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Pair scales new heights in Colorado

Bob Doucette Published: July 26, 2009
SALIDA, Colo. — The march up the trail on Mount Shavano’s east slopes was much harder than I remembered.

Five years and 15 pounds ago, my brother and I practically bounded up to Shavano’s 14,229-foot summit. But that was then.

This time, this past June, climbing buddy Johnny Hunter and I were slogging along, running further and further behind the schedule I had mapped out in my mind. And the toughest, most technical part of the climb had yet to come.

But a few minutes after breaking through treeline, we saw it: the Angel of Shavano, a long, skinny, snow-filled couloir that would be our highway to Shavano’s upper slopes. And it was the Angel that was our first real goal.

Climbing in snow
I’m no expert mountaineer. Far from it. Before this climb, I had just six summits of 13,000 feet or more to my credit, and none of them were difficult by mountaineering standards. As the years have gone by, I’ve tried to challenge myself with more difficult tasks. This time, I turned it up a level by trying to find a snowcapped peak to ascend.

Climbing on snow is different. It requires different skills and tools. It requires patience. It carries a higher degree of risk.

Snow can be exhausting. Breaking trail through it can feel like marching in a swimming pool. It’s also slick, particularly on steep slopes. Slip and fall on a slope of dirt or rock, you’ll probably just embarrass yourself and scrape a knee (unless we’re talking about really steep or sheer rock). Slip on snow, and a bad move can turn into a downward slide that may span hundreds of yards and break bones, or worse.

Gear and technique
Most people associate mountaineering with bringing loads of climbing rope. In reality, most Colorado peaks can be scaled without it.