14,155 Feet (26th Highest in Colorado)
Ascent: North Ridge (Class 2)
Descent: Northeast Slopes (Class 2)
Browns Lake Trailhead (11,286 Feet)
3.6 Miles Roundtrip
Elevation Gained: about 2,900 Feet
Greenhouseguy (Brian) and Kwsingr (Keith)
July 26th, 2008
Tabeguache Peak was named for a band of Ute Indians that once lived in the Uncompahgre Valley in Colorado; some translations of the word tabeguache give the meaning as ďsun people.Ē The Tabeguache people were nomadic, and frequently passed through the fertile Arkansas River Valley to hunt and gather food. Chief Ouray was one of the most influential leaders of the Tabeguache band, which was eventually relocated to Utah.
The most popular route on Tabeguache Peak, the Jennings Creek Trail, was closed in 2002 due to severe trail erosion. Most hikers now climb Tabeguache Peak by climbing Mt. Shavano and traversing the saddle that connects the two mountains. This is a fairly strenuous hike, and many people are intimidated by having to ascend more than 400 feet to re-climb Mt. Shavano on the return trip. Another option is to approach the mountain from the Browns Creek Trailhead, but this route is unpopular due to the 17-mile roundtrip mileage. The shortest route is to ascend the mountainís north slopes from Browns Lake; this route is less frequently traveled due to the lack of a well-marked trail. Browns Lake is a scenic camping destination, and it is accessible by a very rough 4WD road.†
I climbed the Angel of Shavano earlier this year, but deep snow and fatigue kept me from traversing to Tabeguache Peak. I was not interested in re-climbing Mt. Shavano, and I was intrigued by the solitude that the Northeast Slopes route offered. The road to the trailhead, however, did not appeal to me at all. It involved driving the wretched Baldwin Gulch Jeep Road to its junction with Forest Service Road 278, then negotiating the tight switchbacks up and over the saddle between Mt. Antero and Cronin Peak. After topping out at 13,089 feet on the saddle, the road descends to Browns Lake at 11,284 feet. Itís a bad road, but a good driver with a short-wheelbase 4WD vehicle can make the trip. I recruited co-worker and distant cousin Kwsingr accompany me on this adventure and handle the driving duties.
The turns in the switchbacks on the west slopes of Pt. 13,800 are uncomfortably tight for long-wheelbase vehicles
We headed down after work on Friday afternoon, and hit the Baldwin Gulch Jeep Road just as the sun was going down. We scared some mountain goats that were eating dirt beside the road for the salt content. They were shedding their winter coats, and we saw big chunks of fur by their salt lick on the return trip. The journey from CR162 (Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Rd.) to Browns Lake took 1.5 hours. FS 278 ends at the western end of Browns Lake and continues as the Browns Creek Trail, which is closed to vehicular traffic. We parked at the end of the road, and immediately found a good campsite under a spruce tree. Keith just pulled a tarp over the bed of his truck and slept in the back. I pitched my bivy shelter, tossed in a handful of soil from my native Transylvania, and crawled into my crypt.
Primitive campsite under the spruce tree
It was a chilly night, which probably explains why there were no mosquitoes. We got up at 4:00, prepped our gear, and hit the trail at 5:00. Because we had arrived after dark, weíd had no opportunity to scout the trailhead. I was only able to find one trip report for this route. StevieTwoShoes wrote that there were some white rocks in a meadow that served as landmarks for finding the log bridge across Browns Creek. These rocks were difficult, but not impossible to find in the dark. They were very close to the end of FS 278, and would have been easy to find in the daylight.
We bashed around in the willows for a few minutes before we found the bridge, but really didnít lose much time.
Keith crossing the log bridge over Browns Creek
It was still dark when we hit the lower part of the gully, but the sun rose as we gained elevation.
Heading up the gully early in the morning
Gerry Roach recommends taking the grassy ridge on the left side of the deep gully, but we spotted another route that looked like it would work. We turned right by another grassy ridge and went up a steep gully. The smaller rocks in the gully were not stable; when I hiked on anything smaller than softballs, entire sections of rock started to move. The larger rocks were more stable, but I was not too comfortable in this gully. We exited the gully at about 12,700 feet and followed the crest of the north ridge all the way to 13,800 feet.
Keith entering the base of the steep gully
The ridge crest was still steep, but much more stable
Gerry Roachís route takes hikers up to the saddle below Pt. 13,712 and then to the Mt. Shavano/Tabeguache Peak saddle, but the north ridge bypasses both saddles and meets Tabeguache Peakís summit ridge at about 13,800 feet.
Keith approaching Tabeguache Peakís summit ridge
We still had to gain a few hundred feet on the summit ridge, but compared to the hiking in the gully, this was easy hiking. There was a fairly significant false summit about 100 feet below the true summit.
Almost on the summit
Tabeguache Peak has a nice cozy summit; itís not a huge parking lot like Longs or Pikes Peak. The views are impressive, but were somewhat limited by the haze from the California fires. Some peaks in the Elk Range, the San Juans, and the Sangre de Cristos were visible. Mt. Antero and Mt. Shavano were incredibly close.
Mt. Shavano viewed from Tabeguache Peakís summit
Mt. Antero seen from Tabeguache Peak. We descended the grassy ridge that stretches from the right of this image toward the center (image by Keith W.).
We took a well-deserved half hour break, and were off of the summit by 8:45. I was underwhelmed by the wobbly talus of our ascent route, so I decided to try to descend the northeast slopes. First, we had to descend to the Shav/Tab saddle.
Looking down to the Shav/Tab saddle, with the Pt. 13,712 saddle visible in the extreme left of the image
From the Shav/Tab saddle, we descended to the saddle below Pt. 13,712. It was solid talus-hopping the whole way.
We hiked the entire length of the saddle below Pt. 13,712, and dropped down on the far side of a rocky knob. The grassy ridge that we wanted to descend was visible, but we had to contend with several hundred feet of large talus blocks to get there.
There was a faint and apparently very old trail on the grassy ridge. I was happy to be back on easier terrain again.
A grassy trail at last!
We bailed off of the ridge a little bit early. If we had stayed on the ridge, it would have taken us all the way down to the bottom of the gully where we began our dayís journey.
Bailing off of the ridge into the deep gully
Once we were in the gully, we followed a cairned route down to treeline. The route to the log bridge was not obvious, so I was glad that I had the track on my GPS.
We got back to the truck at Browns Lake at exactly 11:00, which is a pretty early day in fourteener land. Keith had dinner plans back in D-Town, so we didnít hang around for long.
Campers with a choice spot on the west end of Browns Lake
The ride back to the blacktop was tedious, but it was much easier in broad daylight. There were quite a few 4WDs and quads on the road.
Driving back out on FS278
Keith drove slowly along Baldwin Creek looking for water ouzels and their nests. The water ouzel is a bird that can walk underwater and swim in swift currents to look for aquatic insects. They build hanging moss nests over streams. We didnít see any birds, but Keith spotted a nest swinging from a rock on a steep cliff over the creek.
A water ouzelís moss nest hanging over Baldwin Creek
Our loop hike covered some steep terrain, but it was no more difficult than most Sawatch fourteeners. In retrospect, the hike up the north ridge was not the best route. The lengthy talus-hop was unnecessarily difficult and the loose rocks could have caused injuries. The northeast slopes route is easy to follow and is much safer. This would also be a good route for hikers who want to complete the Mt. Shavano/Tabeguache Peak combination, because the route is much shorter and it would not be necessary to re-summit either peak on the return trip. One of the greatest benefits of this route is that we didnít encounter another hiker all day, and we had the summit to ourselves.