By climbing Mount Shavano and Tabaguache Peak, I would finally finish my last Sawatch 14ers. Leaving to move to California soon also had me desiring to bag as many CO 14ers as I reasonably could before my departure in September. Camping at the Blank Gulch Trailhead parking lot, amidst the alpine cows mooing into the wee hours, was a strange experience. The lush green forest around me was pretty cool, though. I got a quasi-alpine start, leaving at 7.45. Even seeing a mother mountain goat and her kid between treeline and the top, things went smoothly, and I arrived at the summit of Mt. Shavano at 10.37. There was no-one else in sight. It had been a beautiful day thus far, starting out completely cloud free. At the summit it was nice and warm, with a mostly blue sky.
The intermittent small clouds seeming to accumulate worried me, though. Having been almost fried in enough Colorado Rockies thunderstorms, my reasonable doubts might have seemed like paranoia to those unfamiliar with the potential severe weather possible in the high country. I hung out at the summit briefly, then started at a good pace towards Tabaguache Peak, across the large col from Shavano. I felt glad when I got to the top, but my apprehension grew notably when I looked up at the sky- the small clouds seen earlier had been joined by new ones, grown, and consolidated. A black cloud layer hovered ominously above me, seemingly near enough to touch. Quickly marking off Tabaguache on my 14ers shirt indicating a successful summit, I signed the summit log, drank some water, and got the hell out of there.
I started at a fast hiking pace, trying to put as much distance between me and the 14,000 ft high points (read: potential lightning rods) surrounding me as possible. As I neared the bottom of the incline, it started to hail. This was not looking good, and the prescribed route still led to the summit of Mt. Shavano before the trail descended to lower elevations. Deliberating while looking about frequently, I was about at the midpoint of the saddle, when without warning, out of the corner of my eye I simultaneously saw a bright flash a few hundred yards behind me, & felt (and heard) an enormous shock wave pass through me. Realizing the area of discharge would most likely have been me if I'd departed a few minutes later, I experienced an adrenaline rush and a fearful awareness I'd never before. I started traversing the now slick talus comprising the mountaintops as fast as I could, using my hands frequently for balance across the class 3 rock. Deciding to forego the allure of Shavano's summit, I traversed its E-face as quickly as possible. After the near-incineration, I decided that taking off the hot sweatshirt could wait- in fact, everything could wait- until my retreat past timberline had been successfully accomplished. Hauling major ass, and not stopping once, my feet carried me swiftly across the rock, and away from my potential lightning-rod status.
Finally arriving safely a ways past treeline, I gained useful new neighbors and friends (and potential targets), the Trees. Exhausted, hot, and completely worked, I collapsed on a rock beside the trail, and took a much-needed break. I put away my perspiration-drenched sweatshirt, and donned a parka to keep out the rain that had started a little while back.
I continued gratefully down the trail to the trailhead, thrilled (literally) to be alive at all, and also (still, but not as) glad that I still got to summit both peaks. Hearing the thunder still all around me during the descent (but safely higher up) had me marveling at the tremendous power of the weather up there. (fairly regular) Colorado thunderstorms like that still have me amazed how benign the summer weather in the Sierra Nevada can be by comparison, and leave me with an enormous amount of respect for the Rockies in that sense. More than that, though, a successful and safe summit is now appreciated that much more than before!
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