Monday, July 18, 2011

A Birthday at Bear Lake and Wedding Anniversary at Mt. Shavano

My fabulous husband had a birthday last Monday and though we had initially thought about heading to New Orleans to celebrate, work kept us both in town. So I decided to plan a get together with all our friends on Sunday to honor the man of the hour. I had wanted us all to go tubing in Golden but Clear Creek is closed to tubers because of the high water levels. The amount of snow melt has caused creek's and rivers like this to be above normal for this time of year and it's simply suicide to get in the water unless you are kayaking or rafting. After much deliberation we decided to move the celebration to Bear Creek Lake Park Almost all of our friends came out to celebrate Chad and we rented a paddle boat and canoe for an hour to take turns going around the lake. They have a swim area roped off too so we blew up our tubes and floated all afternoon until we were rained out. It was a fabulous afternoon and I thank everyone so much who attended.

(birthday boy with 31 candle donut salute)

(enjoying the sun when it finally came out)

(more of the party)

(getting our water sports on)

(happy birthday Chad!)

Since chad got to decide what he wanted to do for his birthday (relax and be with friends and NOT hike), I got to pick what we did for our wedding anniversary - hike 14ers! And two at that!

Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache have been on my mind to hike for awhile. For one, they are the farthest south of Buena Vista in the Sawatch range so I wanted to knock them out and for another reason you get two for the hike of one (basically). I have a thing with numbers as well and it seemed they would align perfectly for this hike. We would hike two 14ers for our 2 year wedding anniversary; I'd finish my 17th one on the 17th as well as my 18th in honor of the day we were married - July 18th. My birthday is May 18th so this seems to be my lucky number as well.

We have gotten into quite the routine with hiking this summer. Since I have every Friday off I put all of our stuff together we will need for camping (tent, sleeping bags, etc). Then Saturday morning I pack up the car and we run any last minute grocery errands and fill up the Jeep's gas tank. Then I teach yoga at noon and after class we hop in the car and head up to the mountains. Since it's just my husband and I we don't have to wait for anyone which makes it nice we can stick to our own schedule.

After about a two hour drive we arrived in Buena Vista where we again hit up the grocery store before continuing south on 285. One mile north of the U.S. 50 and U.S. 285 junction we turned west onto County Road 140. From here we drove about 1.7 miles and then took a right onto County Road 250 which we continued on until it splits into a "Y." CR 250 goes right and Forest Road 252 is on the left so we stayed left. We had no problems following the directions until we hit another junction on FR 252. The trail went straight or it curved up to the left and since there was no mention of which way to go in the directions I printed from I told chad to take a left. This led us up and curved around and the road seemed to go on forever with dispersed camping off to the left and right. It seemed like we had taken the wrong turn at the last junction but Chad decided to keep's a good thing he did because a little farther up the road was the official trailhead.

(after a 2.5 hour drive this was a welcome site)

Our plan of attack when camping and hiking 14ers is always the same - get to the trailhead then find a spot to camp. So we drove through the circle at the trailhead then continued on and up the dirt road until we found a nice spot to camp. Well it looked nice until we realized there were a bunch of ants and ant hills all over the ground. Fortunately we pitched our tent where it was ant free:

As a side note there were numerous warnings posted that a fire ban was in effect for the area. This is the first site we have camped where I have seen this so be sure to bring a grill if you want to cook your food. These sites around Mt. Shavano are self constructed (read: free so no fire grates only self made pits) and it has been dry so I'm sure these all contribute to the ban. This was the warmest night I've spent camping so far this summer and the warmest morning I've ever woken up too (morning temp was in the 60s as opposed to the 30s).

Our 5am alarm went off and we packed up the car and headed to the trailhead which was just a few hundred yards down from our campsite. We saw several other groups getting ready to hit the trail so we hurried and started hiking ahead of them. Chad and I do not like to be directly hiking behind big groups so it was imperative we get a move on!

We started at an elevation of 9,750 feet from the standard East Slopes Route. Since we were going to try for Tabeguache as well, this would bring our total hike to 11.25 miles. The trail is straightforward and soon after you cross a cattle guard you'll see a sign for the Colorado Trail and Shavano trail with arrows pointing you in the direction to go.

