5 Summits gained
Over 10,000 ft elevation gain
About 24 miles of hiking and climbing
1.2 million goats in our campsite (okay maybe it was only 1.1 million)
I have rarely had a trip where everything that could go right, did go right... This trip was the exception as everything worked out perfectly! We were planning on climbing Sunlight and Windom on Friday, Eolus and N. Eolus Saturday, and Jupiter Sunday then hiking out.
Mike and I took the long train ride to Needleton, where my wife, daughter, and mother rode along and watched us as we hopped off for 4 days in the wilderness. I waved good-bye to my family and started the 7.35 mile trek to our camp in Chicago Basin.
The scenery is beautiful the entire hike as there are many wildflowers and Needle Creek is constantly rushing next to the trail.
Columbines near the trail
As we approached the 5-6 mile mark the views of the mountains are incredible. Here is Mike taking it all in.
Mike taking in the views
Then after about 3.5 hours of hiking, we reached Chicago Basin. Here I am looking at Windom Peak.
Reaching Chicago Basin
We hiked up to the highest possible camp we could find right near treeline. About 100 feet up the trail was the "Do not camp above this point" sign. Shortly after setting up the tent, a group of locals came by to greet us... They did not leave for the entire 4 days we were there! What are you looking at???
Our camp "friends"
I knew the next morning was going to be a big day (turned out to be bigger than I thought), but we had perfectly clear skies, so I decided to stay up most of the night taking pictures of the night sky. I was not disappointed.
Here is the center of our galaxy rising above Aztec Mountain.
Milky Way rising over Aztec Mountain
And a 1.5 hour exposure looking North towards Mt. Eolus from our campsite.
Star trails over Mt. Eolus
I only got about 2 hours of sleep that night, but I have never seen such an amazing night scene in my life. I was just in awe looking up and seeing the Milky Way stretch across the entire sky, with shooting stars every minute or so. It really was an incredible experience.
The next morning we woke up at 4:00 a.m., ate breakfast, and headed off towards Twin Lakes on our way to Sunlight Peak. For getting only 2 hours of sleep, I felt great!
Moon rise over Peak 18
As we neared Twin Lakes at about 12,500 ft, I could see the beautiful morning colors showing up over Chicago Basin.
Dawn over Chicago Basin
We reached the lakes a little after 5:00 feeling great!
Twin Lakes at dawn
Reflection on the lake
As we hiked up a little higher we were mainly on snow in the small basin below Sunlight Peak and Windom. No crampons or ice axes are needed for any of these peaks however, so don't waste energy carrying them up like I did.
As we were hiking up to the Sunlight/Sunlight Spire saddle the sun began to rise on the peaks for a fantastic sight. Here is Mt. Eolus at sunrise.
Sunrise on Eolus and North Eolus
Once we made it to the top of the ridge between the peak and spire, we were greeted to wonderful views of the Weminuche Wilderness. The fire in New Mexico filled many of the valleys with smoke, but the views were still incredible. Here is a look back at Sunlight Spire from the ridge.
Sunrise on Sunlight Spire from the ridge
From this point the climbing went from class 2, to a fun class 3. The size of the boulders are enormous and there are several ways to go to reach to summit. Here is Mike climbing through the hole just below the summit block.
Mike climbing through the hole
We reached the base of the summit just after 7:00 a.m., and I began looking at the best line up to the summit. I climbed up the crack in the rock to the "leap of faith" point. There is only about a 10 ft. drop below there, but making the committing move to the true summit has about a 3,000 ft drop to the other side. This is a no fall zone to put it mildly. The move is not overly difficult, but the exposure makes it feel about 10 times harder than it really is.
Me climbing Sunlight's summit block
Keeping my balance on the summit
I have not seen many pictures what the exposure looks like on the other side of the summit block, so I took a picture of myself straddling the summit to give you an idea what it is like. It was much harder taking this picture than I thought, but here it is!
A shot I took of myself on the summit... Exposure!
Mike followed after I came down. He asked if touching the summit with his hand counted, and I told him NO. "Suck it up and complete the move" I shouted to him, or something of that nature and he did. When you climb with somebody for 8 years, you know exactly what they are capable of...
Mike on Sunlight's summit
Other notable 13ers in the area...
Arrow and Vestal
Jagged Mtn. Hope to climb this someday too.
Here is a shot looking over towards Windom. I stayed pretty high on the ridge making my way across, then climbed up a snow free gully up the North Face. It was a great class 3 scramble on mostly solid rock. All the snow on the face can be completely avoided if you choose.
Windom and Sunlight Spire
On Sunlight we met two other climbers as we were descending, Melody and Steve. They were also heading up Windom as well, but took a slightly different route than me. Mike headed back to Twin Lakes as he climbed Windom 13 years ago on a backpacking trip. From high up on Windom's North Face, I spotted Steve and Melody on the snow field. Can you see them?
Can you spot the climbers?
There are gigantic blocks near the summit and throughout this mountain, which makes it really fun to climb. Being on this summit makes you realize how remote this area really is.
As I headed down I decided to descend one of the couloirs on the North Face, as I had my whippet with me, and used it to slide down the slope. The only bad part was I cut my hand up a bit, but hey, no pain no gain right?
