Peak(s):  Mt. Shavano  -  14,229 feet
Date Posted:  06/08/2009
Date Climbed:   06/06/2009
Author:  tink

 Another summit, and a first backcountry ride  

After reviewing the previous weekend's trip reports from ShavTab, and knowing that to meet my summer goal of ten 14ers by August I would need to start tagging twofers, I pulled the trigger and decided to head for the southern Sawatch. My hope was that I could make the trailhead before dark and camp in the aspen grove--aspens being my favorite tree and the grove looking beautiful in the photos.

Alas, it was not to be, and at 5:30 last Saturday I found myself tossing my tent back into the Hyundai and hitting the trail from the trailhead. The plan was to get some easy exposure to backcountry snowboarding for the first time, by descending via the Angel; the concern was thunderstorms, which had been called for Friday and Sunday and which had been given a chance of appearing on Saturday. An early start would be my best safeguard against getting knocked off the peaks.

During the climb up Shavano's east-ridge trail, the clouds seemed to promise an afternoon storm. Dark gray and low hanging, they were coming up and over the top of the peak, threatening my side of the mountain.


Breaking through tree line let the wind hit me full blast, and as I contoured along the ridge it seemed as though the wind was gusting at 20 mph—not bad, and certainly manageable.

I was able to spot a few flowers starting to bloom, and snapped a quick photo of them.

I also paused to take a few photos of the Angel, which I've stitched together to give folks an idea of what the remaining snow cover looks like.


Around the time I paused to take those photos of the Angel, the wind picked up, or I simply left a sheltered aspect of the mountain. By the time I was crossing the Angel the wind felt like it was blowing at a near constant 20 mph with gusts up and into the 50s. With the snowboard on my back I was unbalanced a couple of times, and found myself walking into the wind much as a cartoon character might: at a 45 degree angle to the slope.

The hike only got tougher as I crossed the 13,500 ft mark. This tends to be the area that I begin to really feel the lack of oxygen, and with the wind I was quickly getting worn to a nub. To add to the problems, my additional cold weather layers were in my pack, and with the wind blowing as it was, I did not want to pull them out and risk watching any loose gear blow away. The board was also a hassle to restrap to the pack.

Finally, I made the summit. The time was 9:30, making for a roughly four hour hike to the summit.

Obligatory summit shot.

Once on top, I met a couple that was also hiking Shavano. Like me, they had also hoped to tag Tabeugauche. However, once on top of the peak, the dark overcast skies remained, and to the north we could see a solid sheet of precipitation hiding the northern Sawatch, Mosquito, and Front Ranges. With the strong winds blowing from that direction, we had the sense that a storm may move in by early afternoon. Indeed, one ridge became obscured in the clouds even as we stood there.

This ridge shot looking to the west gives a sense of what we saw, although I failed to take the northern looking photo.

The decision was made by all parties that it would be safest to descend. As someone once put it, summiting is optional, but descending is mandatory. We preferred to do so without fear of a storm knocking us off. It was, however, disappointing not to get Tab after having already made it up the first of the peaks.

The descent from Shavano is entirely skiable, if you have sufficient skills to maneuver the rocks. I do not. Instead, using my remaining trekking pole as a brake, I glissaded down to the saddle. If one has never glissaded with a snowboard on their back, I would say it is an interesting experience. It's also a little emasculating, given that you expect to board instead of glissade; however, prudence dictated staying within my skill level. On the first of these I lost my copy of Dawson's Northern 14ers. It was impossible to catch it as I watched it blow down the valley, carried by strong winds.

Can you spot the glissade routes further up?

Crossing the saddle to the western arm of the Angel, which seemed to hold constant snow higher up, I snapped a picture looking downhill.


As I settled down a little bit below the saddle (in order to get dampen the wind) I paused to get myself psyched up for the downhill snowboard. Most of my experience snowboarding has been in the mid-Atlantic region, where your black diamonds are the equivalent of a Colorado blue. My Western riding experience has been all of two days in Vail and a recent day at A-Basin. Confident of my ability to ride down the mountain at the start of the day, the doubts began to slip in. I ran through my checklist of how to handle different snow conditions, and, not letting myself get caught up in the negatives any longer, I strapped in and started down.

Here's a picture of some folks starting up the ridge, taken where the doubts crept in.

The descent ended up being fantastic. After failing to cut my first two turns to the backside properly, I was cruising down the Angel with broad turns from side to side. It was tremendously enjoyable just to feel the edge of my board properly cutting into the hardpacked yet not icy snow.

It was a world of difference from the East, and as the snow transitioned from pack to wet, Arizona dust infused slop, I took breaks just to give thanks for being out on such a wonderful day. Who cares if I didn't grab Tab as well, for this Virginia boy snowboarding in June was treat enough. Where I had been tired and cold just a little while earlier, I was now on an outdoors high and praising my good fortune.

Once at the bottom I stopped to sip some water and talk with folks on their way up. We all agreed how impressive it must be to ski or snowboard the Angel earlier in the year, when the snow reaches down and into the trees. For my part, I was looking forward to trying something in the northern peaks next weekend, where the new fallen snow may leave a good route for a beginner like me.

Here's a picture looking back at the Angel. You can see the four climbers I met about half-way up.

Descending through the tree-filled basin, I took advantage of the weather's decision to hold out. Stopping for a brief while I explored an abandoned cabin with complementary garbage.


The creeks were also flowing the snowmelt. Though not swollen by any means, it had enough water to make for many good photos.


The real treat, though, was hanging out in the aspen grove and breathing in the beautiful view. The yellow pea flowers were blooming, and their bright yellow petals dotted the green grass carpet. Together with the white aspen trunks, blue skies, and green leaves twisting in the wind, I was practically in heaven.

I took my time photographing the area and just enjoying the moment. One of the reasons that I enjoy aspens is that they exist in a certain sort of community. Although they have separate trunks, their root system is interconnected. Being in the midst of a book on St. Ephrem the Syrian, who meditates upon the hidden meaning of the created world, it occurred to me that the trees mirror humanity and the Church. While we are each individuals, we share a common past. In the Church, there are individual parishioners who share a communion through their belief in Christ. It was an interesting thought that I now pass onto you.

Here's the pics.

A bee pollinates the yellow pea.

Looking up to the aspens.

Fun with a macro lens.

A photo of the aspen grove.

The colorful carpet of nature.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Great trip report.
11/30/2010 17:20
We were climbing as you were descending. Nice turns!

Here's a few more:


06/09/2009 23:51
Thanks for posting those! I saw you over on the trail, and was hoping that you may be a denizen.


question rather than comment
06/16/2009 02:24
Doing Shav and Tab tomorrow, need snow shoes or not? Thanks in advance for any information.

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