The two peaks made for a fantastic, relaxing climb to begin. On my way to the trailhead, I drove through a rain shower that crossed directly over the peaks. I knew I was getting a late start which can sometimes negatively impact a hike, however, the benefit of missing the rain shower proved positive for my outlook. I turned up the dirt road toward the trail and I faced a beautiful day. As I pulled in the parking lot to snap a shot of myself with the trail map, I spoke to a couple of hikers who were forced to return down the mountain dues to heavy rain, hail, and sleet higher up on the mountain. However, upon my arrival, radar and sky looked clear, so I decided to proceed and make the journey a quick one. Fortunately, the 10 miles it would take me to do both peaks was relatively easy grade and
I was able to jog a good portion. My surroundings had the beautiful smell of evergreen trees, occasional blotches of deep green aspens, and, of course, the scratching and scrambling of squirrels and other small unidentifiable forest rodents. As I climbed higher and higher, the trees began to get shorter and shorter. I encountered a park ranger at about 12,000 feet. He was measuring the trees and estimating their age, but I did not stop to chat at this point. I may be getting more and more acclimated to the altitude here, but hiking up these grades is never easy. With altitude acclimation added to the equation, I was quite out of breath. As I continued on at my rapid pace, I met more hikers on the trail who either donned rain jackets and kept hiking or found shelter to wait out the storm before their returned to the trail head.
One of these groups was resting on a rock around 12,500 feet, the altitude at which I typically take a water and food break. After talking briefly, I discovered they were from Kansas and were hiking for the holiday weekend. Three out of the four of the hikers have successfully completed multiple 14’ers and knew what they were getting into. It appeared they suckered their fourth into joining who seemed to be enjoying himself but was certainly unknowing of the intensity involved with a hike of this magnitude. Nonetheless, the group was consistent having already made their way to the top and were on the way back down.
With the experiences of several 14’ers now behind me, I believe that anyone who completes a 14’er on foot should be extremely proud. I am thankful every time I complete one that I have the resources and the ability to push my body to these limits. I encourage anyone I see to safely do the same.
I parted ways with the group out of Kansas and continued up the mountain as they headed down. Now that I was above the tree line, my view away from the mountain slope was a perfect panorama. I was able to look back and appreciate how far I travelled already.
The nature surrounding me, even the shrubs at my feet, impressed me. I continue to be amazed that nature grows in these extremes. The trees I passed are covered in snow for a good part of the year, they occasionally deal with winds up to 100 mph, and they survive constant ground movement (erosion and rock slides). I suppose life does indeed “always find a way.”
As I continued my climb to the ridge saddle, I encountered two very unexpected views. The first view showed me that the peak I was imagining was my destination was actually only a false peak, now shadowed by both Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak. The second view was an army of white fluffy clouds marching my way. I picked up my pace again so that I would at least make it to the peak of Mt. Shavano where I would reevaluate the rest of my plan. As I climbed my way up, scrambling quickly over boulders, the clouds above me to the south were raining down some accumulation on the trail I just hiked. I made it to the peak just as the clouds were starting to turn. I paused momentarily to watch where they were headed and how fast they were moving. After deciding I had enough time, I pulled out my phone, stuffed my pack between two rocks at the peak, and starting running the .8 miles down to the saddle and back up to Tabeguache Peak. It didn’t take long for me to descend to the saddle and start the climb back up despite a couple of tricky rocks that slowed me down slightly. As I crested the top, I was surprised to see that the approaching clouds materialized and grew at a much faster pace than I anticipated. The clouds were raining down their contents only a couple of miles away, continuing to head straight toward me. I did my best to smile for my mountain top selfie as I still gasped for air from the climb up. After a quick snapshot, I ran my way back to the saddle and back up Mt. Shavano to retrieve my bag and head back down the mountain to race the weather to my car. As I started my descent, I could hear the precipitation approaching behind me. I knew I had lost this race. I found a large rock to take shelter under to wait out the downfall. As quickly as the snow came, it left. I hit the trail once more, jogging down and heading for home. With the weather no longer a threat, I stopped briefly to speak with the forestry person who I crossed on the path prior. I found him in front of a magnificent tree that he measured and estimated to be 160 years old. I was amazed and inspired because even though this tree had fallen, it was still alive and still growing. These trails hold more meaning when I am able to take in the inspirational metaphors that nature sets in my path. From this journey, I took away that the fight never ends. If a tree growing at 12,650 feet in elevation can grow tall, fall over, and still hang onto enough to continue to grow, nothing in life can hold us down long enough not to reach our goals.
What a fantastic way to start 3 days of hiking. Now its time to head for base camp and plan out tomorrows adventure. The weather south looks iffy, so I may stay up in the collegiate peaks. Look for a preview in the morning as I will be making a last second decision between 2 clusters.