Tabeguache Mountain (14,155), Mount Shavano (14,229), May 28, 94

Tabeguache Mountain  Mount Shavano

The data

The saga continues… 2 more 14ers here in Colorado with fellow rec.backcountry/climbing guy, Tom Vervaeke. This one ended up having some interesting twists.  We left Colorado Springs at 4:00 am sharp and banged on the door of the Donut Mill in Woodland Park until they came to the counter and opened the door early for some hungry climbers. We reached the trailhead at about 7:00am after driving up a rocky forest service road for 8 miles. The forecast had been for clear skies and warm temperatures. What met us when we stepped from the truck was overcast skies and a light mist/spitting snow. There were two trucks already there with their occupants nowhere in sight. On one of the trucks windshield was a note about a missing dog. Tom was more interested in the sign that read, “This is a very steep and long climb to Mt Shavano and a round trip takes 12 hours – in the summer!” I was more interested in getting started as we both glanced at the threatening sky. The Jennings Creek Trail follows the creek in “climbers trail” – I hate it when they call a trail that because you know that it is straight up. We gained 1500 feet in 45 minutes… we were moving.

Once up on the ridge we took a bearing on a rock outcropping higher up and trekked up the peak amid stronger winds and now heavier snow. Just as we reached the rocks we were met with 40 mph winds and heavy snow that dropped visibility to about 100 feet. We took shelter in the lee of the rocks and donned our shell pants and jackets. We saw two climbers higher on the ridge before they vanished into the clouds. We then started up after them and caught them in another .5 mile. They were from Kansas (elev: 1200 feet) and were finding the going pretty hard. We went up past them east up the ridge making one false summit after another. On the final narrow ridge to the real summit of Tabeguache Mountain, we met the other two climbers coming down. They said that there was a dog on summit at 14,000′ and they could not get it to come down. Tom led the way around a rock tower on the ridge that in the summer could have been avoided all together, but was a bit tricky with the snow changing to ice. I would have done it in better style had I had my crampons… next time I will. As we rounded the tower, Tom pointed out the dog who was a Siberian husky with white eyes. He asked me what we were going to do about it and I pressed on up the ridge mumbling, “nothing, unless it follows us” Tom thought this was pretty harsh and convinced the dog to have a piece of cheese. Now they were friends for life. Tom again took the lead and we topped out. By the time we got up, the snow had stopped, the wind was bearable, and the sun was out in the clouds. We took a quick stock of our health and weather and decided to do the ridge to Shavano deciding to go down the east face as the weather from the west continued to look unsettled. We did not dally and departed the summit after only 4-5 minutes down the east ridge to the saddle.

Tom gave our dog a name, “Norman” and also some more cheese. He had one paw bleeding and looked very tired, but otherwise looked like he survived the night ok. Both us wondered how a dog could get lost on the top of a 14,000 peak! Norman evidently liked us better than the first group as he stuck with us as we climbed from the saddle to Shavano. We were a bit tuckered at this point and found that a long .75 mile ridge. When we were about 50 feet from the summit, the clouds closed in and there was a clap of thunder on the west side of the peak. Our escape route led over the summit. We each yelled to get moving and we ran, staggered, climbed to the summit very quickly. I was up first and promptly down first, never pausing on the summit, now slipping and sliding down as fast as possible to lose elevation. Tom topped out and also took off down the ridge after me. Tom was yelling something at me and I was trying my best to ignore him as I had one mission in mind – GET DOWN!

He yelled as he was down climbing that his ice axe and ski poles were humming. I thought he was nuts and told him we would talk about it after we got down. He yelled it again and I took my hood off and sure enough… my axe and poles were humming! This would be a great thing to examine carefully sometime, but the sound only put me in afterburner knowing that there was that much electricity in the ground/air. Tom passed me by and reached the saddle first. He took a quick compass bearing and we decided to descend the Angel of the Shavano (a snow couloir in the shape of an angel with outstretched arms about 900′ high).

We did a test glissade of about 100′ and then Norman decided he did not want to go down anymore with us and started back up the mountain. We had a lot invested in this dog by this point so I kicked stepped up the snowfield to get him. At first he would not let me get close to him and a frozen Power Bar I offered him almost made him bolt for the summit. I lie down on the snow and let him come to me when I promptly grabbed him; removed my ice axe leash and made a leash for Norman. Come on little doggie…. OK, now we were ready to glissade a 45 degree slope for 800′, but we are going to do it with a dog on a leash! At least our ice axes had stopped humming!

At first it worked OK, he kept up with me running behind me. then I got going too fast and Tom said he slipped on his back and glissaded the last 400′ that way. Hey, there is a first time for everything. If this sounds a bit hard on the dog, remember we were saving his life! When we got down to tree line, Tom took over and attached the leash to his pack and he and Norman took turns dragging each other down the drainage we were following to the Colorado Trail. Once back at the forest campground we were still 5 uphill miles back to our truck. Then on cue, a beat up old pickup arrives headed in our direction. Within a few minutes of meeting our new friends, Tom, Norman, and I were headed back up the trail in the back of the pickup. He found another note about the Denver couple who had lost Norman (AKA Sabrina) on the windshield of Tom’s truck. We left Sabrina with the campground hosts who we knew the owners were going to check with that night. Norman (Sabrina) we knew would be one tired but happy puppy back with her owners before we made it back to Colorado Springs! He should be tired…he has already summited two Colorado 14ers!