The three-mile long steep trail to the 14,157 foot-summit of Mount Tabeguache (named after a tribe of Utes), begins at the Jennings Creek trail head eight miles northwest of Maysville, Colorado (west of Poncha Springs). There is no other way to get here but by private car where there is parking for thirty vehicles. The starting point at Jennings Creek trail head is 10,500 feet above sea level. Hikers should sign the trail register at the top of the hill above the parking area.
The Best Times to Climb Mount Tabeguache are Limited
The best times to climb Mount Tabeguache are from late June through early September. Be aware that at elevations this high, it can snow any day of the year. Thunderstorms develop almost every summer afternoon so that it is prudent to aqrrive at the summit at or before noon. There are no man-made hazards on the Jennings Creek trail, but the hiker must stay on the trail. If he strays off the trail to the east, he will encounter a logging area. Because this is a strenuous climb, it might be best for the hiker to camp overnight at Jennings Creek in order to get an early start.
The Trail Up Through Treeline is Extremely Steep
Once under way, the hiker is in for a very steep climb with hardly any switchbacks; this is not a tourist trail. The straight-up trail quickly affords the climber with magnificent views northwesterly into high thirteen-thousand foot peaks that are usually snow-clad. As the dense forest of spruce, fir and aspen thins out with each quarter mile gained, the hiker will see more and more of a high tundra ridge looming above. If she is in good shape, the climber should reach treeline within an hour and a half (approximately two miles). Once up here, the climber should rest, drink water and eat an energy snack. Take a good look around to see pure white mountain goats grazing nearby and possibly flocks of alpine ptarmigans (cousins of Canadian arctic ptarmigans). This is a good place to see alpine flowers including bistort, alpine forget-me-not, sandworts and elk sedges.
A High Lateral Ridge Leads to Distant Tabeguache With Views of Legendary Mount Shavano
Just above treeline rises a high lateral ridge with a series of camel-like humps that lead the hiker toward the summit of Mount Tabeguache at 14,157 feet. The elevation of this ridge line is just above 13,000 feet. As the hiker moves along a far less steep trail, he can enjoy views of Mount Shavano (named after a Ute chief) to the east. There is a legend about an angel-shaped snowfield on the eastern side of Shavano. In early times the Utes suffered from a severe drought. An Indian medicine woman prayed to the Great Spirit for rain. She was told that if she sacrificed herself for her people, rain would come. She did so on the side of the mountain where each year a snowfield forms in the shape of an angel.
Views From the Summit of Tabeguache are Phenomenal
Once the hiker has traversed this long lateral ridge, she must work her way up through loose scree to the summit of Tabeguache well above 14,000 feet and one mile of trail beyond treeline. Once on top, the climber is rewarded with a raven’s view of the world.
To the east rises slightly higher Mount Shavano, and to the southeast loom the distant Sangre de Cristo Mountains that stretch southward all the way to New Mexico. To the north rises the summits of Mounts Antero and Princeton (see my article “Climbing Mount Princeton”). To the northwest rises Mount Ouray, a very high thirteener. Enjoy the ravens circling above and the fresh air so much cooling than the summer heat of Denver. The round trip hike takes up to a full day with a vertical gain of over 3,600 feet. Bring water and energy snacks as there are no water sources along the trail nor are there any rest rooms. You can download a map from the USGS website Mounts Shavano/Tabeguache Quad.