Kim Fenske hikes Shavano and Tabeguache
Story and photos by Kim Fenske
Rising from the lowlands west of Salida, a giant mountain marks the path to Monarch Pass. This cornerstone of the lower Arkansas River Valley is Mount Shavano, 14,229 feet, southernmost peak of the Sawatch Range.
Mount Shavano is named after a great leader of the Tabeguache band of the Utes. Across a saddle from Mount Shavano rises the dramatic summit of Tabeguache Peak, 14,155 feet, protected by a wide ring of boulders and broken cliffs.
Approaching from Buena Vista on Highway 285, I turned west on Chaffee County Road 140, then followed logical turns north, then west, from the intersection with Chaffee County Road 250 toward the base of Shavano. The approach is on a gravel road through dry expanses of sagebrush, pinion pine, and juniper. Then, the road enters an aspen grove with lush meadows where elk and mule deer casually graze at dusk and dawn. Continuing a few more miles west, the road passes over Placer Creek and offers several areas for dispersed campsites near Blank Gulch.
Establishing a comfortable base camp at 9,500 feet, I was glad that I had carried several bottles of water because no streams passed nearby after the Placer Creek crossing. I noticed many fallen aspen trees on my journey toward the trailhead and carefully assessed the safety of the surrounding forest before unrolling my tent.
I found the trailhead soon after sunrise and began ascending the steep cobblestone path up from the Colorado Trail. An hour later, at 10,700 feet, I crossed a stream where water bottles can be filled and more dispersed camping is possible. Here, a recent wind storm had uprooted hundreds of fir trees and freshly-cut logs surrounded the trail for hundreds of feet.
After hiking up three miles of trail, 3,000 vertical feet, three hours from the trailhead, I reached open tundra. The switchbacks through the forest broke into a mile-long line up the scree covered gulch to a saddle southwest of the summit. The saddle, nearly four miles out at 13,400 feet, was still more than an hour from the summit of Mount Shavano. The trail wrapped around the southeast face of the mountain, winding through boulder fields that allowed a little scrambling before rounding to the summit.
From the top of Mount Shavano, the surrounding mountain peaks poked into the clouds. Tabeguache Peak completed the backbone to the north. East of Tabeguache, Mount Antero, 14,269 feet, was crisscrossed with jeep roads. After pausing for a lunch of almonds and a quart of water, I continued down the sharp spine of Shavano for the hour hike across to the boulder-encrusted, snow-coated summit of Tabeguache Peak.
Kim Fenske is a former wilderness ranger, firefighter who has hiked thousands of miles in the Colorado mountains. He has served on the board of directors of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
Fenske has authored several hiking books filled with hundreds of photographs of Colorado wildlife, wildflowers, and scenery. His books are enjoyed by thousands of outdoor enthusiasts. His current electronic book titles are published on Amazon for Kindle, as well as Barnes and Noble for Nook. Search for these titles: “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado,” “Holy Cross Wilderness Area,” and “Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.”
Kim’s winter 14er series:
- Colorado: Snowy tracks on Mt. Yale
- Colorado: Climbing La Plata Peak
- Colorado: A winter climb of Huron Peak
- Colorado: A winter climb of Quandary Peak
- Colorado: Winter hiking in the Collegiate Range
- Colorado: Scary moments on Mt. Elbert
- Colorado: A winter hike up Grays and Torreys
- Colorado: Exploring Mt. Massive
- Colorado: Around the Wetterhorn
- Colorado: Hiking Mount Harvard
- Colorado: Summiting Sneffels
- Colorado: A fall hike on Castle Peak
- A hike to Windom Peak, Sunlight Peak, and Mount Eolus
- A Colorado classic: Longs Peak