Peak(s):  Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,087 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Date Posted:  10/13/2014
Date Climbed:   09/04/2014
Author:  Tony1
Additional Members:   BenfromtheEast
 A Basin Named "Chicago"  

Chicago Basin

I'm not exactly sure how to open this trip report. Many authors of trip reports on this site have a superb amount of grace with their use of the English language; I'm a little more blunt. However, I'd like to write this as a story and share it with anybody who is inclined to read.


On June 14, 2011, I hiked my first 14er: Quandary Peak.

For a while beforehand, I had heard about hiking the 14ers, and how even just hiking to one summit was "something you should do, just because" if you live in Colorado. I was all over skiing and snowboarding in the winter, but admittedly I never spent much time in the mountains in the summer. In the summer of 2010, I made a few hiking day trips to places such as Silver Plume and Loveland Pass, but it wasn't until the next year that Quandary happened.

Approaching the top of my first 14er.

Quandary was a lot of fun. At this point, I knew I wanted to hike at least a few 14ers. Elbert followed a week and a half later, then Yale. Suddenly, it was my goal for the summer to hike at least one 14er from each range; a goal which I was able to achieve. By the end of the summer, I knew I had fallen into the list, and was determined to finish it. It became a huge part of my life; the one thing I wanted to achieve within the near future other than graduating college, and the default answer to "something interesting about you."

As the next couple years passed, I met a few people from this site who became regular hiking partners of mine, as we worked on our lists together. As time went on, coordinating trips became slightly more difficult as our lists revealed less overlap.

Suddenly, it was the summer of 2014. I had eight peaks left and wanted this season to be the one. I was out of state for a rather large chunk of the time, so I progressed slowly. Plans were made in mid-August to finish up with back-to-back trips to Capitol and Chicago Basin. I was to join Ben (BenfromtheEast) and his girlfriend, Paige, in Chicago Basin, as long as our schedules matched up since we were both a little up in the air about our availability with which to coordinate.

It was a week of 14ers. On Thursday, I hiked a freshly snow-capped Huron with my boyfriend, Andy, for his second 14er (his first was also Quandary, thanks to yours truly). A couple days of rest were followed by the successful Capitol trip over Labor Day weekend. It was Monday afternoon, and the plan was to drive down to Durango on Tuesday, spend the night, and then train in on Wednesday, with a train out on Friday. I drove around to Andy's in Avon where spaghetti awaited my arrival.

The Chicago Basin Trip

Plans got moved around a little, and on Tuesday morning I bought tickets to depart Wednesday morning from Durango, and return Thursday evening. I'd meet Ben and Paige at camp Wednesday afternoon and attempt to climb the four peaks over the afternoon and the next morning in time to hike out with them for the return to Durango. It was quick and ambitious, but I was determined to not only succeed, but to make it worthwhile as well.

I packed up everything and headed out for a nice, enjoyable drive from Avon to Durango, stopping at the Subway in Bayfield for dinner.

On the way to Durango, off highway 160 east of Pagosa Springs.

I camped just outside of Durango and awoke Wednesday morning feeling great. I stopped by Walmart to grab a couple last-minute snacks and a sandwich for later in the day, and then went to the depot to catch the train.

I got on the open gondola and awaited departure. As the train departed and headed north, I watched the town go by, the valley narrow, and soon we were headed up, around the hill, and along the canyon wall.

The train ride.

I sat for most of the ride, wanting to save as much energy as possible for the hike in, and hopefully, two summits. I'm not sure standing uses that much energy, but y'know, just in case. Before I knew it, we arrived at Needleton, and I got off the train with a few other hikers. I retrieved my pack, made sure everything was put together, and set off. I wanted to get to camp quickly, to leave as much time as possible for a climb.

I've always just listened to the silence and sounds of the wilderness around me while hiking, but this time was special. This time I wanted some music to pump me up and get me through the hike in. I plugged in the earbuds and allowed Avenged Sevenfold and In Flames to help me attempt to make quick time to camp.

The creek crossing came very quickly! Looking down trail.

Along the way, a couple of German day hikers from Munich - with much lighter packs - caught up to me and we chatted for a while. They were catching the same train back and only had a few hours to hike, but their goal was to reach a higher altitude than the highest in Germany. Zugspitze, which stands at 9,718 feet, is Bundesrepublik Deutschland's highest point. Or, in real units of measurement: 2,962 meters.

But then again, I'm chasing an altitude goal that uses feet, so maybe I should shut up.

