Peak(s):  Mt. Shavano  -  14,229 feet
Date Posted:  06/04/2020
Modified:  04/19/2021
Date Climbed:   04/21/2020
Author:  123tqb
 Shaving My Skis on Shavano   

Shaving My Skis on Shavano

  • Date: 21 Apr, 2020
  • Peaks: Mt Shavano
  • Route: Angel of Shavano
  • Mileage: 12mi
  • Vertical: 5040ft
  • Time: 8.75hrs
  • Partners: Solo

With all the craziness of COVID-19 and online schooling, my three brothers, parents, and I decided to take a trip up to Buena Vista, where our family owns a cabin. Our original plan was to live in the valley during the night and drive to Crested Butte and Breckenridge during the day to get in some skiing. What we did not realize was that, due to the virus, all of the ski resorts would be shutting down on our first day there. A little upset, I decided I needed to get out and explore the backcountry a little while everything else was closed.

I had recently begun my avalanche training, and knew that there is always a danger present when skiing, and that this danger is especially important when skiing alone. I did my research on the local slopes, looking specifically for ones under 30 degrees that would present a lower danger. The day before the trip described in this report I had done some skiing off of Cottonwood Pass, bringing my shovel and saw to evaluate conditions before hitting what I thought was some of the best snow I had seen all season. I was excited to be able to get back out there in stable conditions, so I planned another trip for the next day: the Angel of Shavano.

I stole the family minivan at 4:45 to make my way to the Angel of Shavano trailhead. Yes, I did realize that this made the approach about 2 miles longer each way. I had thought at the time that the main trailhead was mostly snowed out, but as it turns out I was wrong and it was clear almost all the way up. I arrived at 5:15 and turned on my headlamp. It was only kept on for the first 30 minutes or so, until it was light enough that I could appreciate the sunrise over Salida and the Arkansas Hills.

20086_01
Sunrise is one of my absolute favourite sights, especially in an area as cool as this.

After traveling up the Shavano-Tabeguache trail for a short while, I happened upon a couple who were also planning to ski the Angel. Another short ways up the trail I had to stop to ask for their help finding my way, as I had forgotten to take a map/GPS with me (note to self: work on routefinding). After thanking them and having a quick conversation, I carried on past them. As soon as the snow got deep enough I took the 20lbs ski setup off my back and clicked my boots into the bindings. Oh, did I mention that I decided to do my 14mi, 5000' vert. hike entirely in ski boots? This trip was more of a learning experience for me than anything. On a stroke of luck, the skintrack I chose to follow avoided all of the nasty fallen trees that everyone talks about, and instead went clear through the forest to the base of the Angel. This is where I chose to take a quick break to drink water, eat a snack, and make sure I wasn't going to die the second I stepped on the open snow. I did a quick snow pit, but in spring conditions on an eastern slope I was perfectly fine.

20086_02
It really was a gorgeous day.
20086_03
View of the body of the Angel from below.

I decided earlier on that I was not going to need to boot any of the body of the Angel, and that instead I'd just keep my skins on and switchback my way up. This was a good call, and probably saved me a lot of time in the long run. I made zig-zags up the steepest part of the Angel, avoiding the wind-loaded snow to climber's left (I wanted the good stuff to be fresh on my way down), and eventually made it to where it levels out, with a view of each arm. I tested the right arm first, which would supposedly allow for a quicker ascent, but it was just too icy to be skiable. I opted for the left arm, which seemed to have much more forgiving snow. It was a trudge to the ridge, but it was definitely doable. I left my skis on for probably a bit longer than I should have and took another quick rest after transitioning in the rocks below the summit. The final push was one of the hardest hikes I've ever done. I had to keep telling myself that it was just 15 more minutes, then 15 more, and 15 more. It hurt to push, but I knew that as soon as I put on my skis on the descent that I'd feel much better. I reached the summit at 10:30 and froze myself a bit while I ate my final snack. Due to my dead legs and what seemed to be near-continuous snow to the right arm, I decided that I'd rather deal with the frozen snow than hiking back down the way I came (spoiler alert: poor decision). I clicked into my skis and began the descent.

20086_04
Summit ski pole photo! I was not in the thinking mood and took a below-par shot.

20086_05
Looking over at Tabeguache. I'd been planning to traverse, but now it hurt too much to
think about.

Despite it being a warm, sunny day just 1000' below, the summit seemed to be shrouded in a cloud. I was cooling down fast and really needed to get moving. Problem was, there were just so many gosh-darned rocks! At least I was required to think about my ski placement more than the fact that I was cold.

20086_06
Argh!

I thoroughly ruined the bases of my skis, but luckily I had dabbled in ski repair before and could fix them when I got home. After endless side-slipping and walking over rocks, I made it to the top of the right arm. And it turned out that the conditions were not much better. Icy, rocky skiing was the jist of it. If I had remembered my observations from just earlier, I could have gone back the way I came and had beautiful corn snow. But I thought I'd take the "easy way" and go down the way that I knew to be icy. Oh well! I eventually made it back to the body of the Angel, and that's where the fun began.

20086_07
View back up towards the arms of the Angel, finally out of the clouds.
20086_08
View down the body.

Corn! Wonderful corn! The snow I had purposely not tracked up ont he ascent was in perfect condition, and I flew down the mountain in wide, sweeping turns. I was out of breath at the bottom, but it was well worth it. It was only now that I could see the evidence of the couple behind me. They had already left some turns on the Angel, so they must have turned back before the summit. The two minutes of fun went quick, but the fun skiing and the amazing views reminded me why I come out here in the first place.

20086_10
Looking back at the body of the Angel, now with turns carved into it.

I skied as far as I could back down the mountain, all through ripe corn, through the trees and back to the place I'd gotten lost before. It was an easy, yet monotonous, hike on the way out. After 12mi my legs were screaming at me, and I was looking forward to having a big meal when I got home. I made it back to the trailhead at 14:00 in the blazing heat, and was relieved to finally be able to sit down and rest. I didn't die (that's always a good thing), and I learned a ton about the logistics of backcountry skiing and winter 14ers. It was a great trip!

20086_11
Transition selfie!
20086_12
Back at the car! Finally!



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