May 22nd, 2005
The Angel of Shavano is a snow feature that forms on the eastern slopes of the popular Colorado fourteener Mt. Shavano. The Native Americans believed that the Angel of Shavano was actually an Indian princess who sacrificed herself to the Gods to end a severe drought. The princess returns every year as the Angel of Shavano and each summer as she begins to melt, her tears are sent down to the valley in the form of life-giving water. Having previously climb Mt. Shavano via the standard route, I thought the Angel of Shavano route would offer a nice alternative and allow us to see the mountain from a different perspective. For my trip report from Shavano and Tabeguache Peak in summer conditions . CLICK HERE
Mt. Shavano 5/22/05
The Angel of Shavano is snow feature that forms on the eastern slopes of the popular Colorado fourteener Mt. Shavano. The Native Americans believed that the Angel of Shavano was actually an Indian princess who sacrificed herself to the Gods to end a severe drought. The princess returns every year as the Angel of Shavano and each summer as she begins to melt, her tears were sent down to the valley in the form of life-giving water. Having previously climb Mt. Shavano via the standard route, I thought the Angel of Shavano route would offer a nice alternative and allow us to see the mountain from a different perspective.
We left Boulder Saturday afternoon, headed for the Colorado high country and escape from the record-breaking temperatures in the Front Range. Around 8 p.m. we arrived at the mostly vacant Blank Gulch Trailhead and set up our campsite in back of the 4runner. The high temps followed us to the high country and I was able to sleep on top of my sleeping bag the entire night, never needing to crawl inside for warmth.
We awoke at 5:15 a.m. and after munching some fruit and protein bars for breakfast, we organized our packs. Avalanche beacon? Check. Shovel? Check. Probe? Got it. Ice ax? Yup. Crampons? Got ‘em (though we probably won’t need them). We hit the trail at 6 a.m. and when the trail got steep, we could definitely feel all the extra gear in our packs. Man, we have been spoiled hiking around Boulder the last few weeks just carrying a Camelback and a raincoat. We grumble about our packs off and on as the trail steeply climbs through the forest before finally leveling out a bit. It is a glorious day and we are hiking in just our base layer. We pass two people lugging skis up the mountain for a descent of the Angel and realize our packs could be much worse. After about a mile we began to encounter snow and the trail disappears in many places. There are footprints in the snow going every off in multiple directions. We try to follow what looks like the most traveled path and quickly reach a junction. We take the left path through the snow knowing that we are about in the right area where we need to leave the standard trail and bushwhack to the base of the Angel.
The footprints lead us to the right place and we come out on the edge of treeline below the steep slopes of Esprit Point. We follow the talus slope upward towards Mt. Shavano, sometimes walking on the snow, sometimes hopping on the rocks. The views open up and we get our first close-up of the Angel. This is definitely one snow feature you have to admire from a distance, up close the Angel looks like a overweight beast. We can see a party of two towards the top of the Angel’s body, and a party of four nearing the base of the Angel. When we reach the base of the Angel Amy and I stop to trade our poles for an ice ax and also to turn on our avalanche beacons. Maybe a bit overkill, but with all the recent wet slide activity in the Colorado high country, better safe than sorry.
We start up the Angel at 8 a.m. and quickly pass up the party of four. The body of the Angel climbs from 12,000 feet up to about 12,800 feet where climbers must choose to ascend the right arm, the left arm, or the head. We chose the head since it climbs more directly to the summit than the other choices. When the snow gives way to rock again around 13,200 feet we switch back to trekking poles and continue towards the summit. We catch the party of two taking a break and exchange pleasantries with them. It a couple with their dog and the woman doesn’t even have a pack on. Amy comments that I should be more like him and carry all her stuff for her, but we both know she would never want it that way.
