Peak(s):  Mt. Shavano  -  14,229 feet
Tabeguache Peak  -  14,155 feet
Date Posted:  02/19/2011
Modified:  02/20/2011
Date Climbed:   02/15/2011
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise
 Winter Daytrip: Shavano and Tabeguache  

Winter Daytrip:
Shavano and Tabeguache

Peaks: Mt. Shavano, Tabeguache Peak
Route: East Ridge
Approach: 252 Road at 250 Jct
Date: 2-15-11
Length: 18 miles RT
Vertical: 6700 feet
Total time: 11.5 hours
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise (solo)

Mt. Shavano, east ridge.


Winds are high over the weekend, but supposed to settle down briefly for Tuesday. I'm uneasy about the trip. It takes several hours in the alpine to get both peaks; high gusts would not be good. Then there's that area at treeline on the east ridge, which has always bothered me. It's steep, open, east facing, and always seems to wind-load. As I start the drive out of town, I realize this is the windiest winter morning I've seen getting to a fourteener. I almost turn back, but decide to go have a look.

The Angel of Shavano visible on the SE slopes.

The road is nearly clear to the 252/250 junction, at the NFS boundary. A sedan with all-season tires should make it just fine. The flats beyond that are drifted in. The road is uneventful for 3.25 miles getting to the summer TH. The AoS trail has been tracked, though not as recently as the 252 approach. It's roughly a half mile along the Colorado Trail, from the summer TH, till the Shavano trail turns left to climb through the trees. Trail junctions are well marked. A nice trench is in place through the trees, though areas in the 11's are melted and crusted, erasing the track in places. I pleasantly capture images, unaware that the camera is failing. I hope you'll pardon the paucity of photos for this report.

Road 252 in winter.

The winter route is not the same as the summer route. The winter objective is to gain the east ridge. The part that bothers me is an area near treeline on this ridge. It is steep, SE facing, in a large clearing, and often wind-loaded. It is difficult to find a good line around or through this area. At 11,700, the track disappears. I start the traverse north at 11,900, to gain the east ridge, but find steep, hard snow in places, and windslab in others. Backing off and retracing steps, I'm able to drop about 50 verts to somewhat lower-angle terrain, with a slightly higher density of small trees. The goal is not far - about 50 yards to a rocky knoll. I'm assuming that the northerly side of the ridge is dry, or at least thin enough to be safe. The knoll buttresses against the hillside, on the east ridge, forming an elongated notch or corridor, which is probably the lowest angle way to get north to the east ridge proper. The top of the knoll is probably about 11,900. Walking side-hill on bullet-hard snow with snowshoes is a little spooky, so I get the axe out and feel better about it. It's a short distance. The intermittent slab areas raise some concern, but there's no cracking or other definite signs of instability.

Pikes Peak in the distance beyond the Arkansas River valley.

On the east ridge above the knoll, the northerly side is fairly dry, so I cache snowshoes and water. The rest of the ridge is straightforward.

Last year, on the descent, Micah and I got sucked into trying to go around the north sides of several bumps on the ridge, while Ken, ahead of us, seemed to stay to the tops. This trip, I try to stay on the top the whole way, and find it much better, especially on the descent. There's a little more snow than expected on the steeps, but not a big concern with axe in hand.

Kindred spirits exchange curious glances.

At 1:30 pm, and Tabeguache looks like a long way off. I'm not feeling the greatest, but coming all this way, it makes sense to try to get both. I decide to head down Shavano's NW ridge a ways to have a better look. You know how that goes; before long I'm sucked into doing it.

South Arkansas River Valley, Poncha Springs, and Sangre de Cristo Range beyond.

The winds have been really high lately, but today they were supposed to back off. It turns out that by the end of the day, calm conditions prevail on the descent, though right now, walking the NW ridge gives a nice blast at every notch.

Tabeguache is more covered than I expect. I take the face to the left, which is relatively dry, since the ridge looks corniced higher up. Turns out the snow is fine, and there's really not much cornice, so I take the ridge and snow on the descent. The snow works well for boot glissade. At one point the boots slip, the axe goes in, and once again the system proves itself. I'm continually amazed at the effectiveness of this simple tool.

Looking down on Monarch Ski Area from Tabeguache Peak.

The Tabeguache summit.

Back on Shavano, it's 3:00 pm, which eases worry about getting to that treeline spot while it's still light. Beyond that, I'm not too concerned, as there's a good trench, a headlamp in the pack, and a moon in the sky. Staying dead-center on the ridgetop getting down from Shavano proves to be the best course. There are places going over the tops of the bumps where it's just tundra. I know from last year that it's easy to drop onto the left (north) side, where, especially in the upper sections, the talus is large and loose. I make the snowshoe stash with plenty of daylight to spare. The traverse back over to the trail is not as difficult as it seemed on the ascent. It's about this time I realize the camera is not working right. Apparently the auto lens cover is not sealing out moisture as it used to, and vapor has frozen over the lens, making most of the photos appear foggy. Up till now, it's been a great little camera.

Mt. Shavano and the Sangre de Cristos are seen from the Tabeguache Peak summit.

The warm weather has loosened things up a bit, but still no word out of the snowpack, which seems relatively content to stay stuck to the side of the hill. I estimate making the Colorado Trail by last light, where there's another water cache. I drink my fill and plod along at last light, a moon high in the eastern sky to light the way.

Mt. Shavano under a nearly full moon.

The slog back on 252 seems horrendously long, crunching suncrust with every step. I stop to enjoy the moonlight and quiet solitude on this warm, windless night: a nice consolation for a seemingly unending road. Soon the road pops up out of the drainage, onto the flats, and the lights of Salida come into view. A look back, and Shavano's east ridge is bathed in majestic moonlight. At the car, I toss in gear, dig out the "car camera," and attempt some long shutter exposures. The hard work is over. It's a warm, quiet night. I'm in no hurry to leave.

Warm moonlight, hot salsa.


 Comments or Questions

Snow levels
02/22/2011 15:38
Wow. There is way less snow there than there was last winter. Way to go get it.


Fantastic - as always
02/20/2011 13:20
Yet ANOTHER fantastic report with incredible pictures. Thanks, Jim!


Pretty amazing photos
02/20/2011 05:20
Moonlight over Hernandez, ala Shavano. Each shot suitable for framing. How did you get the grainy detail in the shots?


Great report
02/20/2011 04:32
As usual I enjoyed your report and will likely refer to it as Shav/Tabe are on my short list this winter. well done!

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