Tabeguache Peak - 14,155 feet
Mt. Shavano - 14,229 feet
Mt. Antero - 14,269 feet
Mt. Yale - 14,196 feet
Mt. Princeton - 14,197 feet
Tabeguache Peak - 14,155 feet
Mt. Shavano - 14,229 feet
Mt. Antero - 14,269 feet
Mt. Yale - 14,196 feet
Mt. Princeton - 14,197 feet
|Finishing Sawatch 14ers in 7 Days|
Finishing Sawatch 14ers in 7 Days
Alex "SpeedWalker" Walker
Less than a month ago, my friend Tim and I set out on our first week-long trip of hiking 14ers, with the goal to finish all 58 within the calendar summer of 2020. We planned to both hike all 15 Sawatch 14ers in those first 7 days, although unfortunately a scheduling conflict meant we had to leave after just 6. This left me with just 3 peaks left to climb, Tabeguache, Shavano, and Antero, whereas Tim had missed a few more, deciding to take the 14er journey a little slower than myself. You can read the full introduction and our entire trip report for that week here.
Note that this report only covers the Tabeguache/Shavano/Antero combination. I added Yale and Princeton because they didn't fit in the 10 peak limit of that first report; click on the link above for information on those two peaks.
Fast forward to the 4th of July, and we were beginning our second trip into the Sangre de Cristo range. We quickly hiked up Pikes Peak on the way (you can read the trip report here), then finished the 10 Sangre 14ers in 5 more days (trip report here). This trip report picks up after those 6 days of hiking, when we decided to head back up to the Sawatch and finish the remaining 3 peaks. I know that I could've done this at the end of our first trip, and considering that it ended up being the 7th day of hiking either way, I'm still happy to say that I finished the Sawatch 14ers in a week.
Day 0 - July 9, 2020
After just finishing up the Sangre 14ers and backpacking out of South Colony Lakes, we arrived at our car at around 5:00 PM, parked at the lower 2WD trailhead. I was exhausted, so I asked Tim to drive, who had done a lot less hiking over the past week. It would be around 3 hours of driving to reach our destination in the Sawatch: Jennings Creek TH.
I chose this non-standard trailhead because it would minimize the distance and gain of the non-standard combination I was planning. Although the link-up between Tabeguache/Shavano and Antero is pretty typical for those doing Nolan's 14, there is no obvious way to return back to any starting trailhead without regaining all or most of the elevation of one of the peaks. The best solution would be to go up one standard route, do the Nolan's link-up, then down the other standard route to a car pickup. This wouldn't be possible since I believed Tim would be hiking with me, although he ultimately stayed behind to allow me to finish as fast as possible. So, my solution was to go up the West Ridge of Tabeguache, over to Shavano, then down and up the Nolan's route to Antero, leaving me with only around 800 feet to regain back to Jennings Creek. It would still be a long day: 16 miles with 8,000 ft of gain. Or at least, that was the plan.
We stopped for a pizza in Salida (we were extremely hungry by that point in the week), then headed up the 4WD road to the trailhead. It was fairly long and a little rough in spots, but was altogether one of the easier, true 4WD roads I've driven. We arrived as the sun was setting, well after 8:00 PM, got the car set up and my bags packed for the day, and went to sleep.
Day 1 - July 10, 2020
Tabeguache/Shavano/Antero - Combination
Class 2 | Distance: 18.13 mi | Gain: 9,140 ft
I awoke to my alarm at 5:00 AM, ate some breakfast, and set off past the single, hidden post marking the trail. The first half mile or so through the dense trees seemed like a well-built trail that hadn't been maintained in many years. There were a good number of fallen trees and other vegetation encroaching on the trail, although it certainly wasn't the worst I've been on. The turnoff away from the old route is impossible to miss, with a series of cairns showing the correct way. The old trail is closed off with logs; you could easily not even notice it. This point does mark the beginning of "off-trail" hiking, although in reality there's a clear unofficial path running most of the way up to the ridge.
Still, this section of the trail is not all easy-going. You soon end up wedged between a marshy area on your left and a talus field on your right. The route-finding becomes a bit trickier, although it's still practically a straight line to the low point in the ridge. It gets a little steeper right near the top, with a trail made of annoying loose dirt, but it's gentle enough that you're not going to get hit by a falling rock.
