road was clear all the way to the Blank’s Gulch TH, where we arrived at about 5:45 a.m.
Snowdrift blocking the road
With the impending dawn, headlamps were hardly necessary. I turned mine off about 10 minutes onto the trail. There was only intermittent snow until about 10,300 feet, and after that it was frozen solid. No one in our group put on snowshoes until we reached the base of the Angel, and even then Matthew only did it for the traction. The trail was obvious and easy-to-follow; skin tracks, boot prints and snowshoe marks galore. If at any point you get lost in the trees after turning left off the standard trail, just go up and trend right.
Solid snow through the trees
The Angel makes her first appearance
We stopped at the base of the Angel to stash snowshoes and don crampons. Abe continued on, choosing a slight variation to the left of the Angel’s body and putting on his crampons a bit later. Chris, Megan and I went for points, while Matthew used the traction from his snowshoes. I saw plenty of people with just boots. The Angel really is a pretty mellow snow slope.
Megan "resting" near the base of the Angel
Abe charging up
It got a little steeper at the thin part of the Angel's body (ChrisinAZ)
That early in the morning, the snow was pretty hard. I had trouble on some icy sections getting my axe more than a few inches in, though in most spots it was much more forgiving. I never once felt insecure. As I viewed the Angel as a training snow climb for more spicy couloirs in May, I practiced self-belay, self-arrest and different ascent techniques on the way up.
Some photos showing the couloirs conditions:
Megan ascending the Angel
We chose to go directly up the Angel’s head. The right arm looked a little thin, while the left arm provided the highest continuous snow (with a little zigging and zagging). Abe was far ahead at this point, but we could see his boot tracks where he’d traversed across the left arm.
We spread out for the final push to the summit. Matthew and Megan chose rocks to the right, Chris the rocks to the left, and I stubbornly went straight up across a few small, hard-packed snowfields. The wind really started to pick up here. Thankfully there wasn’t any blowing snow to make things miserable, but a few gusts were strong enough to knock me off balance. The tundra was generally pleasant and I encountered very little in the way of loose rock or scree.
Speth at the end of the road
Megan climbing up the tundra
Looking back from the top of the Angel's head
Final push to the summit
We caught up to Abe descending right around 14,000 feet. At this point it became apparent Megan was really struggling. Even so close to the summit, she decided to turn around and go down with Abe because she was feeling nauseous.
Chris, Matthew and I trudged on, topping out at about 11:25 a.m. The wind was getting worse and worse, but we were able to nestle against some rocks and enjoy the beautiful day. We shared the summit with a man from Lakewood at first, and by the time we left about 20 minutes later there were roughly seven or eight people up there. It was the first summit I’ve had in months where I was able to relax and enjoy myself, instead of tucking tail and running from subzero wind chills and near-whiteout conditions. A sandwich was eaten and pictures were taken.
We contemplated the traverse over to Tabeguache, but with two members of our party already descending, the winds whipping, and concern over sloppy afternoon snow conditions growing, we decided to come back in the summer. I think just about everyone on the summit made the same call.
Group summit shot: SurfNTurf, ChrisinAZ, speth
Me on the summit
And now, the real reason to climb the Angel: the glissade! Matthew went a bit left while descending the summit and was able to catch a few smaller glissades before reaching the Angel’s head. Chris and I went right and rock-hopped down to the start of the true snowfield.
The best part of the glissade came once down into the Angel’s body, where the snow was soft enough for comfort but not soft enough to pile up and cause a stoppage. There were plenty of icy portions higher up, as Matthew’s torn pants can attest. We made it down in a mere 10-15 minutes. Abe and Megan, who was feeling better, awaited at the snowshoe stash.
The walk out was miserable. Even in snowshoes, we were postholing to our knees. This was at 1 or 2 p.m.; I weep to think of walking that snow even later in the afternoon. Bring tails if you have them, though I doubt they’ll help much.
We finally made it down to around 10,300 and traded crappy snow for a muddy trail. We got back to the TH at 2:30ish and piled into Abe’s truck. He took us back down to below the drift, where we broke camp and played a game of real-life Tetris to fit four people’s gear back into my poor overburdened Mazda 3.
Upper conditions from a distance
Megan playing Vanna White with the Angel
As Abe was planning on Columbia the next day, we decided to meet him at Coyote Cantina in Buena Vista for a post-climb hamburger and beers (carb-loading!). Hope you got that summit, Abe. Columbia is an a-hole.
With the Angel done and my confidence on snow growing, I can’t wait for May. Bring on the couloirs!
Thanks for a fun climb, everyone. And good luck to anyone heading up Shavano in the coming weeks.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):