Peak(s):  Tabeguache Peak  -  14,155 feet
Date Posted:  09/02/2019
Date Climbed:   09/16/2018
Author:  Tim A
 Tab from Jennings in Fall  

This report is almost a year old, but given how nice the fall views were from a less-traveled route and that I had the entire ridge to myself the whole day, I thought I'd share the trip for anyone interested in getting a little bit off the beaten track in the next few weeks to look at aspens.

I'd climbed Shavano a few years prior via the Angel as one of my first snow climbs, but that ascent had wiped me out so I'd left Tab "on the table" to get picked up in the future. I knew I didn't want to go back up Shav's standard route for it, so I planned on doing the Jenning's Creek route and taking Tab's west ridge. There is some confusion as to the viability of this route, but it is very much open. The route photos on this site are spot on, and a general familiarity with them will keep one from accidentally getting attracted to the now-closed SW ridge route.

I drove up from Texas on a Saturday, enjoying the fall colors in the Sangres along hwy69. I've camped many times up near the Shavano trailhead northwest of Poncha Springs and noticed it increasingly becoming more crowded in all seasons, and loud and trashy. Perhaps because the road to Jenning's creek requires AWD and some clearance, it was much quieter and nearly deserted. I did run into a couple on my way up who had a dead battery, and I stopped and gave them a jump before continuing further up and finding a nice spot to sleep in the car under some golden aspens.

Tired from my drive, I opted to not set an alarm and just wake up with the dawn, so the next morning I got a late start around 7am and drove the last mile or so to the unmarked trailhead. I had my GPS in hand to be able to find the start of the trail since I had heard it wasn't signed, but the 4-5 cars crammed alongside the road at the start of the trail gave away where it begins. I had to drive about another quarter mile to find a reasonable spot to get my car off the road, then parked it and started hiking back to the start of the trail.

Morning views.

Narrow road to the trailhead.

Limited parking.

I'd been nervous that perhaps going so late in September to the Sawatch that I might miss the peak color given how early it looked like most of the state had turned in 2018 given the drought year. Fortunately, the color was definitely peaking in the southern Sawatch this final weekend of September. The initial miles up the trail went slow because every few paces I turned around to look back south at the light show as sunlight filtered into the valley. For sheer volume of color, there are many places in Colorado more impressive, but the lack of noise and people in this little corner of the state made this a great spot to spend the weekend.

Trail-side aspens.

Morning light.

Clearing some of the forest to take in the sight of the valley. The bright-red stand in the lower-right popped all the pictures the entire morning.

Lots of green still standing.

Some orange near treeline.

Somehow I made enough upward progress despite the constant turning around to take pictures and made it to the small tarn around 11,000'. I had worried about not finding the trail split here but it was obvious and I continued north into the valley. The shadow from Tab's SW ridge kept me covered most of the walk up this valley along an obvious trail and made for a nice contrast back to the south.

The tarn. Once in this area, stop the eastward heading and look for a trail to the north.

This area on my return in the afternoon would glow like the sun.

Taylor Mountain B at the southern end of the valley.

Tundra turns to talus.

First sunhit of the morning.

After a short hike up the valley, I reached the scree slope that gains the saddle between Carbonate Mountain and an unnamed 13,9er point. Going up this slope wasn't terrible, but coming down was a different story. Trekking poles helped a great deal here. Once at the saddle, the views to the north really open up. I always marvel at how low-angle and smooth this part of the southern Sawatch is. From the east, Antero looks imposing and steep, but looking at it from the south, it's really just a big hill.

The scree slope at the north end of Jenning's creek. I suppose not all valleys can end with manicured lawns like Silver Creek leading to Redcloud.

Antero and White from the saddle.

Looking back to the south at Jenning's creek and the approach route.

The imposing unnamed 13,9er which guards the way to Tabeguache.

At the saddle looking west, towards the spicy looking ridge up Carbonate.

The least fun part of the day was the hike both up and down the unnamed 13,9er. The walk low on the ridge leading to it featured some occasional tundra, but for the most part it was loose scree or blocky talus all the way up. And it seemed to go on a long time. I moved slow to save some energy for the fun ridge I was anticipating which connects this pile of rubble to the slightly higher pile of rubber that I had driven nine hours to stand on top of.

Looking back down at the saddle and at Carbonate. Typical Sawatch junk.

Jenning's creek and Taylor mountain down below.

Taylor looks really rugged from it's north side.

Tundra and talus on unnamed 13,9er

A bit higher on the ascent up the unnamed and I connected with the SW ridge of Tab. The trail that used to be open on that ridge is still clearly visible and pieces of it intersect the correct route all along the ascent up 13,9er. I don't understand how parties get disoriented and descend that route prematurely instead of going back down to the Carbonate saddle. It looks nasty and loose even from a distance.

SW ridge and trail segments on lower-right.

After a grind that seemed harder than it should have, I made the summit of the unnamed pile of crap and got a look at the ridge ahead to Tab, which had a few hikers standing on it's summit.

Summit of the unnamed.

Stands of aspens popping along the southern Sawatch. Mt. Ouray upper-right side.

The ridge to Tab.

Aspens along the southern flank of White mountain.

The ridge to Tab is like most ridgelines in the Sawatch. A trail of loose scree weaving it's way through talus which is mostly stable. I opted to stay near the ridge crest just to enjoy a little exposure off the north side of the ridge.

Cliff bands on climber's left.

Rotten rock. The mild angle makes it tolerable.

Antero and White as puffy clouds start building.

Final part of the ridge to Tab's summit.

Some hikers chilling on the summit of Tab.

