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On Walkabout On: Mt. Shavano, Colorado via the East Slopes

Basic Information

  • Name: Mount Shavano
  • Where: Poncha Springs, Colorado
  • Max Elevation: 14,229 feet
  • Distance: 9.25 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,600 feet
  • Time: 9-11 hours
  • Difficulty: EasyModerateHardDifficult
  • More Information: 14ers.com

Route Up Mt. Shavano

Shavano Route

Topographic Map of the Trail

Mt Shavano Topo Map

Elevation Map of the Trail

Mt Shavano Elevation Map

Narrative

With the weather looking good for a second straight weekend I decided to head out and climb another 14-thousand foot peak.  Last weekend I climbed Mt. Yale because I had good weather in the forecast for just the morning hours.  With no storms in the forecast for the entire day I decided to climb both the 14,229 foot Mt. Shavano and the 14,155 foot Tabeguache Peak in one day.  Here is a view of these mountains as seen from when I hiked up to the summit of Mt. Antero:

A full day of good weather is needed for this hike due to the amount of time spent above treeline where fast moving lightning storms can sweep in with deadly results.  I knew I had a long day ahead of me and had to get a very early start on the trail.  Due to the difficulty I had getting my kids to go to sleep the night before, I did not get to sleep until 10:30 PM.  I ended up getting three hours of sleep when my alarm went off at 1:30 AM.  I had my truck all packed up and ready to go, so all I had to do was get dressed and make some coffee before leaving my house at 2:00 AM.  The trailhead for Mt. Shavano is located outside the small village of Poncha Springs:


View 14er Trailheads in a larger map

I drove to Poncha Springs via Highway 24 from Colorado Springs and then headed south on Highway 285 from Buena Vista.  Just before reaching Poncha Springs I took a right turn on to the pave CR 140.  From there I made a right hand turn at 1.7 miles on to CR 250.  After a short distance the pavement turned into a dirt road.  From then on it was just a matter of following the obvious signs that led to the trailhead.  The dirt road was mostly in good shape with a few potholes to be careful of.  Two-wheel drive vehicles can access this trailhead and I even saw a small BMW convertible at the trailhead.  I was hoping to arrive at the trailhead at 4:30 AM, but due to the slow going on the dirt road I did not arrive until 5:00 AM.  It was still dark out when I arrived, but here is what the Shavano/Tabeguache Trailhead looks like during the day time:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

The trailhead has plenty of parking plus a small outhouse.  Here is the signboard that designates the beginning of the hike up Mt. Shavano:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

The signboard had a small passage on there about the 469-mile Colorado Trail that stretches from the southwest to the northeast Colorado Rockies.  It would be so awesome to have the time to hike this trail one day.  The signboard also described how a man named Mr. Blank once owned cabins and a mine in this area.  That is why the trailhead is commonly called the Blank Gulch Trailhead.  I started my hike at 5:15 AM and shortly past the signboard I reached the Colorado Trail.  I followed the directions on the sign and made a right on to the Colorado Trail that leads to the Mt. Shavano Trail:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

In less than a mile I came to another sign directing me to go left on to the actual Mt. Shavano Trail:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

This sign was easy to spot since the sun was just beginning to come up, but if someone was hiking in the darkness it would be possible to miss this sign.  So for anyone thinking of hiking this trail make sure to look for this turn if it is dark out.  From the sign a rocky trail begins to immediately ascend up the lower slopes of Mt. Shavano:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

The trail next comes to a beautiful creek flowing through the woods:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

After crossing over the creek the trail then begins to switchback up the side of Mt. Shavano:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

As I neared treeline this is when the trail began to have portions of it covered in snow:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

The snow made the trail hard to follow and I actually lost where it went.  That is when I decided to start ascending up this talus field:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

As I hiked up the talus I ascended above treeline which meant I had some nice views looking to the East where the city of Salida is located:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

I eventually reached the top of the talus field and saw Mt. Shavano’s false summit in front of me:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

To my left I could see the saddle between Mt. Shavano and Esprit Point the trail is supposed to go to:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

So I started walking towards the saddle and eventually saw the trail again.  I also had my first views of the famous Angel of Shavano snow formation:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

