Looking to complete the Sawatch range (save Mt. Elbert which is being kept for my finisher) this year, Kris and I set out to climb Shavano and Tabeguache over the weekend. Conditions looked great and the weather looked phenomenal. As usual, we camped the night before at the trailhead (in the vicinity of the TH in this case as camping is not allowed at the TH).
We slept in the overflow parking area for a rather brief period of time courtesy of our dogs. It was a beautiful night under a relatively full moon in an aspen grove. Our light sleep was interrupted rudely at 3:15 a.m. with our wake up call to get going.
We were on the trail an hour later and off to the races. We felt fresh and knocked out the first mile in 25 minutes. A pace we knew wasn’t sustainable but it was certainly nice to knock it out that quickly. We continued to hike at that pace, only stopping to take a break at the creek around 10,800 ft. to refill water for the rest of the day. The dogs greatly enjoyed the stop as well as the ran through the water.
It was still quite dark as we worked our way through the trees. The trail is easy to follow and relatively straightforward. There are a few sections, especially early on that are more a collection of rocks as opposed to a trail. Just a side note though.
As we reached treeline, the sun finally started to poke its head in the east. We started to notice some of the features around us, namely the low hanging clouds in the valley to the south. One of my bucketlist dreams is to hike above the clouds. It’s a phenomenon that is relatively rare in Colorado. It takes the perfect weather conditions to occur so it was somewhat a tease to see it off in the distance but still beautiful.
The sun rose slowly initially but the trail grew rapidly brighter thanks to the low moon. We soon turned off our headlamps and hiked under the natural light of both the sun and moon.
As we approached the ridge, the wind steadily increased. We had thought we were the first people on the trail for the day, but a light above us indicated otherwise. We soon ran into a man and his dog on their way down. He offered to tell us that the wind got better but that was not the case. He had chosen to only summit Shavano and avoid his day turning into a sufferfest. We also took this as an opportunity to enjoy the sunrise behind us.
As we approached the ridge around 13,300 feet, the wind began to howl. Kris nor I are ones to be accurate wind gaugers but it was damn strong. My initial thoughts were 80 mph, but after considering that would be hurricane force we settled on an estimate of 30-40 mph. It was enough to knock us around quite a bit though.
Kris and I shut up and just suffered through the misery for the last 900 feet or so to the summit. We veered a little bit to the left of the trail on the class 2 climb to the summit. After 30 minutes we reached the top. The summit is a ridge of sorts that is a network of rocks and spots to hide from the wind. I was able to find a rock to sit on and enjoy the views from while being obstructed from the wind. Christine and I had spent one of our favorite 14er summits up here and it was great to be back. (More on that here: https://14000feetandabove.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/mt-shavano/)
After 25 minutes on the summit of Shavano, we began our trek over to Tab. It’s only a mile but the descent to the 13,700 foot saddle is mostly off trail and requires a good bit of rock hopping. Our view may be skewed though as we stayed away from the edge of the ridge due to the wind and there seemed to be more of a trail up there.
There was however a bit of excitement on the descent in some of the shady spots…
Once reached the saddle, it was a quick climb to the summit. There are a variety of “trails” in the area, all marked by cairns, so it can be tough to follow a set trail, but there is a simple path to the summit. We hit the switches and made quick work of it, reaching the saddle in 22 minutes.
The view from the summit was rewarding to say the least.
From the summit of Tab, you are able to see much of the Sawatch range and also much of Nolan’s 14. I’ve spent the last 2 summers driving down 285 attempting to complete this range that is home to 15 of Colorado’s 14ers. Most are in this picture somewhere with the notable exception of the lonely Holy Cross off by itself.
As much of our hike had been dark when we were around trees, we hadn’t had a chance to see if any of Colorful Colorado’s Autumn beauty had appeared. We were greeted with a couple splashes of yellow in the valleys surrounding Shav/Tab.
I had heard the view from Tab was significantly better than Shavano and was skeptical of such claims. It was only a mile after all. I was wrong.
We reached Tab in 4:37. A pretty decent time, especially considering the winds from the saddle to the summit of Shavano. After spending some time relaxing on Tab with no one around, we began our trek back to the trailhead. Unfortunately, there is no way back home without summiting Shavano again, so we set off to climb up an over again. The trek back was much tougher than the initial trek. Merlin had sprained his back leg on the journey down Tab and Casey was dog-tired. No pun intended.
It took us close to an hour to get back to the 14,229 foot summit of Shavano. By this point, we just hike straight through and began the trek downward. While 4 miles is a relatively short return to the TH, especially by Sawatch standards, the triple summit had mentally killed us. It was a struggle to return to treeline. Once we reached that point, we were able to somewhat mentally rebuild ourselves and break the hike into segments that were much more achievable.
Overall, we completed the 11.1 mile hike in 8h24m. The finish was a struggle. Probably due to our lack of longer distance fitness, but it’s good to have another Sawatch summit done.
Total Time: 8:24
Total Mileage: 11.1 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 5,261 feet
TH to Shavano: 3:18
Shav to Tab: 1:19
Tab back to Shavano: 1:14
Shavano to TH: 2:34