This was by far the most dry trail I have been on all season. There was no sightings of snow or even mud (yay no gaitors this time!) and even though I brought my down jacket - no need for it. The temperature rose with the sun and we soon found ourselves sweating off all the sunscreen. Mt. Shavano is a long approach through the trees which kept us shady for the first part of the hike.

(the trees seemed to go on forever!)

(finally heading up towards the saddle. The angel of Shavano is center even though her right wing has melted off)

You leave the treeline at about 12,200 feet and continue west across Shavano's Southeast Slope. Much of the trail is visible from here and you just have to keep hiking up towards the saddle which is at about 13, 400 feet. The trail continues to the right where there was only 700 feet left standing between us and the summit. From the saddle what you see is pretty much what you get and I was pleasantly surprised not to reach any "false" summit. The route finding is a little tricky but we stayed right which eventually wound us up and around to the top.

(from the saddle - the remaining 700 feet awaits)

(taking a break on our way up. Scree climbing is tough work)

(finally at the top of Shavano - 14,231 feet)

(we made it! 17 down for me, 11 for Chad. Tabeguache looms in the background)

There were quite a bit of dark clouds forming overhead and although they weren't too much of a concern, I knew we couldn't linger at the top of Shavano long if we wanted to tag Tabeguache as well). So after confirming directions from someone at the summit who had already hiked over there before, we began to down climb across the ridge to Tabeguache. I cannot stress how important it is to get an early start if you want to hike both. We reached the summit of Shavano at about 9:30 but it's still an hour to Tabeguache and an hour back; one mile of hiking and 500 feet of elevation gain. The only way to return from Tabeguache is back up and over Shavano. Above 14,000 feet is no place to be in a lightening storm so a head start on this one is imperative!

(a look at the ridge you must climb down in order to reach Tabeguache)

(chad leading the way)

(finally at the saddle - about to head up Tabeguache)

I will say this - the route finding from the ridge of Shavano up to Tabeguache is crap. Just stay high and pick your way as best you can as there really isn't a trail. The rocks are stable but they are jagged and one snag of a shoelace could send you face first into a pile. We did as best we could to pick our way up Tabeguache as well but again, you find and lose the trail over and over again. As chad says, "when in doubt head straight up." Also we ditched our packs at the bottom of Tabeguache. I cannot tell you how much faster this made our climb up. I stashed my cell phone and some rain panchos in my pocket and we carried a water bottle with us but left everything else. It's amazing how fast you can hike without that extra weight. Before we knew it, we were standing on top at 14, 162 feet:

(view of Shavano from the summit of Tabeguache)

(view from the top)

(marmot coming out to say hello and congratulate us)

(lucky number 18 for me and Bebe 12 for chad)

There was hardly any wind at the top and only about 4 people up on Tabeguache. The views were spectacular and you can even see Antero to the north. However, our stay on top was brief as we knew we now had to traverse back over to Shavano then begin our way down and back to the car.

Upon arriving at Shavano for the second time we took a few more pictures, had a snack and started making our way down. It was probably 11 at this point and I was surprised to see how many people were just now making their way up to Shavano and some we even passed on their way over to Tabeguache. More clouds were starting to build and I could only be happy with myself knowing we had made the best decision to start early.

(it's quite a slog back up Shavano)

(resting at the summit before heading down)

(wheel pose on shavano)

Although we saw about 5 more people on their way up as we headed down, that's the last of the groups we passed for the day. While I would say this is a relatively popular 14er, there wasn't near the volume I would anticipate for a Sunday hike. The climb down was thankfully uneventful although it did seem to take ten times longer than it felt like going up. Once we reached treeline the temps were in the 70s and I had to strip down to a tank top just to get any relief from the heat. I was thankful to have brought over 2 liters of water and I drank almost all of it. There was only a small stream that we passed on the way up so I would be sure to bring plenty of water for this 11 mile hike.

We reached our car around 2, roughly 8 hours from starting that morning. I was happy to have those 14ers behind me now and we avoided any major thunderstorms along the way. I am realizing the mtns of the Sawatch range all have relatively long approaches and are quite the slog up and down so I will be happy when I finally finish them all. While they are beautiful hikes, I'm ready for a change of scenery at the top!

Only two weeks until the group camping and hiking trip in Buena Vista at the end of this month. What a great opportunity for me to lead some newbies up to the top of their first 14er. I can hardly wait...

Goodbye Mt. Shavano (and Tabeguache) thank you for an amazing wedding anniversary celebration I'll always remember

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