Peak(s):  Tabeguache Peak  -  14,155 feet
Date Posted:  09/24/2020
Modified:  09/30/2020
Date Climbed:   09/24/2020
Author:  jay-dub
 Tabeguache Peak, West Ridge  

We had a beautiful, bluebird day for hiking the West Ridge to Tabeguache Peak, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. My friends, Angela and Barry joined in the adventure. For Angela and I, this was our (17th) 14er of the summer. It was my #30 unique 14er, and including repeats, my 65th. I have occasional balance issues, and will not attempt all 58, but hope to land in the mid-30s when all is said and done. I was hoping to also finish Mount of the Holy Cross this summer, but I'm not certain that's possible for me... considering the late season, weather, and a dearth of days off from work. Barry and I have had this hike on our to-do list for over a year. We've both completed Shavano, and have desired another way to accomplish Tabeguache without making a 3-summit day over Shavano... twice.

We found, the app, and the Roach book to be very useful in our planning this hike... namely, directions to the TH, and the description of the hike. The road in from Angel of Shavano Campground is adequately high-clearance and 4wd type of road. This summer, we've started rating the 4wd roads according to "Getouts." One Getout point is when the spotter needs to leave the vehicle to assist in spotting the best line to drive. If the driver leaves the vehicle to check the road conditions, that is worth TWO Getouts. For most daytrips, Getouts are not the same for the drive in and the drive out. I confess to being a fickle human. Thus, our approach to the Jennings Creek TH was a ZERO Getout drive, but the drive out was a 2.5 Getout rating. You are probably frustrated that this is not particularly helpful information, and for that I apologize. Simply stated, the road is more challenging than your drive to Grays Peak, but somewhat less challenging than the drive up Nellie Creek. I guess that puts it equivalent to the drive to South Colony Lakes. As warned elsewhere, there's not much room for parking at the TH.

The trail starts steeply through aspens.

The ascent begins without delay... a good, solid incline got our hearts pumping quickly as we left the truck at 6:54 am. In short order, the aspen grove made us smile, as we were hiking in late September- prime color changing into beautiful golds. In less than a mile, we saw remains of the old "southwest" trail that is now abandoned. Apparently it left the gulch, early, and heads to the ridge on hikers' right. This is close to the area where we noticed a large, old burn area.

The scorched trees have a mysterious beauty.

After this burn area, the trail ascends less steeply. Our research recommends hiking close to the edge of the several talus fields, and not often into the willows. This hike quickly became my favorite new gulch!

This is Barry descending, but it captures the beauty of this small stretch!
We walked in the willows only briefly. Again, this photo is during descent in the afternoon... the low sunlight was exquisite in the gulch!

We reached the saddle next to Carbonate Mountain in just over two hours- shortly after 9 am. Great little spot to fuel up and enjoy the new views of the Browns' Creek basin and Mt. Antero with its maze of jeep trails.

Our first views of Mt. Antero, from the saddle below Carbonate Mountain.

In the saddle, we considered ourselves halfway to the summit, but now realize that's only in mileage... not in total workload. At the saddle, the trail makes a sharp 90-degree turn to head straight up "Unnamed Point 13,936." This section reminded me of ascending Humboldt Peak from the saddle above South Colony Lakes... a decent chunk to plow through, glancing left to Antero and glancing right to the old SW ridge. Research says to go over top of this false summit, so we did... and that's when we were gifted with the first views of Tabeguache Peak... and the remaining project to reach it. Of course, there's a significant descent after that false summit, but it's a beautiful (west ridge) walk.

This is facing east, from the lowest point AFTER "Unnamed Point 13,936." Tabeguache summit here is the highest point visible... with a couple more bumps to work around/over.

Because we were certain of our destination, discovering our path there was not difficult, but clearly Class 2. The trail was not obvious for much of our hike. (Beginners may not be comfortable with that.)

The final scramble held quite a bit of loose rock.

We heard voices from the summit... obviously having ascended from the standard route over Shavano. In fact, for the entire day, we saw only TWO other people on "our" west ridge trail- owners of the Texas truck we'd seen at the TH. We summited approximately 12:15. We re-fueled, snapped photos, and I sent my customary Garmin checkin to friends & family. We did see obvious smoke from fires to the south and west, but had rather clear skies to the north and east. I took advantage of that... spending time trying to identify other Sawatch 14ers with which I'm acquainted.

This is my best estimation of other 14ers to the north.
The obligatory photo of Mt. Shavano from Tabeguache summit.

This hike, I made a special effort to CHILL the summit Fireball I offered to those joining our summit celebration. And one of the summit strangers we met... actually noticed! That makes the effort and added pack-weight worthwhile. We shared a nice toast and parted ways.

Based on the accidental rockfall we caused on ascending the final 100 ft., we elected to begin our descent separately and create generous space between ourselves. Angela went first...

Angela volunteered to go first on the initial descent.
And this is why it's called the "West Ridge." Following the ziggety-zag here rewards the hiker with awesome views of the cliffs on the north side of the ridge.

