If you've followed any of my other trip reports this year or last year, you'd know that Tabeguache Peak is officially my nemesis. After one failed attempt last year (2009) due to weather, another failed attempt this May due to exhaustion after summiting Shavano, and then a 3rd failed attempt in September due to trying to knock off too many 13ers in one day, I felt I needed to return to conquer this beast of a mountain. Tabeguache is not a technically challenging 14er, or even inaccessible due to distance or other factors, so why has it given me and tons of other hikers problems? Quite simply, the standard route is a really long day that I'd not been in shape to do in past attempts, and the alternate routes are either "off-limits" or remote. After reading up about the Jennings Creek approach thanks to my friend Regina, who had summited Tabeguache eariler this year via Jennings Creek and thanks to my friend Terry who accomplished the same just a couple weeks ago, I felt that it was a good approach and that I had a high likelihood of success. Additionally, I had conferred with Aaron Johnson last year on Summitpost that the route was viable. The Jennings Creek trailhead was closed in 2002 by the Forest Service because the upper portions of the trail had major erosion and it was becoming quite an eyesore with no solution in sight. Fortunately, however, the trail leading to the Jennings Creek drainage is not closed off for those wanting to gain access to other portions of the area, such as the west ridge of Tabeguache. Please note that the route I used was not on the closed trail and that it is important for hikers to stay off of that route due to the damage caused on the mountain.
Having been instructed wisely by my wife to find a hiking partner for this November hike, I dialed-up a fellow 100summits.com member, Curt Kennedy to see if he wanted to go. It was a last minute invitation, but Curt was game. We agreed on the route and plan, and he drove down from Denver to pick me up early on Sunday morning for our climb. After a quick drive over Highway 24, down Highway 285 to Highway 50 West, we turned off on Chaffee County Road 240 and hit the trailhead after approximately 7.45 miles. The trailhead can be really hard to spot - the exact coordinates are: 38.60070o N and 106.27929o W. We arrived at the trailhead around 8:30 AM and started hiking at around 9:00 AM, which was a little late for my typical taste, but I felt we would be in good shape.
Curt Kennedy preps for a long day of hiking.
Here are some meaningful metrics from our adventure:
Total elevation gain: 3,533 ft.
Total distance hiked: 7.14 miles
Total time hiking: Approximately 10 hours
Total wildlife sightings: 1 (Mountain Goat)
Our planned route would take us up the trail and into the Jennings Creek valley, where we would follow the drainage up to the saddle between Carbonate Mountain and Tabeguache Peak. From there, we would ascend the ridge up to the first false summit at 13,936 ft., and then over to the summit of Tabeguache.
After hiking only a short distance, we noticed that already a storm was starting to build to the west. Since the weather forecast was only 10% chance of precipitation, I was not concerned that it would prevent us from accomplishing our goal. Regardless, the storm did pass through briefly and drop trace amounts of snow, which was a very peaceful yet exciting experience to have winter knocking on the door.
A storm moves in to the west of Jennings Creek. Photo by Curt Kennedy.
The skies darkened as the storm moved in on us early in the day.
From here on out, the wind became a factor, blowing steadily throughout the day at speeds varying between 10 and 30 or 40 MPH.
After a short hike up into the basin, the trail turned east to head up the closed restoration area and we continued straight north towards the top of the Jennings Creek valley. Both Curt and I greatly enjoy hiking off-route, due to the added challenge and the unexplainable feeling of excitement you get when conducting exploration.
Curt hikes up the basin.
The basin itself is not very challenging or difficult. There was a faint, relatively easy trail leading up the valley. We had seen boot prints in the snow periodically, most likely from the group Terry was in just the previous weekend. Speaking of snow, both Curt and I were prepared with gaiters; however, we never encountered much more than a few inches the entire day. The south-facing valley and ridges fared well over the past few weeks, granting us with bare ground on much of the terrain we would cross.
Looking back down the Jennings Creek valley.
The valley itself is littered with ancient-looking trees, placed in almost guardian-like poses throughout the hike up into the basin.The views of Taylor Mountain were ubiquitous while hiking up the basin, as evidenced by the above photo and the one below, which demonstrates the elderly presence of the trees in the valley.
Tundra grass grows on this ledge which rested in front of our view of Taylor Mountain - photo by Curt Kennedy
Our pace up the valley was steady - not too fast, not too slow. We took minimal breaks and enjoyed the amazing weather.
