Fauna: A bunch of turkeys near the trailhead and some bighorn sheep just above tree-line.
Flora: Only few wildflowers near the trailhead and two jummy-looking mushrooms further up.
So, you think that trying to break in new boots on ShavTab (5,600 ft and 11.5 mi) is pretty stupid? Well, I couldn’t agree more. But there are two redeeming circumstances to consider:
1) My boots came with a 100% no blisters guarantee. (Ok, I realize that relying on this makes me seem even more stupid… but more on that along the way).
2) ShavTab was not really what we set out to do. The plan was going up Tab via the alternate Jennings Creek drainage route (with a more moderate ~3,500 ft and ~7 mi), but the road to the trailhead was closed since 07/29/2012 (see my trailhead and conditions update posts).
Anyway… After a longer-than-expected drive from Denver (starting just after 1 pm on Fri) and a better-than-expected sandwich in Salida, we were pretty bummed to discover that our planned route up Tab was a no-go (see above). While I had been on Shav before, my buddies Steve and Ethan had not, so we decided to check out the trailhead camping there and found a beautiful car-camp spot essentially right on the Colorado trail. Also, I thought it was actually a good idea to take the summit-fever out my boot-breaking-in-day: I would just hike up as far as I could, and would have a much easier time to turn around when my feet would start to hurt (sounds at least a bit smarter now, huh?).
After a very pleasant evening and a better-than-average night in camp (due to excellent company and relatively low elevation, respectively), we hit the trail reasonably well rested and a bit later than almost everyone else (around 7:15 am, more than 1 h after sunrise and certainly not my usual alpine start for bigger days; well, we had “only” Shavano on our list, and in my case even that only very tentatively). Once on the trail, Steve and I set a killer pace all the way up to the saddle (Ethan followed with the same pace… just that for him, this speed was relatively slow). Even with my refueling (1x) and foot-bandaging (2x) stops, we made great progress. (Usually, I try to fix my feet only when it is already too late, so I was very proud of myself for attempting preventative measures soon after noticing the pressure spots). On the final pitch, we all went our own pace, with Ethan way ahead, followed by Steve, and me trailing behind. Reunited on the summit around 10:40 am, all of us felt just grand (a little bit of a surprise for Steve, close to a miracle for me and my feet). So, with the weather looking perfect (and no way that any of the predicted 20% thunderstorm after noon would hit before 2 pm), we all decided to go also for Tab (me after some double-checking and expert advice on re-taping those feet). After a fun down-climb and a very manageable additional ~500 ft up Tab, we were all very happy with the decision to go for it and we still felt pretty strong. Only the latter changed slightly once we were back at the TabShav saddle (and significantly once we were back at the car).
We had some discussion over whether or not to skirt Shavano on the way back (with Ethan scouting out this option from above already early on). My strong opinion was that it would be way easier to climb the ~550 ft on a relatively well-trodden path compared to skirting around through the boulders. I still stand with this opinion, but after the first ~100 ft of climbing back towards Shavano (i.e. at the spot where any reasonable skirting attempt should start), me and my quads were more than easily convinced to veer left for a traverse. While none of us regretted doing the traverse (it certainly added some spice), I would still strongly advise against it. While such a traverse is clearly possible (contrary to some previous posts), it saves only 400 ft elevation gain and most likely no time or energy. It involves ~1 mi of boulder-hopping and route finding, with some moderate exposure (significantly more than on the rest of the route) essentially unavoidable. This can be all fun and games (depending on your abilities), but also quite challenging after a day with 5,200 ft elevation gain (depending on your current conditioning). We had the advantage of the very high-endurance Ethan taking over all the route finding duties, enabling the rest of us to focus solely on our footing. Compared to South Maroon, the slope is benign and the rocks are stable… but you’ll still come across loose rocks and a no-fall spot or two. One thing is for sure: If you thought that the last part of Shavano was somewhat technically challenging (even if only slightly), don’t even think about the skirting option. Actually, think about the skirting option only if you are looking to spice up your day, not if you are looking for less effort. (As an option to weather out a thunderstorm? Just avoid to get stuck between Tab/Shav if this seems to be a possibility).
Ok, this also gets to the topic if Shav/Tab/Shav “counts” as three… My answer: Its only you who’s counting, so do whatever the f.. you please. Personally, I would have posted “3” ascents for Shavano on 14ers.com if we had made it over the summit again. As is, I’ll keep my posting at “1”… but only because I am afraid that posting 2 Shav’s and 1 Tab would make me seem to be even more of a pompous ass than I actually am ;-) .
Anyway… it does not seize to amaze me how strong I can feel on any summit after any kind of elevation gain, just to be completely wiped out back at the trail head. Yep, this was another one of those. (Thank you, Steve, for driving us back home in a very convincingly safe fashion… I couldn’t have done that…). As for the boots: They are Salewa “Alp Trainer Mid GTX”, bought at Bent Gate the day before the hike. While I was more than happy to get the hell out of them at the car, I did wear them again around the house today. I think I really like them, and not just because they are pretty ;-). (If you are looking for boots and can’t decide if you want something light or something sturdy, check them out… although maybe better on sale next year, as they are kind of pricy, at least by my standards).
Lastly, there are lots of pretty big downed trees along the trail. (Just saw today that there has been a corresponding warning on the Shavano standard route main page; all the trees are now cleared from the trail, though, and the trail is in very good condition). Initially, we thought and discussed “micro bursts”. But there is nothing “micro” about it, and instead spread out over a pretty large area. Still, this must have been related to high winds, not avalanches (trees fallen in different directions and larger trees more affected than smaller ones). Must have involved crazy high forces, though. Any more insight, anyone?