After we went our separate ways, I pressed on, and eventually turned a corner to reach a meadow. The views opened up and I was greeted with stunning beauty in every direction. I had to stop for a minute and just soak it all in. I continued up the trail, keeping an eye out for Ben and Paige's camp.
Eventually I found them, and it was only just after 2:00 PM. I set up my tent and enjoyed some lunch while chatting with Ben about the rest of the afternoon. I was feeling fantastic, and was more than ready to continue on and climb something. Ben had climbed Sunlight and Windom in the morning, but being Ben, he was more than happy to go right back up. The day was warm, calm, and the sky was magnificent. We decided on an afternoon climb of the Eolus pair.

We set off from camp; over the river and through the woods, up the hill to Twin Lakes we went. Upon reaching the lakes, we stood still and admired the scenery for a bit, then turned west to follow the trail leading to the upper basin below the east face of Mt. Eolus.

My first view of the Twin Lakes area.

Looking up toward Eolus.

The hike up was steep, a little slippery, and a little slow. We reached the wide ledge and hiked up, stopping for a quick break at the top. The crack in the solid rock leading to the saddle lied ahead.

Almost to the saddle.

Ben climbing up to the saddle.

We climbed up the wide, class 3 crack, and were greeted at the top with the infamous view of Eolus' incredibly steep, blocky face. The catwalk lead the way, like a bridge connecting two landmasses.

Mount Eolus.

We made our way across the catwalk, marveling at the exposure and the views of the area. This was a blast, and was by far my favorite part of the day.

Gotta have the goats.

Upon reaching the face of Eolus, we followed the trail as it traversed across and slightly down. As we neared the center of the face, we started the climb up. It was almost like a maze; climb up a ledge, and walk along it until a cairn showing access to the next one is found. Repeat. We made a couple wrong turns along the way, but it was all great fun.

One of the less exposed parts on the face.

Ledge after ledge went by as we climbed closer to the summit. Behind us was nothing but air. I found the final climb up to the summit of Eolus to be more exposed than that of Capitol. As we neared the summit, the route finding got a little easier. Suddenly, we were on the top. The views were incredible; we exchanged pictures and enjoyed the spectacular summit.

The view north from Mt. Eolus.

The original spelling? Just like the Greek god.

My summit picture for Mount Eolus.

Ben's summit picture for Mount Eolus.

Ben had to make sure he touched the highest point.

Looking at North Eolus.

The view to the south-southeast from Mt. Eolus.

After a little while, we decided we should get on over to North Eolus and start the descent before it got dark. Descending Eolus' face back to the catwalk went much more quickly than the ascent, now that we knew the route and could identify all the landmarks we passed on the way up. Before we knew it, we were back at the catwalk and after another few minutes, we were looking up at the solid ridge leading to the summit of North Eolus.

Ben climbs down the east face of Mt. Eolus.

The climb to the summit of North Eolus went incredibly fast; I believe Ben timed it at 8 minutes. The rock was completely solid and was so grippy, it was almost possible to just walk up the route. The views from the summit were arguably better than from the main summit, since North Eolus offers a view of the dramatic east face of Mount Eolus.

Great light for this magnificent view from North Eolus.

Me with Mt. Eolus in the background.

The blocky top of Mt. Eolus.

The surrounding peaks glew.

The sun was sinking lower into the western sky, and the scene was serene as the light bounced off of nearby peaks.

Wanting to be most of the way down by the time darkness fell, we didn't stay too long on the summit of North Eolus. We started making our way down toward the saddle, enjoying the awesome rock and continuing to admire the views of the surrounding peaks, glowing in the evening light. We quickly reached the saddle, climbed back down the crack, and were back in hiking territory before we knew it.

Looking down the ridge used to access the summit of North Eolus.

Windom Peak (center) and Sunlight Peak (left) on the descent from the Eolus pair.

The trekking poles were brought back out, and we set off down the steep, slippery trail. Before too long, we arrived at Twin Lakes, and continued down the steep slope toward treeline. About halfway down the slope, we put on the headlamps and pressed on. We joined Paige back at camp at about 8:30 PM and promptly sat down for food.

2 more peaks.

Earlier in the day, Ben mentioned he probably wouldn't be able to join me for Windom and Sunlight. No big deal, I got 'em solo! During our climb of the Eolus pair, he gave me some tips from when he had climbed Windom and Sunlight in the morning, and at camp he gave me the route descriptions he had printed off. It was a plan. In the morning, I'd wake up early and set out to climb Windom and Sunlight, and return to camp to pack up and pack out with Ben and Paige. The three of us chatted for a bit while eating our food, and settled into our tents for bed. I feel asleep quickly and slept soundly until my alarm woke me at 4:30 AM.

It's go time.