Matt Payne in the Jennings Creek basin - photo by Curt Kennedy
Before long, we gained our first views of Carbonate Mountain, located just west of Tabeguache Peak. I had been on the summit of Carbonate Mountain just a couple months ago, which was somewhat frustrating being that close to Tabeguache and not having the energy to reach it.
Curt surveys the valley.
After taking a short break near the base of the ridge between Carbonate and Tabeguache, we quickly gained the ridge and began our grueling ascent up the steep and long west ridge of Tabeguache.
Tabeguache's west ridge.
Views from the ridge were spectacular. The Jennings Creek basin was littered with small snow drifts everywhere, making for a very interesting pattern as viewed from above on the ridge.
Jennings Creek valley. Photo by Curt Kennedy
Additionally, the view of Antero was great, which revealed that there was very little snow in this portion of the state.
Antero as seen from the Tabeguache - Carbonate ridge.
Curt plowed through the light snow leading up the ridge-line.
Once we gained elevation, the view back to Carbonate was outstanding. The ridge heading up Carbonate should probably not be under-estimated due to it's steepness and ability to hold snow, as evidence by the following photo.
Carbonate's east ridge.
Eventually, views of Cyclone and Grizzly were available, which was an interesting perspective since I had climbed them earlier in the year.
After reaching the first false summit of Tabeguache, the rest of the climb came into view and put a damper on our excitement. Tabeguache was still quite a long distance away from where we stood.
Tabeguache as seen from point 13,936ft.
Curt Kennedy is seen at left in this large panoramic photo taken from point 13,936ft.
This vantage also offered excellent views of both Taylor Mountain and Mount Aetna, two of the most southern summits in the Sawatch range.
I headed up towards Tabeguache at a brisk pace. For some reason, when I'm close to the summit of a mountain, my body shifts into high gear and I'm able to tap into an unknown energy source. It seemed that Curt was holding back and throughout my ascent to Tabeguache, I looked back to see that Curt was OK. Soon, I realized that Curt had stopped his ascent for some reason and that he was signaling me to continue without him. The terrain on the final two summit sections of Tabeguache were quite challenging, much to my satisfaction and surprise. By going up and over the top of every obstacle, I found myself completing class 3 moves to reach the summit of Tabeguache. It was a nice additional challenge that I somehow knew my nemesis would find a way to provide. I believe that people should take caution on this route due to this final section. While it was well within my comfort zone, I could see someone signing up to climb Tabeguache with the expectation of an easy walk-up, only to find themselves doing some class 3 moves outside of their comfort zone or skill level.
Reaching the summit of Tabeguache was very satisfying. Having had my previous attempts foiled, I was quite elated to finally put an end to this mountain's curse on me. Conversely, I was a little disappointed in how close Shavano appeared to be from this vantage point. Nothing at all what I had remembered when viewing Tabeguache from Shavano's summit back in May.
Shavano and the Sangre de Cristo range in the distance.
I set-up the self-timer to take the obligatory summit shot, took a few photos to later create a pano with, ate some light food, and headed back over to see what Curt's hold-up was.
Matt Payne poses in this self-timer on Tabeguache Peak.
A 360 degree pano from the summit of Tabeguache Peak
Looking west and north from Tabeguache.
I quickly made it back over to Curt, who was waiting for me on the false summit at 13,936 ft. He explained that he had developed a leg cramp on the way over to Tabeguache and was glad that I understood that he was not wanting me to wait for him on top. Unfortunately, his leg cramp was quite severe, and it greatly reduced his mobility and usage of his left leg. Our descent speed would be greatly reduced by his injury. We carefully climbed back the same route we had climbed up, being careful not to disrupt Curt's leg too much. When we reached the saddle between Tabeguache and Carbonate, the sun was already down and the light in the area was getting dimmer and dimmer by the minute. Fortunately, we both had head lamps packed and plenty of warm clothing. By the time we reached the trees at the lower half of the basin, we were in complete darkness. We were quite careful to select our route and ensure that we did not miss the trail. After much searching and good teamwork, Curt and I were able to find the trail heading back down to the trailhead. Due to our hike in the dark, I am sure that this trip will go down in memory as one of the more exciting and enjoyable ones I've had.