Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tabeguache Peak - 14,155

Google Earth screen cap of Tabeguache, same route up & down, orange is erosion control area.

If San Luis is the 'shy' Fourteener, that makes Tabeguache almost pathologically introverted. San Luis at least comes in sight within about a mile, and stays there until you're on top of it. Tucked away behind dominant Shavano, on the other hand, Tabeguache keeps hidden until the last minute even from Jennings Creek.

All this means is that I couldn't have seen it even if it hadn't been dark by the time I was at the Jennings Creek trailhead on the Saturday of Memorial Day, setting out by headlamp before bedtime to reconnoiter my proposed route up Tabeguache. A reconnaissance was needed because, since 2007, the Jennings Creek approach had been closed by the San Isabel Forest Service due to severe erosion from foot traffic. To skirt this closure I had turned to both topo maps and Google Earth, which seemed to show a route on the South Ridge. By striking east almost immediately up a kind of fold in the west flank toward a subsidiary peak (13,198) it looked like I could then follow the ridge past several more false summits to the top of Tabeguache, thus steering clear of the erosion area.

Although darkness ended my exploration before I could decide anything definite, I'd seen enough to feel confident about the route. Going to bed that night I couldn't help remembering coming up here several weeks prior. Squeezing the trip in my last few days of annual leave from work I'd spent the night in the exact same spot, only to waken to stomach cramps. Finally mustering the strength after several hours to get behind the wheel, I'd driven out with my window rolled down against the inevitable pitching of my guts down the side of the car. This time, with the sun fully up and the air beginning to stir, I started up around 8 AM and could soon see the route beginning with a long talus rib reaching into the valley. While I stopped here to switch out from sandals to hiking boots and to eat a little breakfast, some figures came into view below, a man and a woman and two dogs. One of them, a sturdy black lab, bolted straight for me and stopped a few feet away, snarling and snapping. I did my best to ignore him until the man called him back. As the group hastened around me, full of apologies, I finished lacing my boots feeling a presence nearby. There sat the same black lab, leaning against me with his eyes toward the valley. I gave him a few solid pats and he darted away as if to say, this mafioso mutt: 'Nothing personal, it's just business.'

Jasper was his name. At least that was one of the two dogs' names entered in the summit register, as I found out later, by this couple from Grand Junction, as their entry noted. He certainly looked like a Jasper. While this information foretells my success on Tabeguache, it also abbreviates the actual ascent of this, my 18th Fourteener. It doesn't diminish these central Colorado peaks (the Sawatch, the Mosquitos) at all to my mind to characterize them as overgrown ant-hills. Especially as compared with the rugged San Juans they offer few technical challenges. The challenge and appeal they present is of another kind altogether. Because you never know quite where you stand with respect to them, and they are always bigger than they look, one is forced to cultivate a certain attitude whereby every summit is a false summit until the one from which every other point is down.

By the time I'd cached my sandals in the boughs of a fir tree (marmots eat shoes!) and extended my trekking poles, the other party had about a half-hour lead on me. This head-start was maintained over the next several hours during which, as that fold in the west flank became a trough edged on the left by shattered ramparts, they would pop back in view at regular intervals, the humans picking along deliberately, the canines dashing madly to and fro. As it was just to be that one group all day I didn't mind so much sharing my route with them, any more than they probably minded me. This remark itself, though, betrays me as one old school enough to remember a time when, on any given day, you could have a Colorado 14er all to yourself.

Early on those ramparts to the left attracted me and I sampled them once, only to find the ground too shaky to navigate safely. I was a bit shaky myself, with my right arm still half-paralyzed by a palsied axillary nerve leftover from a dislocation last December, sending me back to the relative stability of the trough. This soon opened into a bowl, as it was bound to do, which I exited onto a broad shoulder left, getting a full view of the South Ridge and the first false summit to the north. I skirted this one on the right, more to get a view into the McCoy drainage than anything else, and was rewarded by a series of solid talus ramps heading through several more bumps, from the last of which Tabeguache's obscure summit finally reared, marked by a pole embedded in a rock cairn. All along I could see the traverse over to Shavano and had been guaging my reserves for tackling it, but for now was only concerned to 'tag up' on Tabeguache first. Speaking of poles, this was my first time using trekking poles. I'd used ski poles on Uncompaghre the year before, finding them particularly useful for steadying creaky knees on the descent. Although my sister swears by them (she's had two knee replacements) I'd not brought any on Humboldt and had missed them. So before this trip, even though it felt a little like a concession of sorts, I'd popped for a pair that collapse enough to be packed away neatly during brief sections of hands-on scrambling such as this peak presented.

On top of Tabeguache I couldn't see how that summit pole stayed upright in the stiff wind. There was no question even of snapping a picture of myself standing next to it, it being all I could do to clutch the register, which I'd found rolled up inside the usual CMC section of capped PVC, long enough to scrawl my name. It was mainly this wind that convinced me to confine my efforts to Tabeguache. As I left the summit it occurred to me I had not seen Jasper in quite some time. The reason dawned on me as I poked my poles down the same rubble fields I came up. The party had gone on to Shavano, where they undoubtedly had a vehicle stashed at Blank Gulch or maybe the Angel of Shavano trailhead. Either way that struck me as an excellent plan.

The long descent of Tabeguache sometimes involved scree running but more often was a matter of probing ahead cautiously. Though breezy the day was not cold. Never once did I don fleece jacket or hat and gloves, only a wind shell with the hood up to keep the cap on my head and my camera never came out once. That means no photos for this introverted peak (except for the screen capture above) until I can shoot it from the summit of Shavano.

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