After following Roach's excellent driving directions, my girlfriend Angi
and I Arrived at the Blank Gulch Trailhead at 6pm. We gathered our
overnight gear and headed up the trail.
Summer has definitely arrived for the Arkansas River valley. Dry
conditions and warm weather were on tap for the weekend. After a pleasant
walk through a beautiful aspen forest, we turned off the Colorado Trail,
and headed left up the Mt.Shavano Trail. As the trail steepened we saw a
few climbers returning from the summit. I am always surprised to see
people descending from the summit of Colorado's high peaks so late in the
After ascending thorough a mildly steep gully, the trail veers left and
crests a small ridge around 11,000 feet. There is a single decent
campsite about 10 yards east of the ridge crest, where we chose to spend
the night. There is a lot of flat space about 1/2 mile further up the
trail, with running water and many places fit for camping.
The alarm went off at 4am and it was still plenty dark outside. We made
breakfast and packed up. We were on the trail at 4:30am. After some
interesting trailfinding in the dark, we reached the turn off for the
Angel of Shavano about an hour later. Roach's description of this spot is
only barely adequate. At the point where Mt. Shavano Tail veers north and
begins switchbacking up the slope, there is a large rockfield to the
southwest. Descend a bit and skirt the lower edge of the rockfield
(granite) and continue up the valley. It is some bushwhacking, but if you
head southwest rather than west, you can make your way along the edge of
the forest, which in my opinion is much easier.
We arrived at the foot of the Angel at about 6am, before sunhit. I had
been concerned about the recent warm weather and soft snow conditions, but
the Angel was frozen solid. So solid in fact, crampons would have been
quite helpful. Determined to have a snowclimb, we continued up the Angel
with our ice axes.
As we reached the steepest portion of the route, reaching 30 degrees, near
the Angel's 'knees', it was difficult to find enough purchase in hiking
shoes. I began to chop steps in the hard, icy snow. The snow had melted
in deep channels, with many bumps and undulations. Some of the gullies were almost 3 feet deep. Certainly, a glissade decent of the Angel was
not going to happen.
After we reached the Angel's hips, the angle became much more shallow and
we could continue on without chopping steps. However, the previous 400
vertical feet had taken almost an hour to ascend. Now in the sun, the
snow was already beginning to soften considerably. The right (climber's
right) arm of the Angel had melted out, so we continued up the left arm
for a bit, until we decided to skirt over the the Mt. Shavano Trail which
was just off to the north, our right.
The ascent up the trail was a little difficult due to a fair amount of
erosion. Soon we were on the spectacular broad shoulder of Shavano. The
summit seemed quite close from this large saddle between Esprit Point and
Shavano's summit. However, the hike up the loose, gravelly trail to the
summit consumed about another hour, and the last of our energy reserves.
Exhausted, we triumphantly sat on top of the empty summit. The only other
person we had seen all day had headed of to Tabaguche. The weather was
perfect, about 50-60 degrees on the summit with very little wind and
sunshine all around. It was so pleasant we stayed for more than an hour
before heading down. When we stood up to leave, we noticed quite a few
climbers had gathered on the summit. After chatting with some of the
twenty or so climbers, we headed down.
Overall, the decent was uneventful. The trail was badly eroded and
slippery with gravel in a few spots, and it seemed quite lengthy
considering our ascent route had far less linear distance due to its steep
angle. We arrived back at camp at about 1:30pm for a total time of 8
This was a long climb with a lot of vertical gain. Additionally, the less
than ideal ascent of The Angel of Shavano made an ascent of Tabeguache too
demanding for our moderately conditioned bodies. Shavano is a big
mountain and was certainly worth the trip.