22 October 2009

Mount Shavano

20 September 2003

We left Denver at 3 a.m., arriving at the Blank trailhead half an hour before sunrise. The crowd was as numerous as a weekend Longs Peak Trailhead gathering, but 95% of this early morning swarm was bright orange and camo clad, not peakbaggers.

Our eyes readily adjusted to the twilight, so we did not take flashlights. As the eastern horizon became lighter blue, then pink and finally yellow, we discovered sections of aspen groves had changed hues, but most were still light green, ready to glow in a week or so.

When the bank of thin, high clouds began to turn mauve, we paused for photos, positioning ourselves alongside lanky tree skeletons calling out to be silhouetted. Once the display of morning color was over, we turned again toward the Angel of Shavano and the hints of fall color lining the trail.

Sha-va-no (emphasize each syllable slowly, short a, short a, long o) is an Indian princess who, according to legend, sacrificed herself on the mountain after drought caused great suffering among her people. Each year, her snowy spirit materializes in the form of an angel on the slopes of the mountain, melting off through the summer and providing her people with life-giving water.
Blank Trail takes hikers alongside the angel’s right wing, but on this day, the angel was decapitated and defrocked of one wing. Two snowfields near the Esprit/Shavano saddle could be traversed by anyone longing for a taste of winter, but the hiker’s trail along the edges of the snow had melted clear through to dirt and grass.

We’d been planning this hike for nearly four months, and each time we set a date, something came up or weather would turn bad. Three of our original group of nine participated in this long-awaited event.

We were impressed by the trail; it wasn’t steep and actually was rather easy. The boulder scramble near the top was quite fun. Snow was not a problem.

The 360-degree view from the summit is remarkable. We could make out the high peaks of the Sangres, long bands of snowy San Juans, the Elk Range, the string of Sawatch summits, Mounts Bierstadt and Evans, and Pikes Peak. Buena Vista and Salida shimmered in the sunlight, and what appeared to be three deep green golf courses below contrasted sharply with the slopes of pre-gold aspen. Monarch ski area was green, bare of snow. Lake Shavano below us also cast an emerald hue.

Winds atop the summit and time constraints robbed us of our second summit, Tabeguache, although watching a trail runner gracefully traverse the rocky ridge was a sight to behold.

Photo ops on this trip were numerous. Summiteers kept requesting my services during our lunch break. One of my hiking partners seized the moment to capture me in action while my camera was left unattended.

On the way down, we saw five bighorns, all girls. The quaking aspens that reflected the sun’s golden rays earlier in the day now danced in the breezy afternoon light. The trip back to Denver via 285 revealed an awesome array of orange, red, yellow and green near Kenosha Pass that had hidden in darkness during our early-morning drive. The most colorful aspens seemed to have been sun-kissed, with tips of orange, golden middles and green leaves toward the bottoms. Blue and purple clouds to the south turned flamingo pink and then deep magenta in the setting sun. The perfect end to my 2003 climbing season.

Due to pre-scheduled commitments for the next six to seven weekends, I probably won't be able to hike like this again until winter sets in. 2003 is not over yet. Winter ascents of Quandary, Bierstadt, Sherman (and accompanying centennial peaks) and San Luis await. If my schedule allows, I hope to get in at least one more peak during the calendar year -- albeit via snowshoes instead of hiking boots!

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