Upon gaining the ridge, there was a great view towards the valley below, into which I would eventually be descending. I got my first glimpse of the sun, but soon ended up back in the shadow after turning right towards Tabeguache.
The trail from here on is almost all on rock. There's an obvious trail to follow for a while, but after a nice open patch of grass, it soon turns into the usual tangle of alternate conflicting unofficial routes. I found trying to stay as close to the ridge as possible to helpful.
You'll soon hit unranked subpeak PT 13,936, from which there's still over a half mile of ridgeline left to go. You're done with the steepest part, but after hitting a false summit, there's a number of annoying ups and downs to bypass before finally reaching the summit of Tabeguache, my 24th peak of the summer.
The first half of the mile-long traverse to Shavano is much of the same: a mess of diverging paths down a few hundred feet to the saddle. There's one major path where you follow the ridge for a while before descending down onto the slope, or you can drop down immediately like I did and just take a straight line to the low point. This is where I would soon return to for the beginning of the link-up to Antero. But first, there's an obvious gentle trail up to Shavano, which soon makes its way into a relatively pleasant boulder field. The trail appears and disappears occasionally throughout, although the rock is extremely solid and fun to hop around.
I was at my second summit of the day within a half hour of the first, and it was barely 8:00 AM. My third summit, however, would take significantly longer than either of the first two.
It's over 4 miles and nearly 3,000 feet of elevation loss and gain from here to Antero, so I set off back towards that saddle. I continued on down the slope to the north, following my GPS, and dodging a few snow fields.
This slope starts out fairly gentle with relatively small rocks, which makes for easy but careful hiking. You end up on a grassy area just to the right of the central talus gully. When a steep-looking section appears in front of you, traverse across the talus back onto grass, where the steepest part begins. You're walking down grass at first, but soon end up on an annoying, loose scree slope. There's a couple cairns here showing the best way to go; you should be on an obvious path by the time you're on this steep, rocky section.
The worst of it is over quick, but then you're stuck walking slowly through the long runout of talus, which gets really annoying. You finally get to treeline, and can bypass some of the worst of the rock by jumping in and out of the trees. Just make sure you're not heading too far to the west, unless you'll end up at an impassable marshy area just before hitting the road. The best creek crossing is pretty much due north of the end of the gully.
Eventually there'll be a short dirt section through the trees, followed by either an easy creek crossing, or the realization that you're too far west and have to skirt back to the right around the marshy area.
I believe the creek crossing location I eventually found happens to be the standard one. There's some reasonable logs to hop across, into what seems like an endless damp bushwhack. However, it's actually over really fast, and you can avoid getting your feet wet if you're careful. The alternate, drier choice is to continue east a little further where you can cross the creek with open dry land on the other side.
Before you know it, you're on a 4WD road, which actually comes all the way down from near the standard route up Antero. Don't follow it all the way, though.
After following the road up for about a third of a mile, you head off it to the right on the side of a hill, towards a valley. Curve further to the right to enter it.
This is actually quite a nice area, although you're hiking off-trail most of the way. Continue heading up through a somewhat flat, grassy section and into a gully of rocks. There's actually a somewhat of a trail at a few points, just left of center. This was one of the strangest-feeling places I've ever been while climbing a mountain. Unless you look completely behind yourself, any hint of the mountainous terrain around you is erased from your view. It almost feels like you're climbing up a random gully in the middle of the desert.
Anyway, you'll soon emerge and see the ridge of Antero in the distance. Turn slightly left and aim towards the saddle ahead of you.
You cross a few more 4WD roads near some junctions, but it's easiest to continue on up the slopes in the same direction as before. You'll eventually hit the standard route of Antero, climb some switchbacks on the road, and arrive at the upper parking lot.
It was at this point where I actually started to actually see people again. There were about a dozen others around the summit of Shavano, but up to now I hadn't seen anyone for hours. It was strange, suddenly feeling like I was in the middle of a crowd of tourists after so much solitude.
For these last 0.4 miles to the peak, you're now on a rough, rocky trail. It's relatively well-defined on the right side of the ridge, until you start the final push up to the summit. There, you have another tangle of diverging trails to make it up this steep upper slope. Though there's probably a gentler way, I found staying right on top of the ridge to be the easiest, even if it is steep. It's very well-traveled, so it should be manageable up to the top. It definitely reminded me of the mess of a trail up the rocky upper slope on Princeton. The top marked my 15th out of 15 Sawatch summits this summer.