The last stretch of ridge had some options. The ridge direct was fairly solid but really exposed off the north side, with significant exposure off the south side too. Or one could drop off the ridge to climber's right (south side) about a dozen feet and traverse some loose scree and crap to get past a class 3/4 section of the ridge. I hadn't considered the possibility of having a fun scramble to add to this day nor did I know the ridge direct would lead to a stiff downclimb just below Tab's summit, so I took the ridge direct and really enjoyed the airiness up there.

Once I got to the "edge" of the ridge, there was a short fifteen foot downclimb on solid rock. I paused and considered backtracking a bit on the ridge and dropping off the side to go around, but the rock so far had been solid and it wasn't terribly exposed. I opted to face in and delicately downclimb, and it made for the best part of the day. It goes at 3 and the shortness of the pitch and the lack of exposure make it very comfortable.

Once off the short climbing pitch, the remaining hundred or so feet to Tab's summit go at either class 2 or 2+ depending on hiker preference. Given how solid it is and the lack of exposure, it's a great place to take the tougher line and enjoy some alpine scrambling in a low-consequence environment.

Final pitch. Left side walkup, right side easy scramble.

The summit of Tabeguache is pretty uninteresting, even during peak fall colors. Shavano blocks any view of the Arkansas valley to the east, and there are better views of the surrounding peaks and valleys from farther west on Tab's west ridge than from the summit itself.

There was an interesting summit conundrum, however, in that a red daypack had been left on the summit, and neither myself nor the other two hikers I met on the summit had seen anybody carrying it up that morning. I knew there were a few groups ahead of me on the route given the parked cars at the trailhead, but I hadn't seen any of them so far and assumed they were probably doing the traverse to Shavano and had perhaps ditched the bag and would collect it on the return. It didn't weigh more than a few pounds though, so it seemed odd to be ditched. The two hikers I was talking to had just hiked over from Shavano, but they hadn't seen anybody going the opposite direction and the only people they'd encountered on Shavano had come up from the east side and weren't doing the traverse today. So none of us had seen any other hikers that morning, and here was a bag sitting unclaimed on Tab's summit. We wandered around the summit and looked down/called out down some of the nasty slopes to see if anybody had taken a fall while wandering around the summit area, but we didn't find anybody. The pack itself was in great shape and didn't look like it had been sitting up there for long. One of the other hikers went through it and didn't find any ID or anything, just some energy gels and a nearly-empty water reservoir.

Mystery osprey.

Given it's been a year and to my knowledge nobody was ever reported missing, I'm not sure who this bag belonged to given there was nobody around up there to claim it. My only guess is they wandered off the trail to take some pictures and we just couldn't see them, but it was especially odd that neither I approaching from the west or the pair who had approached from Shavano had seen anybody else up there. We left the bag alone and I headed back down the ridge while they lingered a bit longer on the summit.

Once back off Tab's summit I took a few pictures of the climbing part that re-gains the west ridge.

Route crux if you stay ridge-direct.

Looking up at the surprise climbing block.

Once back on top of the solid rock, it was a fairly quick hike back over to the summit of the unnamed crap 13,9er. I did pass a father/son duo on this part of the ridge but apart from them, I encountered no other people on the route the entire day.

Route back to the unnamed 13,9er. Father/son duo visible just left of the ridge crest near the top of the picture.

The descent off the unnamed 13,9er back to the Carbonate saddle was atrocious. Even with trekking poles and moving very diligently, my boots slipped out from under me at least a dozen times. The talus was no more stable than the scree-trails criss-crossing it. The looseness wasn't consistent enough to just sit and slide down on my butt either, so I had to stay on my feet to make any progress down the hill.

Once back at the saddle with Carbonate, the loose slope to get back down to Jenning's creek was even worse. After my 4th or 5th fall the first few steps off the saddle, I just stayed squatting on my boots and slid down the scree until it became too mellow to move down. Then a few more falls to get myself back to the trail on tundra and the unpleasantness of the day was done.

I had enough bruises and scratches from the descent-debacle that continued to sting and smart on my hike out that I stayed angry about the loose slopes long after I was past them. My cursing only abated as I neared the tarn at 11,000' and beheld the aspen stands in their full glory under the afternoon sunshine.

Wash of gold.

Little bit of brown beginning to show.



Trail lined with gold.

Dense canopy.

Near the edge of the upper portion of Jenning's creek.

Trees are bright even in shadow.

Looking further west down the valley.

Stand of reds.

Taylor bracketed.

Near the valley floor.

Once back at the trailhead, the cars that had been there that morning were gone. I'm not sure where any of those hikers were that day. I hiked back up the road to my car parked further down and made my way back down to spend a second night under the trees lower on the road. The only thing of note on my egress the next morning was this strange scene.

Riddled with bullets.

I'd read some about this abandoned vehicle months earlier and was surprised to see it still sitting there.

Will I ever hike this route again? Nope. The fall colors were nice, but the looseness of the big 13er between Jennings Creek and Tabeguache was nasty and the little bit of climbing near the summit wasn't long enough to make up for it. Like the East ridge of sunshine peak, I enjoyed the views and perspective unique to this route, but not enough to take pleasant company back up there or do it again. Similarly, while I enjoyed the Angel of Shavano a few years previous, the slog through the deadfall on the approach and escape makes it unlikely I'll ever repeat that route again either. The best part of the southern Sawatch so far seems to be the Grand Couloir on Mt. Aetna, which I would repeat every season if I could. These southern 14er "anchors" of the Sawatch make better check-marks on the list than aesthetic memories of alpine hiking.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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