The girls went camping with their mom this weekend, so David and I took a quick jaunt down to Salida, about 2.5 to 3 hours southwest of Denver. Saturday we piddled around the town and followed Spiral Drive for a view of the city. Sunday we climbed two 14ers, Mt. Shavano and Tabeguache Peak.
We learned the hard way to never try to tackle two 14ers, 11.25 miles, and 5,600 feet of elevation gain on three hours of sleep while not feeling up to par. We didn’t go out the prior evening. In fact, I think we were in bed by 9pm, so we could get up by 4:30am, make the 45 minute drive to the trailhead and start hiking by 6am. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fall asleep! Our best laid plans got us started at 6:30am just before sunrise.
The first mile of our hike which starts on the Colorado Trail through an aspen grove and soon turns left to begin the steep climb was simply lovely. We watched the sunrise creating a pink glow in distance while the aspens’ yellow leaves shimmered in the brightening sky. The climb took us over a rocky and root covered path until we reached the second mile.
The second mile, though the flattest and easiest with a few trailside campsites, was quite ugly. The pine forest has suffered much devastation from the beetle. Many fallen trees lined both sides of the path and even provided us a few obstacles to cross. With the record high temperatures of September and little rain of late, the creek was dry. Amazingly, there were still a few wildflowers clinging to life which may have been the only pretty part of the second mile with the exception of intermittent views of the golden valley below.
With every 14er, soon we ascended above treeline and entered the tundra. The treeless area offered spectacular views beneath the deep blue sky. While the views were nice, we contended with a strong headwind as we climbed toward a flat area before we had to boulder up to the peak of Mt. Shavano. Fellow hikers commented on the wind’s brutality.
Only three miles into the trail, I was already feeling weak and hungry, and we had eight miles to go. Now with a strong crosswind, we followed the trail to the right across a saddle. As I stepped, I lightly stubbed my toe on a rock. I reached my foot slightly farther than normal to the right to catch my balance and the wind blew clear off the trail! I landed very ungracefully in a patch of rocks. Pain shot through my bruised knee. My hip likely survived as it was protected by my shattered cell phone. David came to my aid and suggested that maybe we should turn around. That was probably an excellent suggestion, and I probably should have agreed, but those who know me know that is not part of my MO.
I told him that I was not going to quit, so he walked slightly ahead to my left while holding my left arm to block the wind. Upon reaching the boulder field, we found intermittent relief from the wind and opted to stop and eat in the cover of some rocks before we even reached the first peak! After refueling, I felt much better and we summited Mt. Shavano (14,229′) around noon. The panoramic views were stunning.
With it being October, there wasn’t any danger of inclement, summer thunderstorms, so we had plenty of time to maneuver across the boulder field, up and down 500 feet to Tabeguache Peak. Since I tend to get altitude sickness or a severe migraine (I haven’t figured out which since a headache and nausea are symptoms of both), I certainly wanted to knock out both peaks at once versus coming back to climb Tabeguache Peak on its own.
The one mile to Tabeguache Peak (14,155′) took us about an hour. The path came and went as climbed along the rocks. We hardly spent any time on Tabeguache Peak. We only signed the log and congratulated a few fellow hikers who had also made it to the small summit before we turned around. It felt easier on the return to Mt. Shavano, but by this time my headache was really kicking in, and we had a solid four plus miles to go.
Once we got below treeline, I just started crying. My head was pounding, and I was extremely tired and nauseated. I felt like I needed to eat for some energy, but I could hardly get a handful of nuts down. My Gatorade wasn’t much help either. I was burning up. I torched my lips as I failed to smear sunblock on them, and it was certainly too windy to wear a visor. All I wanted to do was lay down and rest. In the meantime, David’s knee locked up so while he was trying to help me, he was peg-legging down the mountain for the last mile and a half. We were so slow! It took us almost 12 hours to hike 11.25 miles.
While we had headlamps, fortunately we made it back to the aspen grove just before dark as the sun set. I’d like to say we stopped and admired the beauty, but a few quickly snapped photos is all I could muster as I was desperate to sit down. I’ve never been so excited to reach the car! These two peaks mark my 11th and 12th 14er since I started climbing them two years ago. While I don’t want to scare anyone since they were only Class 2, at the time it felt like the hardest thing I have ever done…harder than my marathon or triathlon. Personally, I believe it was simply the circumstance of starting the task on an empty tank, and that they probably weren’t that much harder than the other ten I have completed. I never felt in danger, but I sure felt exhausted and learned my lesson to ditch hiking a 14er unless I’ve gotten a full night’s sleep. As that is what my body needs! Despite the beating, I think we both feel accomplished and happy we finished. ETB
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