A Ute Indian legend says a princess knelt at the base of the mountain and cried and prayed for rain due to a prolonged drought. Her god demanded that she sacrifice herself to save her tribe from the drought. So she did. Now every Spring she returns as the Angel of Shavano and the tears for her people flow down from the Angel snow formation to provide water to the people who live below the mountain. I wasn’t able to get a picture of the Angel from the base because it was dark when I started climbing and clouds rolled in when I got off the mountain blocking my view of the Angel.  However, here is an image of the Angel of Shavano via Wikipedia:

Considering the Ute Indian legend behind the Angel of Shavano, it is only fitting that the mountain itself is named after a respected Ute Indian Chief.  Shavano was the chief of the Tabeguache band of Ute Indians.  Kit Carson once joined forces with Shavano to put down an Indian uprising and then later on Shavano helped to rescue white captives following the 1879 Meeker Massacre.  Despite all the good will that Chief Shavano built between his tribe and the white settlers, his friendship was rewarded by the US government exiling his tribe in 1881 on to a reservation in the deserts of Utah.  That is where he would die in 1885.  Shavano’s people may have been exiled, but their memory remains with Mt. Shavano named after the respected chief and Tabeguache Peak named after his tribe.

Shortly after seeing the Angel of Shavano I found the trail and began to head to the saddle.  As neared the saddle the wind picked up noticeably.  Due to the cold wind I stopped and put on a windbreaker and a winter hat to keep warm.  By the time I reached the saddle the wind was far worse and caused one person I ran into to turn around.  I found that my trekking poles were very useful to keep my balance in this wind.  I needed to put some more gear on though to keep warm, but on the exposed saddle there was no where to stop that had a wind break.  So headed towards the rocky summit approach to Mt. Shavano to look for a wind break:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

By the time I found some rocks to hide behind my face and hands were going numb.  So I put on ski goggles and mask plus thick winter gloves to keep warm.  I always carry with me now some warm weather gear even in the summer months due to the windy and cold weather I experienced on a warm day on Grays Peak two years ago.  The lack of a ski mask and warm clothes forced me to abort my summit attempt.  Now I am always prepared for freakish cold weather in the mountains.  Here was the view from my rock hideout looking back towards the exposed saddle I just crossed:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

Now that I had my proper gear on, I began to work my way up the rocky summit approach:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

As I headed up to the summit I passed a few people I could see wearing shorts and light clothing that were hiding behind rocks to get warm and then would move a little further up the mountain.  On the summit the wind was actually not as bad as lower on the mountain, but still unpleasant.  I met a group of young men that decided to turn around because the wind had just sapped them of enough energy to do the traverse to Tabeguache Peak.  I did not stay very long on the summit; just long enough to take a few photos.  Here is a picture looking North at the rock pile summit of Mt. Shavano with the summit of Mt. Antero visible in the background:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

To the East I could see the Arkansas River Valley and even further out in the distance the 14,115 foot Pikes Peak:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

Here is the view to the southeast where the Sangre de Cristo Range could be seen:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

Here is the view to the South of the last few peaks of the southern Sawatch Range:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

Here is the view to the West of other snowcapped peaks of the Sawatch Range:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

Here is a view looking to the Northwest where the ridgeline leading to Tabegauche Peak could be seen:

Picture from Mt. Shavano, Colorado

Despite the bad wind I was feeling good and was plenty warm from all the gear I was wearing.  So despite a number of people turning around I decided to go ahead and try the traverse over to Tabeguache Peak.  Here is a picture of me heading out to do the traverse over to Tabeguache Peak with my mountain ninja look:

IMG_4641

Conclusion

Overall the hike up Mt. Shavano is pretty straight forward and seeing the famed Angel of Shavano up close was very cool.  This hike I found not to be overly difficult if it wasn’t for the wind.  The horrible wind also prevented me from really enjoying the summit.  I spent maybe five minutes on Shavano’s summit before starting the one-mile traverse over to Tabegauche Peak.  I hoped that the weather would improve by the time I got over to Tabeguache Peak.

Next Posting: Tabeguache Peak, Colorado

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