Take that Chavez – Mount Shavano
“Honey…. Sweetie …. it’s 5:00 o’clock. I have coffee ready.” I hear a low moan and the next sound that came from my sleeping bride was something like, “GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR )*)*^%%*%$$###@!@** ” ending with a faint “Thank you Baby.” I processed that and then moved on to finishing up packing our backpacks, spreading the tuna on the bread, and delivering the hot cup of Joe to my (gorgeous, loves to sleep in, willing to try anything once, but don’t wake me up before 5:00 am) hiking companion.
We’ve been staring at Mount Shavano for the last 13 days. This gal reaches up to the heavens from her 9000 ft base and has her bald and beautiful crest in the clouds somewhere around 14,200 ft above sea level. I’ve woken each morning and watched the sun sprinkle her peak and then slowly trickle it’s way down through the trees. I’ve stood outside and did yoga sun salutations while sipping morning java and have been mesmerized by her 14,000 foot companions that flank her on all sides. “I’m going to climb you and sing from your mountain top.” I’d say to myself, but then tightly swallow that with, “Yea right…. that’s a 4600 ft climb, all up, limited H2O, trail rated as difficult… Dave… wouldn’t you just rather find a nice alpine lake trail to hike with Sharon?”
The summer evenings in Colorado are quite spectacular. You can almost always count on a little rain, or a lot of rain or a monsoon and that’s usually followed by a radiant rainbow or two to end the show. The strong afternoon winds are a sure sign that a storm is brewing and we’ve watched as our Shavano mountain would quickly become covered in dark, gray clouds before completely disappearing from sight. A few hours later when the clouds had lifted, the top of Mount S was covered in a blanket of snow. Wow… and THIS IS AUGUST!!!!!
“Good morning Mt. Shavano.” I would say each day. “Looking good tonight Chavez (just something I started calling it – ya know from the movie Young Guns). “Wow, I’m glad I’m not up there this afternoon with that storm coming down….” Well one evening the mountain spoke back and she said … “I AM CALLING DAVE….. AND YOU MUST GO!”
The morning is chilly and it’s still dark as she tries to sip from her 5:00 am cup of coffee. Not an easy feat as we bounce down the 10 mile, pot-holed, forest service road towards the trail head where today’s adventure begins. I tell her to look for elk, moose or anything moving; just hoping to make the ride at this fair feel like we’ve won something. Her glare is softened by a slight smile that I know has to be glowing from behind her vale of, “Are we really doing this?” We crest a small hill and in front of us is a sea of red tail lights. Looks like Mother Mountain Shavano spoke to more than just us this morning. Once at the trail head we gather our gear in the morning dusk and slip on the packs. “GOOD GOD, that feels like a small human on my back.” Okay, so I may have over packed, but I’m a boy scout from days past and you have to be prepared.
We start out up the trail through the woods with a few other couples. We exchange pleasantries and then get mesmerized by the flicker of the first rays of sun coming through the aspens. Slowly we all disperse into our own hiking rhythms and pace, some divide off onto other trails but eventually the morning finds us both alone and with only the sounds of our feet and our heartbeat as we cross the first creek. A mile in and the topography begins to change. We cross out of the towering Aspens and Fir trees and into a forest of pine dwarfs and dying or dead trunks attempting to be a tree at 12,800 ft. The earth erupts below us into large stones and then into leg-sized boulders. Around the two mile mark it became apparent that this trail was never going to level out and the only relief we would ever get on our 5 mile hike up, is when we would just stop.
Since our threshold for pain and gasping for air came at different times, and because the two of us wanted to hike with each other and not apart, we decided that the best way for us to keep this train going was to hike 500 steps and then rest for 1 minute. 500 steps may not seem like far, but when it’s all vertical, your calves and thighs are already barking, your lungs are gasping for air AND you are less than half way to the top, it was the perfect game plan to keep us inching up towards the summit.
When we cleared the tree line our 500 step count had been reduced to 200, but part of that was because the views were just so outrageous. A little before mile four the all exposed trail transforms again from boulders back to tiny stone and a sandy type soil, which caused us to slip a little with every other step. It didn’t help but that section of the trail may have been the steepest and with the most switchbacks. I kept looking at my watch (and counting steps), because I knew that if we didn’t reach the saddle of the mountain by 11:00, we will have to turn around there and not make the last 500 vertical feet to the top of Mt. Shavano. Because of the afternoon storms, the potential of lighting and being completely unprotected, it was common knowledge that all hikers should be off the summit by noon.
When we climbed up those final steps to the saddle between Mt. Shavano and Esprit Point our mouths fell open. Of course gasping for air, we were at 13,800 ft, but also because of the 360 degree view of God’s majesty. We look at each other, me again down at my watch, and then up to the sky to see if there are any afternoon clouds brewing. I think we both were ready to say, “This is a perfect spot for lunch. We’ll save the peak for another time.” When a couple descending from the summit passed by with ear to ear smiles. “We just did our first 14er!!” We told them congratulations and hinted that we might be stopping here to enjoy our lunch and the already amazing view…… Simultaneously they both jumped in with encouraging words, “You have to keep going. You’re almost there. In less than twenty minutes or so you’ll be at the top and it is so worth it!”
Without words to each other or even a head nod, we begin the last climb. The boulders are back and this time many of them are bigger than us. We tie our hiking poles to our packs and begin using our arms and hands to pull us up. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…..” We’re stopping at every 25 steps now. The air is so much lighter. Our legs are on fire. The wind picks up and a gray cloud begins forming behind us. We pause to pull out our coat and gloves and though I want to look down and see the view around me or if anyone is coming up the trail behind us, I keep looking up towards the goal.
A couple dozen boulder scrambles later and we were on the summit of Mount Shavano. We smile, take a few selfies, get lost in the views and then I pull out our lunch bag from my backpack. As we inhale the first bite the gray cloud above says hello by sprinkling snow flakes. There weren’t any other rain clouds around, the rest of the sky around us was sunny and blue. It was August and we were sitting on top of one of Colorado’s 52 14,000 ft mountains, and it snowed on me and my tuna fish sandwich. How cool is that?!!!
The cloud moved on. The views were spectacular in every direction. We sat in awe. Inspired. Feeling connected to something so much bigger than us. Wind splashing our faces. Sun tanning our cheeks. Inhaling. Feeling so overwhelmed by our earth’s beauty. Exhaling. Leaning back on the stone, … which happens to be the summit of Mount Shavano…. “Take that Chavez!”
If you’d like to learn a little more about Mount Shavano and the other 14er’s of Colorado here’s a link to a great website.