When I told my Colorado friends that I was coming to their state, they all said I should climb a fourteener.* I asked everybody I could about which mountain I should climb, what I should expect, general advice, etc. Everybody’s answer differed slightly but there were a few common answers. First, be prepared for all types of weather. Second, make sure you’re off the mountain by noon. That’s when the lightning strikes start.
After consulting my friend Jon, who has climbed all but 44 of Colorado’s 637 peaks, he suggested I climb up Mount Shavano. It’s an easy climb and only a half hour away from Salida.
I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get up and down the mountain by noon, so I woke up early and was on the road by 5:30. I was expecting to be there around 6 to watch the morning rays light up the mountain, but unfortunately I didn’t get there until 6:30 because the last 4 miles were on a bumpy and rocky road.
My car, Jango, (there is no ‘d’) is in rough shape to begin with. It creaks and moans just when I go around a corner. I was legitimately worried that this rough, bone-shaking ride would end up with Jango breaking down in the middle of nowhere at the crack of dawn.**
Eventually I found a guy standing next to a parked car on the road. He had walking poles, big hiking boots, gloves, and a hat that people who are allergic to the sun wear. Immediately I felt underprepared with my three-quarter pants and bright green sneakers. It turns out he was deaf, but through miming and lip-reading, he managed to tell me that the trail head was near.
I packed up my bag and began hiking. Every so often I caught a glimpse of my fellow hiker through the trees. I came to think of him as my deaf, Sasquatch guide. I only caught an occasional glimpse of him through the trees, but he always showed up when I needed him most before disappearing again.
The trail began like all the other ones I’ve been on.
But about five hundred yards further the trail faded to nothing and I became lost. I stood there for a few minutes trying to find some sort of sign. Then out of the corner of my eye I caught movement. My deaf Sasquatch friend!
I headed his direction and came to a marshy creek. It was narrow with no large rocks poking out so I decided to jump it. The good news was I landed the jump perfectly. 10/10. The bad news was my next step took me right into the water that came from the snowy peaks. Apparently the marshy grass couldn’t support my weight. I ended up stepping full force into the water. Now it was 7:00 a.m, my feet were soaked, and I still had the whole hike in front of me.
My Sasquatch guide had hiked out of sight during the creek mishap, but I continued on, despite not knowing where to go. I was now completely alone with no trail to follow. I looked up at the mountain and decided I would just have to make my own path.
I began the trek going straight up the side of the mountain. I had no idea if I was even climbing Mount Shavano anymore. There were mountains everywhere and there was a real chance the trail I was supposed to be on summited a different peak.
I broke through the tree line and looked up. Above me was a rocky scree that stretched to the top. The journey of a thousand miles… I told myself.
I’m going to say it was the altitude and not me being out of shape, but I couldn’t go more than ten minutes without stopping to catch my breath. The slope was steeper than I was anticipating and it felt like for every two steps forward I would slide back one. I had to resort to climbing on all fours for some parts.
It was at this point I remembered the last hike I took in Salida and how I kept building on my bad decisions. I couldn’t help but laugh when I realized I had managed to do it again. I never told anyone I was going up the mountain, I was off the trail and causing mini avalanches every few minutes, my feet were soaked with freezing water, and I was woefully unprepared when compared to my deaf, Sasquatch guide . But, I told myself as long as I’m off the mountain by noon I’ll be okay.
I had stopped to take some pictures when I heard rocks tumbling down from above. I never thought about a rock slide coming from higher up and immediately concern shot through me. Fortunately it was only a few rocks and they were about eighty yards to my left. I looked up to find where the slide had started and was surprised to see the source. Bighorned sheep!
They were making their way toward me and every so often a few rocks would come tumbling down. I watched them, and the sheep paused when they saw me. Eventually they decided I was uninteresting and continued on their way. I took their cue and kept climbing.
I was convinced that I was on the wrong mountain but I didn’t care. At the very least I was going to summit something today. The rocks slowly faded away and I came upon a grassy patch that wasn’t so steep. I looked up to see how far away the summit was and OH MY GOD! My deaf Sasquatch friend!
There he was! A tiny speck in the distance but it was definitely him! I altered the direction I was walking and headed toward him. Less than 30 minutes later I got to to the top, and true to his friendly Sasquatch nature, he gave me a wave and walked out of sight.
I hung out at the summit for a bit, snapping pictures, admiring views, and appreciating the fact that I had somehow actually made it up the right mountain.
There were a few snowy patches at the top as well. I took the opportunity to slide around them, and the red rock dust from my shoes made it look like John McClane had climbed the mountain and not Chris Daniel.
I began my trek down, coming back the way I came. This time around the rocky scree was even harder to get through. I grabbed on to boulders to usher my way down. More than once, the part of the large rocks that I grabbed broke off, causing me to fall. With every step I took small stones swamped my feet and poured into my shoes. I resorted to crab walking at times, trying not to cause, or be swept away by, an avalanche of rocks.
Eventually I made it back to the tree line. I couldn’t find the trail (surprise, surprise) but I followed the creek back to where I was parked. My feet were freezing and soaked, my hands and legs were scratched up from the rocks, and my thighs were absolutely exhausted from the journey. I changed my shoes, ate a sandwich, and looked at my phone. 11:59 a.m. I had made it off the mountain by noon though.
*That’s Colorado talk for a mountain over 14,000 feet
**Although I shot the video on my return drive when the light was good enough