Peak(s):  Mt. Shavano  -  14,229 feet
Date Posted:  02/20/2012
Date Climbed:   02/16/2012
Author:  jtrenary1
 Dirty Mt. Shavano  

First off we're from Tennessee and we have tried winter 14er ascents the past two years and were hoping to finally succeed by choosing a mountain we knew and one that is supposed to fairly safe. We started at 1:00 pm on Thursday Feb 16th just short of the 3rd cattle guard off CR250. Image
Start at CR 250
We hiked the 3.5 miles to the Blank's Cabin TH. From there we started up the standard route. Image
Blanks Cabin TH
We followed the snow buried trail for a few hundred feet of elevation gain but eventually there was no trail because micro bursts of 110 mph wind flattened entire sections of forest back in November and December. There were giant trees stacked on top of each other covered in several feet of snow blocking the standard route. No one knew the extent of the damage from the wind storms until we were in the thick of the disaster zone. It would take 5 minutes or so to go over a few trees making that route impassible. We had to make our own route bushwhacking up the mountain on steep slopes (30-35 degree) in minimum knee deep snow with snow shoes. We made it to a ridge at 11,000 that would take us to the summit. We thought we were home free and would be skirting up a ridge in a couple feet of snow but oh how we were wrong. The ridge ended up having even worse wind damage making it impossible to stay on it. At this point it was dark and we didn't want to get disoriented so we camped at 11,000 ft. Image
Downed trees at night.
Downed trees in the morning.
The temperature dropped to -15 F as confirmed by a thermometer. The next morning we got moving at light and came off the ridge, picking our way around the damaged areas and working our way up to 11,400 ft. Image
At 11,400
From there we proceeded up a slope of over 45 degrees to 12,400 ft. Image
Looking down at Sam
It took 1.5 hr of full exertion to gain these last 1000 ft. Although we were at tree line, and only about 0.25 mi away from the route above tree line, the snowy conditions were too much. Image
Drifts up to 10 feet deep were the limiting factor. Each step typically only gained 3-6 inches. Even though there is apparently less snow this season it was not evident on Shavano. It took careful navigation to avoid the dangerous heavy loaded wind slabs which was quite unexpected for this part of the mountain. It would have taken minimum 1 hour to traverse left to the trail but it was already 12:30 pm. Once on the trail and out of the trees it likely would have taken 3 hours to get up and back to that same point. Image
Down the slope
After one night on the mountain we weren't prepared to spend another. We did good to stay hydrated but the altitude, cold, and exertion kept us from keeping up our colorie intake. After over 15 hours of hiking/climbing we were only able to consume around 300 calories. If we had tried for the summit likely we wouldn't have made it back to the car until after mid night or we'd have to stay the night on the mountain and both of these options seemed unnecessarily dangerous. We made it back to the car by 5:30 pm just as the sun set. Shavano demoralized us, but oh well, it was a good learning experience and we'll try again next year. Image

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

I forgot to put the totals up:
02/20/2012 19:10
We started at 8600 and the road undulated quite a bit up to the TH. Probably over 4000 ft gross gain to the point where we turned around.


02/21/2012 00:38
Keeping food close to the body helps keep it edible (unfrozen). Maybe you should try some gu gels or honey stinger packets. Those are 120 calories a piece (about) and all you really need is one every couple of hours. I also keep snickers handy, cheese and summer sausage also take longer to freeze. These compared with triscuts make for a good snack.

Did you guys carry your camping gear with you? I was also curious as to wether or not you carried a slope angle meter? Those slope angles you were on sound like prime conditions for an avy. Glad you all fared well and stayed safe.


02/21/2012 05:00
We selected food that would not freeze solid as we're pretty experienced in cold weather out here in the appalachians where it can easily drop below 0 in the winter. We just couldn't stomach much of it and that was the calorie problem. Each bite was worrisome. I guess we figured having low energy was better than puking on the mountain. We brought camping gear (tent, -20F sleeping bag, and pads) although we didn't have a stove and had only packed in around 4-5 liters. We waited too long to stash the gear because we kept hoping to hit the main route.

We did not have a slope angle meter but I made rough estimates using the trekking pole method and based on previous experiences. The tree disaster was why we kept ending up on steep slopes it just seemed that everywhere we turned there were more of those stupid trees piled up in our way. I have done Mt. Shavano in the summer but I can't emphasize enough how those stinking trees made our experience beyond miserable. It was really discouraging.


02/21/2012 14:56
Do you have any pics of 10 foot drifts? It seems from your photos that there is very little snow there. Which, makes sense why you had lots of down trees to contend with. Usually there is enough snow to bury them.

Secondly, I highly doubt you were on ”over 45 degree” terrain. That is very steep, and I don't think any part of Mt. Shavano is that steep.

Good call to turn back when you did.


02/21/2012 16:56
Did you guys come up from Tennessee? That would explain the ”sick” feeling. Altitude will nail you.


Title is dead on.
02/21/2012 17:27
Shavano is a dirty mountain. Glad you guys had a safe trip. Impressive trek considering you guys came from TN.


Definitely NOT over 45 degrees.
02/21/2012 18:24
@GIR: I didn't take any pictures of the deep drifts or the steepest slopes because to be honest I was completely miserable and not in the best of moods. The trees you can see above the snow were piled on top of more trees that were buried in the snow which was why crossing the trees was so difficult. Around the trees it was typically knee to thigh deep. The deepest drifts were above 12,000 ft which I thought was quite strange. There were only a handful of the extremely deep drifts but they were killer on our progress. Literally moving 3 inches at a time through these stinking drifts digging with my trekking poles a trench through them. Ahh I see where I typed ”over 45 degrees” and that is definitely NOT true and is a typo. The slopes that were 40-45 (at most) persisted for no more than 30-45 ft but stayed pretty consistent around 30-35 degrees most of our path above 11,200. It was much steeper than the traditional route because we weren't on it. If you're familiar with the mountain we ended up a north of where we should have been.

@Jameseroni: Haha yeah. We're expecting it and we take every precaution possible short of a prescription but it still gets us pretty bad considering Nashville is at 500ft. But if we want to try and get experience in the winter we have to pay the price.

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