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Natives, Sheep, and Sharing Chapstick

September 12, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Natives, Sheep, and Sharing Chapstick

I couldn’t find anyone to go with me to summit Mount Shavano.  The peak is part of the territory on the far southern end of the Sawatch Range once inhabited by the Native American Ute tribe and specifically of the Tabeguache (pronounce: TAYB-watch or TAB-uh-watch) band.  Chief Shavano (pronounce: SHAV-uh-no) was their leader and one who brokered peace rather than war against the intruding eastern miners and settlers. The peace agreements always favored the U.S. government and in return for his loyalty and favor, he and his tribe were eventually deported to a reservation in the Utah desert. It seems one of the few good things that came of his goodness was that he was rewarded with the name of the most prominent peak in the area (Mount Shavano) and his band with a neighboring mountain, Tebeguache Peak.  Mount Antero further north was also named after another peaceful native chief of the same tribe but of the Uintah band. These three peaks make up what is commonly referred to as the Indian Group of the Sawatch Range.  So, why couldn’t I get anyone to go with me to such a place of rich history?  Who knows.  But I still met some nice people along the trail and took something special back with me from that place.

I drove to the trailhead early Saturday morning because I was unsure of the camping situation and the late arrival I would have on Friday night after work would not allow me time to investigate the area.  Call me wimpy, but I like to explore my surroundings before it gets dark. Others do not have this precautionary instinct. For instance, I met a couple guys on my descent. I learned that they arrived at the trailhead after dark the night before and hiked up the trail a mile before setting up their camp.
Car camping is popular at these trail heads.  It’s more like park your car, fold down the seats, and go to sleep.  I’m not sure where the word “camping” applies in this setup, other than a sleeping bag may be part of the bedding, but that’s what it is.  A few people were just rising out of their cars when I arrived.   They were headed for the same destination that day. It was a young couple and their friend.  We passed each other several times that day.  They were friendly and considerate trail mates.  

At one point above tree line we heard what sounded like the crashing of rams’ horns.  Sure enough we saw a group of mountain sheep on a neighboring slope.  Shortly after we saw the sheep a small group of White-tailed Ptarmigan crossed our path.  These birds are small grouse that live in severe alpine habitats, change the color of their plumage with the seasons, and are mostly found in Alaska and Canada.  However, some parts of the Rocky Mountains are also populated with them.

The weather in late summer can bring favorable conditions for climbing.  It’s a time between the monsoonal patterns and the winter weather patterns.  This was one of those bluebird days.  The best hikes are those that don’t require planning around the weather, leaving more time for simply enjoying the mountains. Don’t forget a high SPF sunscreen. The UV is brutal at elevation.

By 11am I was on the summit.  The final ascent to this peak is a steep Class 2 climb, but the talus field is sturdy and the view makes the investment of effort worth every step. There were several people who arrived around the same time.  We all agreed on the identity of the surrounding peaks and took the obligatory photos.  Snacks are on the agenda as well.  Although, the physical assertion often leaves me without an appetite I manage to eat something.  The recipe I have for Simple Goodness Fruit and Nut Bars is a favorite of mine on these summits.

One worthy mention is that the south face of Shavano with its deep gulches will reveal the form of an angle with outstretched arms in the early spring months. The formation is called the Angle of Shavano from an old legend about a young native princess who sacrificed herself during a long drought so the people could live.  It is said that the water from the mountain that creates the fertile the valley below are the tears from the princess.

My original intent was to also climb Tebeguache Peak.  It’s less than a mile away, but the trail is mostly nonexistent over a Class II route with plenty of talus. I don’t mind the road less traveled, but while I was on Shavano a few people had returned from Tabeguache with mostly unfavorable reports. It’s a tough route.  I considered how tired I was and that I had not climbed for several weeks.  And so I abandoned the idea of Tabeguache for the day.  Instead, I spent an hour relaxing on the summit and talking with new friends.

The descent is an art. I highly recommend trekking poles. The poles allow one to relax and reduce stress on the knees.  The technique I use is to allow the lower legs to almost flop around, landing heal first, and sharing the impact with the poles.  It’s almost like having 4 legs.  Speed can also be increased with this method.  The terrain matters too.  I don’t recommend higher speed on unstable or uneven rocky surfaces.  This was a nice route with little loose scree where I could safely gain some speed.  My advice is simple: listen to that internal voice that reminds us when we may be taking unnecessary risks.  

During the last mile of the hike I stopped at a mountain stream to filter an ice cold drink.  I love mountain fresh water.  Shortly after the creek I met a couple people who serve on the county search and rescue team.  They talked a little about the rescue of over a dozen hikers injured by lightening on Mount Bierstadt earlier in the year.  The reasons for recue are common: taking too many risks or being unprepared.  They also confirmed my good decision to not take on Tebeguache earlier.  These are great people doing good things!

The last person I met that day didn’t have a pack, just a shoulder sack with what looked like writing or drawing materials.  He asked if I had anything to help with his chapped lips.  He offered to just remove some off the top with his finger and return the rest.  Mountaineers have a way of meeting the needs of others.  We share.  It’s the unwritten code of the trail.  We share experiences, fantastic views, water, food, gear… I’ve seen people give the shirt off their back. Of course I would share my ChapStick.  I gave him the whole tube.  He kindly said, “God bless you.”  That’s all I needed.  We thanked each other and went our own way.  That’s what we do.  

A note of clarity:  There seems to be enough evidence to suggest that the good Chief Shavano was a name given to him by the white man.  Shavano is a Shawnee name for “southerner” and on the 1873 treaty it is spelled in the French way, “Chavanaux”.  We know that the Shawnee inhabited lands along the Ohio River in southern Ohio, northern Kentucky, and western West Virginia.  And so in honor of my distant American Native ancestry, I thought it would be fitting to respect the name of the good Ute Chief by distinguishing him without bias, whatever his true native name was.

Natives, sheep, and sharing ChapStick could only be combined into a story about an ancient land now peacefully inhabited and traveled by those who truly respect the beauty it returns. So, now who wants to go with me to summit Mount Shavano?



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