Well, I finally made it up Tabeguache. I had been up Shavano three times, all via the Angel snowfield, but was prevented from traversing to Tabeguache by poor weather, poor snow conditions, and poor fitness, in that order. I hiked up a trail on the north side once, but didn't feel all that great after the 6 mile approach and didn't like the looks of the north side route. I had been to the Shavano trailhead another time and found a rainstorm and didn't even start hiking. I tried once to drive up to the Jennings Creek trailhead but decided about 4 miles short of the trailhead that the road was getting too rough for my car. Once I even turned around about an hour after leaving home. And finally, I had bailed out of the trip a couple times before even leaving home. So technically, this was something like my 10th attempt at Tabeguache. This time the weather looked good, I was pretty happy with my fitness level, and everything else was on track, but there was only one way to find out about snow conditions.
Roach's guidebook says that late May through June are best. Three years ago to the same weekend I tried this route but we had to do major postholing through snow from shortly above the trailhead all the up to the base of the Angel and that killed the traverse to Tabeguache. However, this spring has been very warm in Colorado and I guessed that we were several weeks ahead of that condition, and indeed the Angel was in prime condition today.
I left home at about 0140, but before I made it out of Boulder I realized that I had left my boots at home. That was a pretty stupid mistake, but I was able to leave home for real after losing just 20 minutes. The drive took almost exactly the 3.5 hours I expected. The road up Blank Gulch had a few serious ruts (from SUV's driven through mud, no doubt), but is still OK for a normal car. There were only a couple other vehicles at the trailhead which was a little surprising.
I started hiking at 0547 and the fact that I kept going higher and higher without seeing snow was encouraging. Shortly after the creek crossing at 10800ft, I ran into a pair of hikers, Dave and Gabor. They were a little confused as to when you needed to leave the trail and head up the Angel drainage. Since I had been there before I was able to help out with the route-finding. (Believe me, familiarity with a route is the only reason you would want me making major route-finding decisions!) It turned out that Dave and I had exchanged e-mails last year about a route I did on Sneffels. Small world! (Or, maybe "small state".) We actually stayed on the trail a little longer than I had before, but there is a range of altitudes from 10900 to 11200 where it is reasonable to do so.
There was very little unavoidable snow below treeline and the going was pretty easy, especially for not having a trail. Near treeline, they stopped for a break and offered that I should go on ahead. At treeline, I stopped to put on sunblock and chatted with Ryan at his campsite. He was just getting ready to head up, and once Dave and Gabor reached us, we headed for the Angel as a foursome.
The Angel starts at 12000ft, and at around 12800 you either go up the head of the Angel or her left wing. The head leads straight up to the summit, and gave us 1100ft of snow climbing. Snow conditions weren't great; it was tough to kick steps, but the lower half wasn't too good for cramponing. Dave and Gabor had full crampons and I had instep crampons, and we donned those about 1/3 of the way up. Ryan was comfortable kicking steps. My insteps didn't really start helping until the upper part when snow conditions were just about perfect.
Above the Angel, it's about 1100ft of tundra and talus to the summit. Ryan summitted just ahead of me, and the other two were a little ways behind. I summitted at 0949, and I was pleased with my 4-hour ascent. It had been breezy at times and some high clouds were moving in, but there was nothing remotely threatening weatherwise at this point. The sky was a little hazy and visibility wasn't great, but all the high peaks still had snowcover, so the views were nice. Ryan and I were expecting less than 2 hours for the round-trip to Tabeguache.
The first part of the ridge is fairly rocky and is harder Class 2, and then it smooths out to mostly easy Class 2 for the rest. Ryan pretty much left me in the dust heading down the ridge and I was several minutes behind him most of the way. The wind was funnelling up McCoy Gulch and it was windy enough at the saddle that I put on my shell (the coldest temperature I recorded on my watch was 35F and the highest gusts were around 30 mph). From the saddle the route gets more interesing because during snow season it's a leeward side. Thus, there was quite a bit of snow leading up to the ridge and along the edge of the ridge. I was a little concerned because if the ridge dropped off immediately on the other side the finish would be tricky.
Again, Ryan took the lead and we both ended up doing a 100-foot snow climb to reach the ridge crest. Earlier in the year there may be a cornice there, but not this late. The ridge to the summit was wide enough for safe passage on solid snow, but narrow enough to feel airy. It was snowcovered, and overall the last few hundred vertical feet was a very aesthetic finish.
It took just under an hour for the traverse. By this time, the high clouds had overtaken the Sun, and were thickening and lowering. It still didn't look too bad but after Dave and Gabor arrived about 10 minutes later, Ryan and I left the summit. We glissaded the snow climb and quickly made it down to the saddle. However, the Shavano side is longer with more gain than the Tabeguache side so it was quite a grunt. Again, Ryan was stronger and pulled out in front. By the time I reached Shavano just before noon (1:54 for the double traverse, right on schedule), he had already headed down. I was suffering from the altitude a bit and my legs felt totally drained from the mile-plus of elevation gain (especially from climbing the Angel) so I sat down for a few minutes at the summit. He still had to break camp, so I knew I would catch him there.
The first 500-600ft of the descent were pretty tedious, but it levels off a little bit just before the Angel. When I reached the top of the snow, I could see Ryan glissading the lower portion of the Angel. I put on my rain pants and started my glissade. I didn't go quite as fast as I had in my previous trips, and I did some self-arrest practice. Still, it took just 5 minutes to descend 1100ft!
When I reached Ryan's camp, he was just finishing packing up so I waited a few minutes and we hiked out together. We took yet a different line down the gulch to the trail, empasizing that your exact route up the drainage isn't crucial. The remaining 1.5 miles went pretty quickly. I reached my car just after 1400, so my round-trip was just over 8 hours; just 2 hours to drop the 4430 feet down Shavano! I was really expecting the round-trip to take 8.5-9 hours. I was pretty tired, but nothing hurt too much.
Since the "real" hiking season hasn't started yet, the drive home took the same amount of time as the drive to the trailhead in minimal traffic. And, I was even passed more often than I passed someone!
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To the Tabeguache Peak page
File last modified: 22 November 2005