I got up, ate a couple pop tarts - breakfast of champions - and set off with my pack. I made quick time up to Twin Lakes, and followed the trail as it wound east along the lakes, and then up the slope, following grand cairns toward the west ridge of Windom Peak. After some elevation gain, the trail levels out in the high basin where a few very large cairns can be seen. So here was the split. I kept south, crossed a couple talus slopes, and was shortly at the saddle between Windom Peak and Peak 18. I followed the ridge up toward the summit of Windom, hopping through the steepening talus. The summit was close but I consistently felt so far away from it. Eventually, I reached the "difficult" part of the "difficult class 2" route and had to use my hands to assist in upward mobility.

The exposure wasn't bad, but was a little unexpected given that Windom is often regarded as the "easy" one of the Chicago Basin 14ers. The top is surprisingly airy and could give pause to those with a fear of heights.

Looking down a gully near the summit of Windom.

I reached the summit of Windom at about 7:30 AM and was greeted with a nice chill in the air, non-existent wind, and an extensive cover of thin clouds overhead.

Some blocky rocks rest atop the summit of Windom Peak.

Looking across Chicago Basin from Windom's summit. The Eolus pair is on the left, with Peak 11 in the right-center.

Looking southeast from the summit of Windom Peak.

I enjoyed about 15 minutes on the summit, admiring the views with a snack. Or should I say, my actual breakfast since it was now breakfast time! I looked toward the north at Sunlight.

And then there was one.

I descended Windom toward the saddle, and as I got lower, I kept an eye out for cairns to my right (north), indicating the crossover between the two peaks. I eventually found a cairn and made a beeline for it, then looked for the next, downhill and in a north-to-northeast direction.

"Go to it. Find the next. Go to it. Find the next..."

Typical terrain on Windom's side of the crossover.

The crossover route is well-cairned, but due to the rocky nature of the area, and the characteristics of the talus itself, I found the cairns a little hard to see. The crossover is made much better by the fact that it is rather safe, and the objective - whether heading toward Sunlight or Windom - is obviously standing ahead.

I reached the bottom of the crossover and continued to follow the route up the southern slopes of Sunlight. The crossover deposited me about halfway up Sunlight's gully. I already felt like I was almost there!

Making my way up Sunlight's gully.

I finished up the rest of the gully, comprised of dry, slick dirt and scree. I was sure glad to have a trekking pole with me. I arrived at the top of the gully, rounded the gentle corner to the left, and looked at the route ahead. A couple hundred feet of solid, class 3 climbing to reach the summit. I was ecstatic; this was it!

At the top of the gully; the route goes around to the left from here.

I dropped the pole, gulped some water, and was on my way. The route was a little more difficult than I expected; the cairns that lead the way seemed to be perched atop difficult class 4 moves, and caused me to wander around each ledge looking for another way before finally committing to the actual route. I climbed up through caps, around a couple corners, and found myself looking through the first window.

The first window.

I continued past the window, through more gaps, around a couple more corners, and found myself looking through a second window. A pleasant surprise; I didn't know there was another window. But the route up was clear; I climbed up through the window, looked to the left, and the summit was there. This was it.

I walked up to the summit at 9 AM and sat down, feeling so many great emotions all at once. I'm not sure how to put into words what I felt. I was satisfied, I was happy, I was still a little nervous... all of it. After a few minutes of rest, I stood up and walked over to the base of the summit block and examined it. It didn't look so bad! I ascended the first, diagonal slab. Not so airy. I then went to the second, broken diagonal slab. BAM! Suddenly there was much more exposure. "Alright," I thought, "just one more and I can at least touch it." I spent a good minute or so just looking at the next rock. The rounded rock just below the actual summit block, across a gap. I stared at it until I pulled the trigger and lunged myself across. Even more exposure. It was a little scary, but it was so thrilling. I could touch the summit block, and took a picture of my hand on it.

It was a nice moment for me.

I then stared at it for a good minute before deciding to just go for it. I grabbed the top, put my left foot in the depression in the rock a little lower, pulled myself up and sat down. BAM! The exposure doubled, again. I know I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture.

Sitting on the rock, my hands clinged to its surface. Slowly, I retrieved my phone from my pocket and took a picture of my feet as proof that I was here. No selfies from up here. I was too afraid that moving my arm to a proper selfie-taking position would have thrown me off balance enough that I would have gone tumbling down Sunlight's north face!

Looking down on the main part of Sunlight's summit from the summit block.

After a couple minutes, I decided it was time to get down to the main part of the summit and take an actual break. I found descending the summit block to be rather easy. Although I'm average height, I have somewhat long legs; perhaps that helped. Jumping back across the gap was exhilarating!

I got back to my pack and sat down, taking in the views and trying to convince myself that this was actually number 58. There's not much else to say about my time on Sunlight's summit. It was pure bliss.

Looking down Chicago Basin from Sunlight's summit.

Arrow Peak (left) and Vestal Peak (right). Centennials.