On my summit picture, I once again ran out of fingers to represent how many peaks I had climbed. After improvising with a rock, I left the dozen or so others sitting around on the peak in this wonderful, clear weather. The last few days had been just like this: hot, hardly a cloud in the sky until late in the afternoon, and absolutely no chance of rain. I was however starting to run somewhat low on water (with nearly half my mileage still in front of me), so I started conserving it pretty heavily. I made my way down the steep upper slope and back along the standard route.
It is at this point that I'm simply describing the route that I took back towards the car; take this in no way as a recommendation or guide where to go. Although most of it was fine, there was one ridiculously sketchy section that you should absolutely avoid, but I will explain in more detail later. The easiest way back to Jennings Creek from here would be to drop down into the valley to around 11,800 ft, following a loose path through some wet-looking patches, then back up to the initial ridge I had climbed this morning. Instead, here's where I started to break off from the plan. Since centennial 13er Cronin Peak stood so close, and the ensuing ridgeline of Cyclone Mountain and Carbonate Mountain didn't look too bad, I decided to head up, rather than down. After making it back to the main junction on the standard route just over 13,000 ft, I continued straight along the ridge.
From the low point on this ridge, it's about 1,000 vertical feet up to the summit of Cronin Peak. It gets pretty rocky as you'd expect, and there's the occasional trail segment to follow if you stay on-route. I made it to the top, took a few pictures, and continued forwards on this mostly-gentle ridgeline.
Along alternating sections of grass and various types of rock, I made my way towards the next point along the ridge, unranked 13er "Lo Carb." Though it's just a matter of feet below its parent peak, Cyclone Mountain, you have to drop another 250 feet to get to this next ranked summit. It all went slower than I expected, although I eventually made it there, with just one more peak in my way: Carbonate Mountain.
There were a few steeper, loose sections on the way up these peaks that probably could be avoided, although nothing would prepare me with the final obstacle to come. I made it to the top of this final uninteresting 13er (only made exciting because I get to check it off on a list somewhere later), and braced for what I knew would be a rather steep, not well-traveled ridge back to the junction. Consulting my map, there seemed to be no easy way to descend it from here other than this ridge, so I decided to start off a little lower on the slope and traverse across and downwards towards it, hopefully hitting the ridge below the steepest part. I was excited to see what looked like an established trail, before quickly disappearing onto the side of a steep, loose, rocky face. It was a very stupid route to take, and I'll definitely reconsider when I see another such nonstandard descent in the future. Regardless, I eventually made it to the ridge proper after knocking down a ridiculous number of rocks down the face. From here, there were at least a few signs of human traffic, but it was still just as steep and annoying. I think the smarter plan would've been to stick to the ridge all the way from the top, rather than go across the steep face, although I couldn't recommend taking this ridge at all to anyone.
I finally made it back down, my hands a little beat up from falling over backwards on some steep scree a couple times, and practically raced my way onto the "trail" down Jennings Creek. I was over 16 miles into an 18 mile day, and had done over 9,000 ft of gain, plus I had just ran out of water. I knew the rest of the way back was easy though, which was a huge relief after that ridge. Just as I was about to hit treeline, I unexpectedly ran into Tim, who had been hanging out all day in the car. The time estimate I gave him was definitely a few hours lower than what it was actually taking me, so he had started up the trail to see if he could find me, or at least get some cell service to look at my inReach tracking page. I was in contact with my parents the whole time, but Tim had no way of knowing where I was without being able to get my texts.
Within a matter of minutes, we were back at the car, concluding my 7 full days of hiking. In this period, I had done 14 14ers, including not just the entire Sangre de Cristo range, but also finishing up the Sawatch range from earlier this summer. Needless to say, I was exhausted (and hungry), so I made Tim drive the 3 hours back home. Our next big week-long trip (in the San Juans) won't be until the end of July, but before then I plan to finish up all the Tenmile/Mosquito and Front range 14ers in a series of shorter day trips. Anyway, I'll be back to tell those stories as they happen.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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