I was amazed how great I was feeling and started to think about going for Eolus and N. Eolus as well. The weather was holding out nicely, but I was starting to get low on water. I got back to Twin Lakes to find Mike taking a nap on a rock. I poked him a few times with my hiking pole and said, "Let's go for Eolus". I'm really not a jerk if that is what you are thinking... He responded, "That is what I like to hear". So we found a nice couple at the lake that let us use their water filter and we were off.
A look back at the basin
We started hiking towards Eolus from Twin Lakes just after 10:30 a.m. and only had to cross one section of snow for about 20 feet. We were slowing up just a bit as we approached 14,000 ft, and took in a GU shot.
We climbed North Eolus first, which is a fun climb on very solid rock. It gives great views of Eolus and the catwalk. My wife says that I lack fashion sense, but how cool do I look in my floppy hat/helmet combo? It is practical for blocking the sun, yet extremely fashionable at the same time. I'm going to patent it, so don't steal my idea.
On North Eolus summit
We made our way down from the summit and onto the last peak of the day, Mt. Eolus. As we neared the catwalk Mike was wondering if he had it in him to make it up the committing face after a long day. I broke out my Herb Brooks motivational speech, since I am a Minnesota grad (It was probably right on par with his leading team USA to beat the Soviets in 1980) and we marched on. Here are some shots of Mike climbing up the face. It is very loose and you need to test every rock before committing to it.
Mike climbing Eolus
Mike making his way up the face. Much exposure here.
Mike on Eolus summit with Jagged, Rio Grand Pyramid, and Sunlight and Windom
Mike working his way across the catwalk
We could see Purgatory Ski Area from the top and realized how far away we were from the nearest road. Definitely needed to be careful on the descent and since there are many loose rocks, we stayed near each other to avoid kicking rocks down on ourselves.
We hiked back to camp and took a long rest. I woke up to see a mountain goat sniffing my face. He did have a cool looking beard though.
Four 14ers in one day when I was only planning on climbing two was an awesome feeling. I knew that we would have a relaxing hike up Jupiter the next day, and could sleep in on our hike out day to the train. What a day!
At this point we were really getting sick of the goats, and every time we went to the bathroom, they were standing right there waiting to lick up the salt. Talk about no privacy!
We went to bed early and "slept in" for climbing purposes until 6:00 a.m. and then headed to the centennial 13er Jupiter Mountain. We went up Columbine Pass to treeline, then left the trail hiking along the North side of the river. Here is Jupiter from the basin.
The basin there is quite scenic and we did not see another person all day. Here I am heading up the grassy slopes.
The slopes are quite steep and there are several cliffs you must hike around. We made it to the false summit around 10:30 and I was investigating the best way to cross the rotten ridge to the true summit.
I found it was best to go down slightly on the left side of the ridge for about 150 feet, then climb to the crest and drop down to the right side, hike up a scree filled gully, which turns to rocks, and finally make it to the crux move. Right below the summit are several large blocks that you have to climb and reach over to a crack and pull yourself up. That puts you right on the short narrow summit. Here is the crux move.
And some summit pictures.
The view of Windom's South Face was incredible.
Here is Hazel Lake from the summit.
Scenery of the river and peaks on the way down.
When we got back to camp, I hiked through the willows near our campsite to take some pictures of a beautiful waterfall. All around us were waterfalls and the sound of rushing water... This is such a wonderful place!
Even though I was really sick of the goats, I couldn't resist taking this picture. AWWWWWWWWWW!
We had another crystal clear night and I spent most of the night outside on my sleeping pad and sleeping bag under the stars. Since we had already climbed all the peaks we were going for, I could stay up most of the night, as we would sleep in and hike out the next morning. I took this shot of our tent and the Milky Way at 12:30 a.m. and did a little light painting with my headlamp of the tent and trees. Mike is in there fast asleep missing the show!
Then I took an hour and fifteen minute exposure of the stars over Jupiter Mountain.
Here is the time-lapse video of the stars rising above Jupiter.
We had a nice relaxing hike out in perfect weather again! In fact, we did not get one drop of rain the entire trip. Couldn't have asked for better weather.
It took us 3 hours to get back to the Needleton pick up spot and we waited a few hours for the train to come. I used this old trick I learned where you put your head sideways to the track, which gave me a great view of my watch. When it read 3:45, I knew the train was very close.
And there it is, our lifeline back to civilization!
We took the 3+ hour ride back to Durango, where I ate the greatest meal in history (at least it felt that way at the time)... A #1 from Wendys. My daughter who is under 2 years old summed it up best when she saw me get off the train. She pointed at my face and said, "dirty, dirty".
We spent the night back at Purgatory and headed back to Denver. While passing the Blanca group I saw the largest dust devil in my life.
This was an incredible trip in one of the most scenic areas I have ever seen. I highly recommend it even if you don't want to climb anything. Mike is an awesome climber and am so glad that I've been able to hike so many peaks with him. Nice work Mike!
Big thanks goes out to my wife for a great Father's Day present!
And thanks to Matt Payne for giving me tips on night photography.
Only 3 more 14ers to go! I'd be happy to answer any questions as well.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.