Here's the crux of my Trip Report: Anyone researching this route for Tabeguache has read about McCoy Gulch, the multiple SAR rescues out there, and the clear need to avoid that gulch... you're gonna get cliffed-out. I confess... in my own brash cockiness, I could not figure out how people could be so absent-minded as to get that far off-trail to get into that kind of trouble. (See where this is heading?) And then it happened. To me. Here's how... (Check out the Gaia map below.) Very early in our descent of the first bit of a bump, Angela stayed high, while Barry and I stayed low. She went over and we went around that first bit of a bump. We had a little bit of separation because we'd left significant gaps between ourselves to avoid showering rocks down from the summit. At one point, I looked up while she looked down at us. I think we even acknowledged each other- that we'd meet at the other side of that bump. Barry and I followed the very clear trail, and upon reaching the other side of the bump... stopped to wait for Angela. (On the map, it's at the green dot above the first "e" in Tabeguache.) We waited. And waited. And made excuses for why she was later than expected (pitstop, etc.) And waited more. Got really nervous regarding her where-abouts. We were waiting to descend the ridge going through that "e" on the map. In fact, it was so clearly our way off the mountain... that Barry and I did NOT even stop to chat about it. I didn't even think to pull out this Gaia map on my phone. The start of that little ridge looked and felt so incredibly obvious. But WE WERE WRONG. And I don't remember how or why we came to that conclusion. It was the wrong way and we were waiting in the wrong spot. We walked a little further around, and of course she was sitting there, waiting for us... on path to the correct ridge. So please let this be a warning and lesson, especially along this trail, but in other locations as well.

Find the GREEN DOT... that was our point of departure, nearly heading down the wrong ridge to McCoy Gulch.

I'm grateful to hike with a partner in that kind of instance. When route-finding is critical, two heads are better than one... in order to talk through the possibilities, then solve the issue TOGETHER.

In descending, we still had to re-ascend over "Unnamed Point 13,936."
This photo is facing west, with Tabeguache summit behind the photographer. The saddle (below Carbonate Mtn) is beyond this unnamed 13er.

Up and over the false summit, we then had a push down to the saddle. In the saddle, we put on micro-spikes to descend the steep 15 minutes of scree.

Below the saddle, we had a lovely 2 mile walk through my new favorite gulch... in the lovely afternoon sunlight from the west.
And reached the trailhead... in syrupy golden aspen warmth.

We finished just barely past 5 pm- a total of 10 hours for 8 miles and 4,000 ft of elevation gain.... surprising us by an extra 2 hours. We typically average 1 mph over the course of an entire hike. We estimate we were slower this time due to the amount of talus hopping, especially above the saddle, similar to the standard route on Mt. Princeton.

And that's it... my very first trip report. I hope it's helpful, and encourages you into a beautiful area of Colorado!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

McCoy Gulch
11/04/2020 23:22
Great report! I also did my research beforehand - thinking that same thing - how could anyone descend early into McCoy Gulch? How do you not just follow the exact same ridge back?

Well, I started to as well. I believe I probably was at the same spot you were before having a really bad gut feeling and making the choice to check my GPS.

I went out alone (with my dog) on Labor Day this year to do the West Ridge for the same reason - I'd already summitted Shavano at the start of the season and I wanted a different adventure. When I started the morning off at the trail head, there was only one other hiker attempting the West Ridge. We left at the same time, but I quickly passed him. When I started ascending the slope to the saddle, I noticed the other hiker was way off-route in the gulch (climber's left). After I got up to the Carb-Tab saddle, I noticed he had found the trail, but had decided to call it a day and turn around. It gave me a really weird feeling realizing that I was now likely to be completely on my own all day on this route - and then I was.

This was in the thick of the fire fiascos, but the smoke didn't start to creep in until I got to the West Ridge. I had a pretty pleasant/easy time hiking the ridge to the summit. When I got to the summit, there was one group of 3 who had just done Shav & Tab. They said there were only a couple other people attempting Shavano that day.

As I started descending the West Ridge, the smoke REALLY kicked in and visibility became pretty bad. I also started down a VERY CLEAR TRAIL down the left side of the ridge, remembering that I had been on that side for at least the last kick to the summit on the ascent. However, I also continued down it for far too long before re-ascending the West Ridge. When I checked my GPS, I could clearly see I was in a spot perpendicular to the trail. I actually was stuck out overnight on a 14er this summer, and this was my first time getting off-route since that experience a month prior. Despite doing my best to calm my nerves, my body went into panic mode. I had to take really deep breaths and talk to myself until I followed the trail back to the ridge. All the while feeling like I was back in that same scenario from my previous rescue and remembering what I had read about McCoy Gulch.

I think it took me 20-30 minutes to get back to the ridge after getting off-route. But despite that scare - I thoroughly enjoyed this route! And I agree - that gulch was one of my favorites a


11/05/2020 08:14
Thanks for the response...
Good thing you checked your GPS at the time you did... and had it along!
I'm glad you made it- such a beautiful area!

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