We weave our way through the rocks near the summit and top out at 9:30 a.m., taking us 3.5 hours for the ascent. It is a wonderful bluebird day in the high country and the high peaks look stunning with a coat of snow against the blue backdrop. As we sign the register and began to depart over towards Tabeguache Peak, I feel a wave of nausea hit me and I throw up a few times. Weird, I’ve never got sick on a mountain before. There have been plenty of times where I felt I needed to throw up, but I never have. I’m a bit confused on the reason, I was feeling fine 5 minutes ago, I had a big breakfast, drank plenty of water along the ascent, and didn’t have a headache commonly associated with altitude. Maybe it just isn’t my day. I decide that I will continue partway over to Tabeguache Peak with Amy to a spot that provides a good view to monitor her progress. I’ve climbed Tabeguache before and don’t feel any strong desire to repeat it. This is also my 3rd time up Shavano and the only reason we’re here is so Amy can climb Tabeguache since we got stormed off it last year.
About halfway over to the Shavano / Tabeguache saddle I find a point along the ridge that will provide me with a nice view of Amy on route to Tabeguache. Amy leaves her pack with me and I point out a route using mostly rock to gain the summit before she departs. She makes great time over to Tabeguache Peak and avoids all of the snow slopes like we had discussed. She waves her arms a few times from the summit and I snap a couple of photos of her before she begins her return trip. The wave of nausea hits me again and I throw up a few more times. Man, this is really getting annoying. Laying in the sun and breathing deeply makes me feel better and after about 40 minutes Amy is back. Luckily for me, she is a little worn out and doesn’t mind taking our time back up to Mt. Shavano’s summit.
Being on the move again I feel much better and after 15 minutes or so we regain Shavano’s summit. There is a couple on top and we chat with them for a while before beginning our descent. We head easterly off the summit, taking advantage of some small snowfields. The descent goes quickly and soon we are back to the top of the Angel. We turn our avalanche beacons on again and Amy quickly glissades down the slopes. I tie my coat around my waist and have mixed success glissading down the upper half of the Angel. I decide to take out my avalanche shovel and try riding that down the Angel, hoping it will provide a better glissade. Boy does it ever. I feel like the Jamaican bobsled team as I begin rocket down the Angel. I dig my feet into the snow to help control my speed, but it doesn’t do much at all. With my foot brakes not working, I tuck my poles under my armpit, dragging them in the snow behind me, and lean back heavily on them. This slows me down to Mach II and I can enjoy the rest of the very quick ride down the Angel, hooting and hollering the whole way. At the bottom I find Amy grinning ear to ear and we comment that the glissade down the Angel alone made the whole day worth it. Whatever feelings of nausea I had were replaced with sheer joy and exhilaration.
It is a casual stroll back along the edge of treeline to where we find our path through the snow back to the standard route. We stop to take a break and allow the couple we met on the summit catch up to us, knowing they ascended the standard route and might have a problem bushwhacking back to the trail. They quickly catch up and we all descend together exchanging climbing stories. The conversation makes the descent go very quickly and soon we find ourselves signing out of the trail register and back to the vehicles at 2:30 p.m. for an 8.5 hour roundtrip.
We say goodbye to Ursala and Eric and begin our return to Boulder via Leadville and I-70. Just above Georgetown I notice a couple cars in front of me quickly swerve to the right side of the interstate. I move over to the right edge as well and begin slowing down, not sure of what is going on in front of us. Just then a guy driving his car in the left lane in the wrong direction, going against oncoming traffic, passes us. We safely avoid the guy but I realize we had just weaved our way through a large pack of cars minutes before. Right as I tell Amy that the guy is going to get somebody killed, I helplessly look in my side view mirror and see the pack of cars coming down the hill. All of sudden there is a lot of tire smoke and I can’t see if and how many cars collided into the guy. We quickly pull over and I call 911 on my cell phone. “Park County Emergency services, what is the nature of your emergency?” “Uh…yah. We’re on I-70 just above Georgetown and there was this guy driving against oncoming traffic. We were able to miss him but I think there was a collision behind us, I could only see a lot of tire smoke so I’m not sure how many vehicles were involved and the nature of the accident. It is too far back up the road for me to see what’s going on now.” “Ok, thank you, we’ll get somebody out there immediately.” We can see that a lot of cars have pulled over below the accident and shortly after a few highway patrol vehicles go speeding passed us. It is a slow and somber ride back to Boulder and when we safely return, we are very grateful that the Angel of Shavano extended us her good fortune all the way home.