Tabeguache Peak (14,155 feet)
Via The Blank Gulch Trailhead
July 25, 2003
Sam and I chose to do a medium hard double for our last day of climbing. Our first mistake was staying in Leadville. It took almost 1.5 hours to get to the trailhead in the morning. That made for a late – 8:00am – start. We pulled into the trailhead parking lot, and there were only a few cars there today.
We started up the trailhead, which was very clear in the beginning. For the first 0.2 mile or so, you are following the Colorado Trail. Then, the Shavano Trail breaks off to the left. This is well marked with a sign. For the next mile or so, the trail is pretty clear, but you have to pay attention. The trail is covered in pine needles, and this can sometimes hide the usage markings that make a trail easy to follow. At about 10,600 ft, we actually lost the trail pretty badly. This was totally my fault. In fact, Sam was the one you eventually set us straight. At this point about 1.5 miles in, there is a fork. You should take the right fork which goes up hill, and is pretty much Northwest. However, since several people have made the same mistake that I did, there is also a trail which seems to lead to the left. The bad thing is that this is actually marked with a pink ribbon on a tree. If you keep going down the left fork, the trail gradually fades. But, again, there are some red and white ribbons in two trees, which made us think that these were trail markers. All is solved if you just take the right fork, up the hill. Luckily I had Sam.
The trail continues to go up. It actually doesn’t have to many switchbacks in the lower treeline. But, towards the top of treeline, there are several switchbacks. After the switchbacks, the trail starts to go towards the Esprit/Shavano saddle. This is a very long traverse, which rides the side of a ridge. Once you get onto the saddle, Shavano is right in front of you. To get to the top, you just need to do some minor up hill climbing (obviously), and some boulder hopping at the end.
I waited for Sam at the saddle. He was keeping a pretty good pace. But, as we started towards the summit of Shavano, I pulled ahead again. I ended up making the summit in an overall time of 4 hours, which included my route finding faux paw. I was a bit worried about the time (around noon), so I didn’t wait for Sam, but immediately pushed toward Tabeguache. I was also, closely watching a storm that was several miles to the North. I kept my eye on it the whole time I was working my way towards Tabeguache, but this storm never really moved. I reached the summit of Tabeguache in about 45 minutes. As I was reaching the summit, Sam was reaching Shavano’s summit. Since it was getting late, I assumed that Sam would quit with Shavano. But, he surprised and impressed me, when I saw that he had started towards Tabeguache also. I waited for him, and kept an eye on the weather. He eventually made it in just over an hour. I was so impressed. The storm to the North had only depleted, so that was no longer a concern, but just as Sam was reaching Tabeguache, I noticed in the distant South, a potential build up. This one worried me, as the wind would direct this right towards us. So, we didn’t spend much time celebrating out last summit. We started down Tabeguache, and realized almost immediately, that our worries were justified. There was a storm building strong and heading towards the Southeast side of Shavano, which was out route home. We started up the ridge back to Shavano very cautiously. Regardless of the risk, I wanted to view this thing from Shavano, because we needed to know what it looked like, and where it was headed. As, we got closer to the summit of Shavano, it was pretty obvious that the storm was about a mile or two Southeast of the summit, and it seemed to be heading east, which meant it was skirting the summit. We were actually able to watch it pass, which was neat. The storm was very electrical. We could see lightening, and the storm looked like a huge charcoal colored shower curtain, sweeping the landscape.
I wasn’t so much worried about the storm changing direction towards us, as I was worried about the stuff above us, turning nasty. So, Sam and I started scooting down the Southeast side of Shavano, watching the electric show as we went. We got to the saddle, no problem. As we started down off the saddle, to skirt the ridge, the stuff above us, started to turn nasty, just as we had worried. It started with 3 mm sized hail, and rain. Then, we heard thunder, and could see flashes just over the ridge. Needless to say, we picked up the pace. Unfortunately, this part of the trail does not drop in elevation very quickly. So, we were quite nervous. Eventually, just as we were starting to reach treeline, all calmed down.
But, the fun wasn’t over yet. As we were coming around the bend, we saw a large family of mountain goats. These were a bit darker in color than the ones that I saw on Edwards earlier in the week. And, their temperament was different also, as I soon found out. On Edwards, I was able to urge the goats along, and out of my way, just by walking towards them. They were quite timid. However, when I tried to do the same thing to these goats, the bull goat started to get nasty with me. I mean, they were right in the middle of the trail, and I just needed to get by them. Well, this guy was very protective of the herd. There were several very small kids, so I can understand. As, I started towards the bull goat, he didn’t back down at all, didn’t even flinch. In fact, he start to get really mad. He started grunting at me, he stomped his hoof, and he started making moves towards me. Whew, I didn’t expect this. I didn’t have my trek poles today, but Sam did. So, I said, “Sam, get up here man. Bring the damn poles, this guy is going to charge me..” Of course, my tone was more erratic.
So, Sam saved me twice today. Once, with the route finding, and the second time from the killer goat beast.
We continued down the path, which always seems longer on the way out. Sure enough, in the pattern of the whole day, we got dumped on by rain during the last mile of the trip. I didn’t even bother to put on my jacket. I just shrug my shoulders, and walked out.
This definitely wasn’t my favorite mountain, but the hike was quite adventurous, which made up for it. Total round trip was 9 hours. Mileage, according to Roach is 11.7 miles, and total elevation gain was 5860 ft.