Peak(s):  "Sunlight Spire" - 14,000 feet
Jupiter Mtn  -  13,830 feet
Eighteen, Pk  -  13,472 feet
Date Posted:  07/06/2013
Date Climbed:   06/25/2013
Author:  B[3]
 The Goats are Watching You...  

It's true. As soon as you set foot in Chicago Basin, the goats take note. Once you've set up camp, they'll probably come check it out. After all, whose basin is it anyway?

Maybe some salt can be obtained from these packs...

When we hiked Windom, Sunlight, Eolus and North Eolus in Summer 2010, we couldn't stop admiring Sunlight Spire. As trad climbers, it seemed like a great challenge. We discussed lugging the climbing gear out into the basin some day, and when the opportunity presented itself, we jumped on it.

As luck would have it for a trip planned far in advance, the forecast was for dry weather. Even though it was before the monsoon, I still had trouble believing the 0% chance of precip so I convinced Ben to get an early start on Tuesday (June 25). I had read about people being cold while climbing but figured we could always wait in the sun for a bit. After all, how long could it take for the Spire to go into the sun? (as it turned out, the sun hit it slightly after noon).

Day 2: Sunlight Spire
Tuesday morning was chilly, so we hiked slowly while waiting (futilely) for it to warm up. Ben captured this photo of ice crystals ~13,000 ft.


Morning light on Sunlight:


Well, Sunlight Spire wasn't going into the sun for awhile, so we waited. And waited. Finally, I got bored and convinced Ben to head up. The approach wasn't too bad. It was a bit loose on the trail to the Sunlight-Sunlight Spire saddle, but as we traversed towards the Spire, the rock became more solid. The last bit of the approach was the hardest, with some Class 4 downclimbing to the staging area for the first pitch (sorry, no photos). After some discussion, I decided to lead the first pitch, and Ben led the second pitch. We didn't get photos of the first pitch, but a hiker summiting Windom and Sunlight that day took some fantastic photos of us on the Spire. Thanks, Beth!

There was a fair bit of fixed gear, so we clipped those and placed a selection of cams.

Photo credit: Beth

Photo credit: Beth

Ben did a great job leading (I was impressed watching him link the moves at this elevation) and decided to top belay so that he could be in the sun:

Photo credit: Beth

I tried (unsuccessfully) to warm my fingers and started climbing. After tossing a few wobblers and taking a few breaks to warm my fingers, I finally managed to fight my way up the pitch and rock on to the summit:

Photo credit: Beth

I couldn't resist trying to get a summit shot with my phone (can you tell I'm still freezing?):

The smoke plumes from the West Fork complex were impressive.

The hex placed last year still looked good (thanks Dancesatmoonrise!), so we didn't need to leave any gear. We did remove some of the older webbing and left a new piece of yellow webbing at the top anchor. We also removed the red ropes hanging on the route and carried them out. For gear, we used a small rack of cams (both red #1 camalots, both #2 camalots, a #3 camalot, a #3.5 friend, a grey alien, a red alien, a 0.75 camalot); we carried a selection of nuts, a brown tricam (in case we needed to replace the one in the top anchor) and a hex but didn't use them (given the fixed nuts, we decided to stick with cams). We don't have a long alpine rope, so we carried up one of our old ropes (probably ~50m and 9.8mm after we chopped off the ends). After this trip, I'm definitely contemplating acquiring a thinner rope for alpine climbs! (I have a 30m alpine rope, but I'd like a longer one for climbs like this.)

To get an idea of what we removed:

Ropes hanging on the Spire

Definitely in poor shape.

The climb itself didn't take too long, so I would recommend getting a later start as long as the forecast looks good and the weather holds. Otherwise, go prepared for a cold climb (I should have brought my belay gloves, but as I don't use them outdoor climbing in February, I didn't realize I'd want them).

Day 3: Jupiter
I was tired after the Spire, so we got a much later start on Wednesday (June 26), leaving camp ~7:45am. Once again, the weather was dry so we decided to go for Jupiter.

