|Height: 14,229 feet|
Elevation gain: 4700 feet
Trail distance: 9.7 miles
Lounge or Lunge: The Decision to Climb Mount Shavano
By Mountain Laurel
By the time we got to Salida for the annual Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation Banquet (no kidding), we realized that we had four options for what to do the following day. The weather channel was reporting a possible approaching snow storm coming over the mountains, so we (Mike, the boys, and I) were prepared to have our choices limited by the time we woke up. Our choices were:
- Shop in the quaint, historic town of Salida
- Attend the donkey training seminar at the Fair Grounds
- Lounge luxuriously in the soothing hot springs just across the street
- Climb the mountain, all “14’er” feet of it
Shopping. Brrrr. I still get shivers when I recall the countless hours of digging through bins at The Bargain Center in Quincy, MA as a child. No dressing rooms…no real order to what you might be looking for…but boy could Mom find a bargain. Hours and hours of power-shopping, of back-aching standing around as Mom would feel every item on every hanger, of hiding in the racks of clothes to avoid having to try on one more winter coat, on sale because it was still 98 degrees out. No, we would not go shopping.
I really thought we should attend the day of bonding with your burro. After all, we had just won a burro brush at the banquet that night. As the boys pointed out, “Now all we need is the accessory.” Not yet the proud owners of Bobby (what we will surely name our first burro…whenever we get him), Mike was disinclined to “watch” as others who dragged their own asses to the weekend festivities learned how to maneuver donkey obstacle courses…or whatever the training actually included. No, we would not attend the donkey training. Not this year.
To be fair, I already knew that the first two choices weren’t really happening (although Salida does have a great book store and sports places and a museum, all of which we checked out before the banquet). So when Mike said that we may not be able to climb Mount Shavano because of the storm coming in that night, I tried very hard to mask my excitement over the possibility of choice #3. Gee. Would we possibly not have to wake up extra early to get a head start on attacking the mountain before it got really bad? Would we possibly have to spend a leisurely morning, after a nice home-style breakfast at the local diner, soaking, floating, easing our burdens away in the natural hot springs just across the street from our hotel? Golly, I hoped not.
After a fitful night’s attempt at sleep, we awoke, later than expected without an alarm, to a beautiful morning. Damn. There were clouds in the sky, but they weren’t even ominous. We were allowed a few minutes to grab a cold, hard pastry in the motel lobby before heading out on our quest to “bag another 14’er” (this was Mike’s and Nick’s quest; Jake and I were happy to shoot for a 13.5’ish’er).
O.K., I’ll admit it…the day was spectacular, and we ended up getting a 2-fer—two seasons in one day. The aspens were at their peak intensity for autumn color, and when it started to snow, the whole scene became a fairyland.
The trail up Mount Shavano was well worn, and Mike and Nick quickly disappeared as they advanced on their “speed ascent.” We had walkie-talkies, so I felt confident that Jake and I would enjoy the adventure at our own pace. But I should admit something here. Long ago and far away, I would let other fellow mountain hikers know that I would “hang back” with Jake. Yes, I would sacrifice the painful thin-air-sucking experience so that Jake could build his confidence. Yes, I might not even make it to the top. I would do that. But something changed this year when Jake turned 12. Something both beautiful and tragic.
I had to ask Jake to slow down (O.K., to STOP) a couple times.
This was beautiful because it demonstrated that my little boy was now both full of confidence and ability. It was tragic because, well, I couldn’t keep up with him any more.
He was very patient with me; and as we had done on countless past adventures, while Nick and his Dad were focused on the top (and I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with that), Jake and I embraced the around. We took in the expanse of emerald green-covered boulder fields along several hillsides; we were amazed by what looked like a foot-high flame carved into the bottom of a burnt-out tree trunk; we bounced on old pines bent low across our path yet still rooted in the earth; we scooped up and ate handfuls of the season’s first snow; we laughed at the gray face of stone at our feet with a protrusion of fleshy pink rock that looked just like a tongue sticking out at us.
The air was fall-winter fresh, and our steady journey up the mountain yielded peeks of peaks as the sun would occasionally break through the clouds and falling snow. Three hours into the adventure, we got to a point, after having ascended from a long saddle in the mountain, where we thought we could see the endpoint of our journey. But there were three distinct summits, and when we called Nick (who beat his Dad to the top this time), we learned that they had reached the peak and were heading down. Protected as we were in the saddle, we hadn’t experienced the blowing snow and wind they were feeling up top.
And so, having hiked to about 13.5’ish, Jake and I were happy to begin our descent, knowing that at some point, Mike and Nick would catch us. Almost to the bottom, I sensed that we may have taken a wrong turn somewhere back up the hill; I didn’t remember what lay before me, and I couldn’t find any footprints. Although the path ascending the mountain was obvious, things don’t always look the same in reverse. But Jake was certain that we were on the right path, and not wanting to wait in place while I continued my search for footprints, he suggested that we just keep going. After all, we were still going down hill.
Jake was right, of course. We were on the correct path, and within minutes, we could hear the voices of our speed racers. We all enjoyed what was left of the descent, and were able to appreciate together the grandeur of the aspen field that awaited us at the bottom. The trees were so large I could barely reach my arms around them (yes, I hugged a tree), and the leaves were a glorious golden yellow.
I have come to realize that though my inclination is often to choose the least stressful of available options on any given day, I am inevitably delighted with what results from a decision to push beyond my comfort level. Yes, the hot springs would have been blissful…but our adventure on the mountain was heavenly.
More pictures from Mount Shavano, Colorado>>