| Mt. Eolus
The next morning we started for Eolus at about 4:30 am as well. Again, it took about an hour to get to the Lakes. We studied where the trail was from the descent of Windom the day before. It is a little hard to see how to get to it without having to go all the way to the lakes. So, even though it was still dark, we were able to get right to the trail. There is a perfect trail to within 50 feet of the ramp. Then, watching for cairns, we were able to find the ramp easily.
We followed a few cairns to the ridge from the ramp, we could then see the next objective easily. It was fun to climb the short green gully up to the notch. Then I got the jitters seeing what was next. I knew what to expect from all the pictures I have seen, but it just isn’t the same until you are there.
A breeze picked up at made the catwalk even more nerve racking (although the breeze was pretty minimal). There are definitely some exposed areas, but I don't think it bothered me as much as my husband. For some reason, it bothered me more on the way back. It seemed like there were some areas that it was hard to define the real trail. It is obvious where to go, but ‘what if I took the wrong step’. It was probably just in my head.
I think I had that on my mind because route finding was a real challenge for us on the face. We had studied all the pictures and trip reports but it again, things are just different when you are there. We started in the right place and it turned out that we probably went the most popular way until about half way up. We looked to the left which looked like it was boxed out/too difficult and there were no cairns, so we went right where there were cairns. You can’t see the next ledge up many times and you can’t really see the summit, so it is easy to get further to the right. Each ledge, we would see multiple cairns going different directions. We would have to back track to find an easier ledge. Craig could see a defined path and a gully to the left, but we couldn’t find a way to get over to it safely. It turned out that if we would have turned left even though there were no cairns, we would have gotten to that path and made it up a lot quicker. We did the right thing, we just took our time and kept our moves to class 3 and avoided class 4 by finding other ways, and finally made the summit.
There are a lot of ways to get up, which is why it was mentally difficult. When you are exposed and so focused, it gets tiring to worry about whether you are taking the right turn or not and to feel like you are in a maze. Am I going to get into danger and not be able to get back to an easier section, am I going to be able to get down this way, is the next ledge going to be a dead end, are we too far to the right or to the left, etc… These were many of the questions going thru our minds. Obviously, there are those that get right up without any difficulty finding an easy route or one they are comfortable with. While it took us probably an hour to get up this face, we saw two young guys who were way behind us, get up it in probably 15 minutes, and were sitting on the summit when we got there. Oh well, at least we got up safely. We got to the summit at about 9:10 (we probably started that face around 7:45 or 8:00). We found the route back down that was suggested on the route description of this site. It was a nice path and certainly much easier.
We could definitely see why we didn’t see it on the way up. There were no cairns and it didn’t look like you could climb that way safely. My opinion would be for the CMC to knock down all those cairns that are going every which way and make one route, but I am sure that there are many people that like making their own way. I just feel safer, knowing that the next step is the right one and not going to get me into trouble. That is just me though.
Looking back on it, the moves weren’t too hard and if they were, we would just find a new way. So my advice for someone going up for the first time, would be as you go up try to stay to the left of the summit (if you can see it) and just take each ledge one at a time. Find what you are comfortable with and keep heading up. If it gets into class 4, go the other direction. Be careful following cairns because they mark so many different paths. If you can see that gully and pathway about half way up on the left, that is an easier way to go. Lastly, it is much easier going down because you can see the multiple ledges at a time and it is easier to pick out where to go, so don’t worry too much about not finding a safe way back down. Had we of known that, it would have taken away some of that fear that we had to mark where we were going.
When we got back to the notch, I looked over at North Eolus and had second thoughts. I wasn’t sure I felt up to more scrambling, however we decided to go forward. That mountain is actually quite fun. Very easy rock with good grip, no difficulty with route finding, didn’t take long, and has great views. Glad we did it for sure. We reached that summit at about 10:45, only about a half hour after starting back on the catwalk.
We got back to camp at about 2, but we did take a longer lunch in the meadows above the lakes and we stopped another time to cool down. We did a little goat watching as well.
We decided that we would get up early on Saturday and hike back to the mudslide to see if we could possibly get a ride back to Silverton. We figured that if we had enough time, the worst that could happen would be to have to hike back to Needleton to catch the 4pm shuttle to Durango. We just really didn’t want to get back that late and have no way to get to our truck. Our gamble paid off. It just so happened that we arrived there when the superintendent was coming down from Silverton and we could maybe get a ride back with them. We didn’t have a for sure answer from them for an hour or so, but we just sat tight and waited. Luckily, we got to ride back on the Cadillac of railcars. We learned a lot from one of the rail workers as well as the super. I guess I never realized all the work that went into running a railroad. Some of things we learned were; a patrol car always has to run 5 to 10 minutes ahead of the train to scout the tracks. Actually the day of the slide, the scout car found a couple rocks on the tracks and radioed back to the train to stop. Minutes later, the big slides happened. Apparently people put spikes in the rail joints quite frequently and the scout has to catch that too. There is also a scout that makes the trip at 5 or 5:30 in the morning to check the rails. Then there is another car that follows the train to put out fires that it starts. Apparently rail fires and brush fires from the train are almost a daily occurrence. Thousands of railroad ties have to be replaced each year. After the nails are pulled up, a machine pulls out the tie and puts a new one in. These ties cost $80 each and the nails are $5 each. I am sure there are other nuts and bolts so to speak that are replaced frequently as well. Gravel is spread to keep the ties in place. Snow has to be removed as well. It takes about a month to clear the tracks in the Spring. It really is amazing to see the amount of earth these people moved in just 4 days. All of the remaining dirt will have to be removed as well. There are usually slides each year but this was one of the worst they have seen. Anyway, we sure have a new appreciation for all that goes into this service and we are very thankful to them for all their flexibility. Here are a few last pictures and the website for all of the pictures.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):