Photo taken from the way down.

The lower slopes were steep but grassy, which made for fairly pleasant hiking:

Loving the grassy slopes!

Getting closer:

Did I mention I love grassy slopes?

Once again, we were closely monitored by the goats:

Guard goats on duty.

We reached the false summit without difficulty (minimal snow which was easily avoided) and got our first glimpse of the difficulties ahead, which I didn't get a good picture of. The false summit is to the right and the true summit is in the back:

Hiking towards the false summit.

The last bit to the summit was loose in places, so we carefully tested our holds before committing:

The true summit is to the left of Ben

Both of us couldn't resist trying to get a photo of the gorgeous purple flowers:

Looking back at the flowers under the false summit.

Instead of going back down the way we had come up, we decided to traverse towards Columbine Pass. From past trip reports, it sounded like it would go.

Jupiter's South Ridge - looks easy to get to Columbine pass, right?

It does go, but not without a couple of exciting notches. One of them had this rotten fin cutting through it (Class 3+). It would also be possible to escape down the east side if needed.

Hydrothermal metamorphism makes rocks that are cool to look at, but scary to climb!

Ahh, Weminuche!

Look out McCauley, there's a Grizzly next to you on the ridge!

Eventually we dropped down to a little lake above Columbine Lake and found a pleasant trail leading right over to Columbine Pass.


Columbine Pass from the Chicago side

Camping under Kennedy's impressive cliffs!

Sunset on Kennedy

The smoke is coming...

Day 4: Peak Eighteen

Peak Eighteen may not be ranked, but it certainly looks impressive when hiking up to Twin Lakes. We weren't as sure about the weather forecast for Thursday, so we decided this would be a good choice. We got a moderately early start (~7:15am) and started hiking the now-familiar trail to Twin Lakes. We followed the approach towards Windom to the saddle between Windom and Peak Eighteen and then headed over (we contemplated heading up a steep snow slope that would have cut off some distance, but as neither of us had brought ice axes or traction, we decided it wasn't a great idea).

Our view from the saddle.

We expected a scramble but weren't sure how hard it would be. I would probably call it a 2+ with a few class 3 moves thrown in (it reminded me of Eolus, but with grass instead of scree on the ledges). We tried to follow what looked like the most solid path of least resistance. Thus, we contoured across from the low point of the saddle to some nice grassy ledges (heading left) and then tried to piece together the grassy ledges.

Looking at the upper ramparts from the saddle.

A closer look. The terrain was steep, but the footing was mostly good.

There are several options to the summit. I followed a grassy chimney-ish feature (2+) that had some fun stemming moves and then went up some big steps to the summit. We had the summit to ourselves and would have spent more time there except that the weather was turning. We did take the time to try to look over the cliffs, but they were further down than we anticipated. Still, it was pretty impressive:

Looking down to Chicago Basin.

It was a great trip, and I am very appreciative of the San Juan Mountains Association and what they do for Chicago Basin. If you are interested in getting involved, check out their website:

The snowshoe hares watch you as well...

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
07/07/2013 19:12
Nice work and thanks for cleaning and hauling out all that old tat!


been waiting for this report
07/08/2013 14:26
Awesome job to you and Ben. We talked to you both for a bit on your approach up Needle Creek on 6/24. I've been watching the site here hoping to see if your Spire ascent was successful... looks like that was the case! I also saw your name tags for the SJMA and I was wondering what kind of work they do. I'll check out the website you posted to learn more about it.

Congrats again - that spire looks like pure adrenaline!


Thanks for the comments!
07/11/2013 02:06
We appreciate the positive feedback! It was a great trip--still can't believe we climbed Sunlight Spire! SJMA has a number of volunteer programs. We participated in the ”Wilderness Information Specialist” (WIS) program and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can find out about it and many other opportunities on their website.


07/11/2013 02:15
I am sooo jealous. The Spire is one of those ”iconic” peaks; I could only drool at it while climbing Sunlight and Windom. Thanks for great photos!

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