Colorado: A spring hike on twin 14ers

Kim Fenske hikes Shavano and Tabeguache

Kim Fenske on the summit of 14,155-foot Tabeguache Peak, with Shavano in the background.
The summit of Tabeguache Peak from the saddle to Mount Shavano.

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.

The trail to the summit of Shavano at 12,650 feet, 3 miles up the trail, northwest through scree to the saddle, 13,430 feet, 3.8 miles and 3,000 feet above base camp.

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.

Map courtesy Mark Newby.

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.

The trail to the summit of Shavano at 12,650 feet, 3 miles up the trail, northwest through scree to the saddle, 13,430 feet, 3.8 miles and 3,000 feet above base camp.

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.

A marmot at the summit of Shavano (2011 file photo).

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.

Golden banner growing on Shavano (File photo 2011).
Old-man-of-the-mountains on Shavano (2011 file photo).

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:

Autumn hikes:


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