Summer has definitely arrived for the Arkansas River valley. Dry conditions and warm weather were on tap for the weekend. After a pleasant walk through a beautiful aspen forest, we turned off the Colorado Trail, and headed left up the Mt.Shavano Trail. As the trail steepened we saw a few climbers returning from the summit. I am always surprised to see people descending from the summit of Colorado's high peaks so late in the day.
After ascending thorough a mildly steep gully, the trail veers left and crests a small ridge around 11,000 feet. There is a single decent campsite about 10 yards east of the ridge crest, where we chose to spend the night. There is a lot of flat space about 1/2 mile further up the trail, with running water and many places fit for camping.
The alarm went off at 4am and it was still plenty dark outside. We made breakfast and packed up. We were on the trail at 4:30am. After some interesting trailfinding in the dark, we reached the turn off for the Angel of Shavano about an hour later. Roach's description of this spot is only barely adequate. At the point where Mt. Shavano Tail veers north and begins switchbacking up the slope, there is a large rockfield to the southwest. Descend a bit and skirt the lower edge of the rockfield (granite) and continue up the valley. It is some bushwhacking, but if you head southwest rather than west, you can make your way along the edge of the forest, which in my opinion is much easier.
We arrived at the foot of the Angel at about 6am, before sunhit. I had been concerned about the recent warm weather and soft snow conditions, but the Angel was frozen solid. So solid in fact, crampons would have been quite helpful. Determined to have a snowclimb, we continued up the Angel with our ice axes.
As we reached the steepest portion of the route, reaching 30 degrees, near the Angel's 'knees', it was difficult to find enough purchase in hiking shoes. I began to chop steps in the hard, icy snow. The snow had melted in deep channels, with many bumps and undulations. Some of the gullies were almost 3 feet deep. Certainly, a glissade decent of the Angel was not going to happen.
After we reached the Angel's hips, the angle became much more shallow and we could continue on without chopping steps. However, the previous 400 vertical feet had taken almost an hour to ascend. Now in the sun, the snow was already beginning to soften considerably. The right (climber's right) arm of the Angel had melted out, so we continued up the left arm for a bit, until we decided to skirt over the the Mt. Shavano Trail which was just off to the north, our right.
The ascent up the trail was a little difficult due to a fair amount of erosion. Soon we were on the spectacular broad shoulder of Shavano. The summit seemed quite close from this large saddle between Esprit Point and Shavano's summit. However, the hike up the loose, gravelly trail to the summit consumed about another hour, and the last of our energy reserves.
Exhausted, we triumphantly sat on top of the empty summit. The only other person we had seen all day had headed of to Tabaguche. The weather was perfect, about 50-60 degrees on the summit with very little wind and sunshine all around. It was so pleasant we stayed for more than an hour before heading down. When we stood up to leave, we noticed quite a few climbers had gathered on the summit. After chatting with some of the twenty or so climbers, we headed down.
Overall, the decent was uneventful. The trail was badly eroded and slippery with gravel in a few spots, and it seemed quite lengthy considering our ascent route had far less linear distance due to its steep angle. We arrived back at camp at about 1:30pm for a total time of 8 hours.
This was a long climb with a lot of vertical gain. Additionally, the less than ideal ascent of The Angel of Shavano made an ascent of Tabeguache too demanding for our moderately conditioned bodies. Shavano is a big mountain and was certainly worth the trip.