The drive from Denver to San Isabel National Forest flies by, especially when you are doing 80 in a 60 and have to detour 10 minutes to receive a speeding ticket from a Salida State Trooper. Felt exactly like the scene from Super Troopers
“Where ya heading today?”“Mt Shavano!” (assuming the ticket and not letting anything stop my day)
Officer turns to the mountain behind him “Oh ya, almost made it”
So I am off to a rocky start but drive onto the forest road until my service zips out. I stumble upon a strange campsite called Angel of Shavano Campground and assume the trailhead must be nearby.
Little did I know I had parked in a lot 3 miles (6 miles RT) from the trailhead and would later be regretting the additional miles.
Upon entering tree line I finally saw some people heading down the mountain. They greeted me in disappointment and the young family explained how quickly the winds were blowing. This prevented them from reaching the top and I began to wonder if it will prevent me too. Upon seeing the next couple I received the same reaction, however they said they had a window of time to summit and they did. This gave me hope and I carried on.
The valley was gorgeous and covered in smoke (was told it blew in from Arizona). I pushed ahead into the wind and they were not kidding. It really was 30mph and taking every ounce of strength in me to take one step ahead at a time.
Once past the open, windy saddle, I was protected in the summit. The bowl below was breath-taking and I was eager to reach the top, only feet away! Shared a good thirty minute breather at the peak and all agreeing that we were certainly not going to ambitiously climb the second summit to Tabeguache. I chuckled at the time, however as soon as I stood up, I received my second wind and knew I had to go attempt it. I came all this way and need to make that speeding ticket worth it.
Practically rock climbed the way up the second mountain, avoiding the snow. I finally made the summit (in about 35 minutes as one lady has stated) and knew I couldn’t stay long. Enjoy five minutes of silent stretches and mentally prepared myself to head back down those rocks without twisting an ankle.
Funny, I knew I had enough energy to summit the second peak, however I DID NOT factor in scrambling up and down Mt. Shavano again. Practically did three fourteener peaks if you want to count getting back to the first peak.
Well I asked for a challenge, and that is exactly what I received. Not only was the I the only lonesome person at the summit around 2:30pm, but now I have managed to fully exhaust myself going up and down Mt. Shavano. Full of indecision and uncertaintly, I knew I wanted to go back the way I came, but my map coordinates continued to steer me toward the opposite trail, which was not as visable. I zig zag all the way down that damn mountain, frustratingly between the east and west slope and never really on a path. Until I found it. I think.
After an hour or so of scrambling down the 14,000 mountain, my knees began to feel like jello. Still not a soul in sight, I grew anxious as I calculated the time it would take me to get back to my parking lot. WHY DID I HAVE TO PARK AN EXTRA 3 MILES AWAY?! I let my fear of mountain lions fuel my steps. Occasionally busting out in some aggressive rock songs hoping I could actually scare away a big cat. It sounds silly, but being off the main lower path and looking around at all the rotten bush, I just felt like my body could potentially decay there too should some lucky cat see this slow, 5’4″ injured animal. Went on for another hour in this wasteland, with my phone on 30% battery and knowing I still needed it to drive home (hopefully before dark). I was becoming familiar with the fear of a set of eyes behind me when I finally saw someone ambitiously jogging up the trail! Surely he heard my obnoxious singing and was I so glad to finally encounter someone else.
I greeted him and asked silly questions like “Have you spotted a cat around here on your evening runs before?” and “You think I have enough daylight through the forest?” His response was enough to temporarily dissolve my fear of being lost in the dark with mountain lions. With a burning knee and the determination to get back to my car, I picked up speed. Eventually caught up with the people I enjoyed the first summit with and said bye as we parted ways. They were heading to the BLANKS lot only .1 miles away and I still had another 3 miles to go…sigh.
Despite the enduring incline back, I was allowed one brief moment of serenity as I stumbled through an Aspen forest full of butterflies. I wish I hadn’t been concerned with my battery and captured a shot of just how many butterflies were surrounding me during dusk. It was simply breath taking and gave me that extra push to finally make it back to the car, in just under 19 miles for the day.
The rest is actually quite boring, I refueled on snacks and oil, and made the tranquil drive back to Denver, just before the sun fully set. Nothing beats that mountain glow; the static space between the chemicals of personal achievement and dreaming of dinner. That glow is what keeps me trekking and planning the next mountain, even when my body wants to personally give out.