Looking northwest from the summit of Sunlight Peak.

I was told self-timed shots are lame, so here's your finishing selfie.

The summit block.

The summit marker.

I packed up and started the descent, bidding farewell to the summit of Sunlight for now. Like Eolus, now that I knew the route, following it wasn't so difficult. I descended through the second window, through gaps, around corners, and soon found myself back at the top of the gully.

Before descending through the second window.

One of the gaps to climb through.

Back at the gully.

I retrieved my trekking pole and started down. Descending this gully SUCKED. The dirt was hard, dry, and slick, and every "escape" to the side was only temporary. I slipped several times, but not once did I actually fall on my ass, and I was still having a blast. The relative misery of the gully was over as I reached the bottom and walked over to where the large cairns were, indicating the trail split. I joined up with the main Windom/Sunlight trail and descended back to Twin Lakes, stopping to admire the view and take a few more pictures before heading back down to camp.

The trail split area, with Windom on the right and Sunlight on the left.

Twin Lakes.

On the way back down the headwall toward treeline, I passed many people heading up, enjoying their good weather and not having a train to catch on that particular day. Some people were from Flagstaff, which I found interesting until I remembered that Durango is closer to Flagstaff than Denver.

A goat with some early fall colors in the grass.

I arrived back at camp at around 11:15 AM beaming from ear to ear as I exclaimed to Ben and Paige, "I did it!" We sat down while they inquired about my morning adventure. Ben went to retrieve a couple cans of Dale's from the creek to share. Man, was that a delicious beer right there and then.

We relaxed a little bit, had some lunch, and packed up camp, setting off down the trail at 12:30 PM. We quietly enjoyed the hike out, stopping every half hour for a quick break.

One last look.

We reached the bridge across the Animas River at Needleton just before 3 PM. Ben went to retrieve even more beer he had stashed in the river and we sat down to relax before the train ride back to Durango.

The bridge at Needleton.

The train arrived and we boarded. Shortly after departing Needleton, we went into the food car for warm, "real" food. I have to say, the hot dog I ordered might be the greatest hot dog I have ever eaten.

As we got closer to Durango, it became chilly, windy, and a rain squall moved over, heading northeast toward Chicago Basin. We all agreed we were glad to not be up there with weather moving in. We arrived at the train depot and walked to our cars. Ben and Paige booked a room at the Durango Downtown Inn and offered to split the room with me. We all showered at the hotel and I was later treated to dinner by Ben at Brew Pub & Kitchen. Thank you again, Ben.

The next morning I parted ways with Ben and Paige. Ben and Paige, thank you so much for your hospitality and for sharing your adventure in Chicago Basin with me. On a broader note, to everybody I have shared summits with along the way: I am very pleased to have had the fortune of sharing time together in our gorgeous mountains, and would love to share more hikes and summits in the future with every one of you!

This was a very quick trip to the Basin, but I don't regret it one bit. The sights of the area are still etched in my mind, and the Basin will always be there.

I'll be back soon.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

10/13/2014 11:16
Congratulations on finishing and thanks for sharing your great trip report! It was a pleasant surprise to get a summer trip report ”fix” in mid-October as their frequency diminishes. I can't wait to do Chicago basin sometime.


Excellent Report!
10/14/2014 00:09
Congrats on completing the 14ers! I am looking forward to the Chicago Basin next Summer. Looks like a truly wonderful location.


Nice job!
10/14/2014 00:33
... and congratulations! Great pics too! Looks like you had great weather to do it in!

Finishing solo?!?
10/14/2014 18:25
Good on you for finishing, but a little sad to do it solo! Then again, I could see it being enjoyable for introspective purposes. On my recent trip into the Weminuche, we stashed beer in the Animas, and upon returning to Needleton it was divine: a previous non-favorite earned its place.

Image 37: Technically, only Vestal is a cent.

Congrats again!


Great work!
10/15/2014 06:43
Glad to share some of the summits along the way, Tony! Lets grab some centennials this winter?


Great to see the finishing report!
10/20/2014 15:29
Im need to get around to writing one too at some point. Great pictures, and nice to hear the full story! Thanks for letting me share much of your journey and congratulations. You're a good climber and I appreciated having you there on Capitol, North Maroon, Little Bear, and so many others. It was a heck of journey!

love it
10/21/2014 22:00
I did the Chicago Basin trip this summer and I can't wait to go back next year. Love the In Flames reference...The Quiet Place seems appropriate tunes for that trip.


10/22/2014 22:16
Nice way to finish, the Basin is amazing!


A fun read!
07/22/2015 08:45
Congratulations. I can’t wait to be able to have the feeling’s you experienced. We are trying for Chicago Basin next weekend (7/31–8/2) but it will only be #38–#42 for me. Great report

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