Peak(s):  Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,087 feet
Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
Date Posted:  08/12/2016
Modified:  07/14/2019
Date Climbed:   08/08/2016
Author:  SkiColorado93
Additional Members:   LivingOnTheEdge
 The Wild Weminuche (Chicago Basin)  

Introduction

I go to school in California and am only back in Colorado for a few months of the year, limiting my climbing time. My brother Cody (LivingOnTheEdge) just finished his schooling and had had the chance to bag some peaks earlier this summer. I wasn't acclimated fully and also battling a recent sickness. In hindsight, we probably should not have tried for a Chicago Basin trip until I was at my peak ability (no pun intended), but we just couldn't wait any longer.

Day One: Hike In

On the first day, we woke up around 6:30 am, finished packing our bags, and were on the road to Silverton, CO by 7:00 am sharp. We live in Littleton, CO and therefore expected around a 6 hour drive. The morning drive was beautiful and uneventful, and we pulled into the train station "parking lot" around 2:00 pm, 30 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart. Other trip reports suggested parking at 10th and Cement St. in Silverton, but we parked on the west side of Mineral St. between 11th and 12th St., right next to the train, and were neither ticketed nor towed.

The one hour train ride on the D&SNGRR through the Animas River valley was stunning and gave us time to relax before our climbing adventure started. We hopped off the train with maybe four other parties of two and quickly started hiking. We made great time of the 6 miles into Chicago Basin passing all but one of the parties who started hiking before us. We made it to our campsite around 11,100' in only 3.5 hours. Choices of flat campsites were somewhat limited due to the amount of people in the basin; some sites were sloped, some were out in fields, some were slightly sheltered by trees. All of the campsites were near Needle Creek making water collection a non-issue

We found a small site at 37.607570, -107.618753 in some trees, only around 100 vertical feet from the Twin Lakes trail turnoff. This made climbing to Twin Lakes in the morning easier considering we were so close to the trail split. It's worth noting, some people were camped extremely low in the basin at some of the first sites you encounter (around 10,800'). Do not be fooled... keep hiking further into the basin to find sites higher up, as camping is allowed up to around 11,200' marked by a sign that reads "No camping beyond this point."

Cody and I went through our nightly routine in the backcountry pumping water from Needle Creek, making dinner and tying up our food in the trees, and retiring early to prepare for an early wake up call. The sunset on the mountains were definitely picture worthy, and it was not very cold. It took a while to get to sleep, and once I did, I woke up multiple times during the night for some reason.

Day Two: Sunlight and Windom

Our alarms went off at 3:30 am and of course it was raining softly with lightning (w/o thunder) in the distance. We decided to sleep an extra hour and try our luck again. In an hour, the clouds had mostly moved and it was time to get up and go. We quickly got dressed, ate breakfast (freezedried granola and bananas), and were on our way with daypacks slightly after 5:00 am. We had no trouble finding the trail split and we made it to Twin Lakes in around 1.5 hours. Half way up this trail, it was bright enough to put away headlamps and enjoy the early morning light. The trail to Twin Lakes was surprisingly steep after the trail split and I was hurting. My trekking poles made the steep hiking easier, but I was still out of breath. At Twin Lakes we took a quick break with snacks and water, took a couple photos, and were off toward the headwall before the upper basin under Sunlight and Windom.

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A view of Sunlight, Windom (hidden) and Peak 18 from near Twin Lakes and before the headwall.
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An early morning view of Mt. Eolus and its trail.
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People-friendly marmot.


We chose to start with Sunlight, because it was supposedly the hardest, and we wanted to make sure we got it done. The trail wrapped around to the right of the lake through some large rock piles, and began up the headwall. The trail was very clear and littered with cairns into the upper basin, and even in the upper basin, the cairns are almost as tall as humans. The "trail" (cairns) splits to go to Sunlight or Windom, so make sure you're hiking in the correct direction.

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The route up the slope to the saddle between Sunlight and Sunlight Spire.


The trail to Sunlight was mainly all talus, scree, and intermittent dirt trail segments up to the steep chute to the saddle between Sunlight and the Spire. It didn't take long before we were climbing up the chute; it was steep and only dirt, but the morning rain helped our grip... it wasn't awful and pretty short compared to say Sneffel's standard route.

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The notch that is very apparent from the saddle and described in the route description.


Once on the saddle between Sunlight and the Spire, we put our trekking poles away and put our helmets on. The class 3 climbing up to the summit was fairly straight forward. Following the 14ers.com route description proved more than enough to find our way. Route finding wasn't really an issue at all. The rock was stable and grippy and the climbing was fun. After topping out on the chimney, the views of the valley behind were nice in the morning sun. We turned left and walked/climbed up to the summit easily from there.

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The hole that is mentioned in the route description. Don't go through it, but take a look.
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The climbing was class 3 but the exposure was not bad and the rock was solid.
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The chimney described in the route description. It wasn't too difficult and the rock is great.
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Cody on top of the summit block!


Then it was time for the famed summit block attempt. I went first because I tend to do better with exposure than Cody does. I hugged the rocks and hoisted myself up and over the summit block, producing a small scratch on my hip- I'll take it for that being the only injury of the trip! The exposure was dramatic, and grippy shoes are a must! I sat atop the block for quick photos and then made my way down. The only way to get back to the main summit area from the block includes a "leap of faith" where you have to jump down to a lower rock because there are not many other options. It was one of those things where you just have to go, keeping your center of gravity low, and just pray. My heart stopped mid-jump before landing on the rock below. I slowly climbed down the slanted rock faces to safety below. Cody then went for it.

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Cloudy view of Arrow and Vestal Peaks from the summit.


He did well, although his shoe slipped slightly before the "leap of faith" causing him to opt for jumping from the top of the block rather than the slanted side (you will understand once you climb it). This was a farther jump, but he did it! So proud.

Here's some video clips of the summit block moves. Sorry the first one is rotated!

Climbing the summit block.

Leap of faith coming down off the summit block.

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Cody was ecstatic to find that we had great reception at all the summits.
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A view of typical climbing on Sunlight.


It didn't take long at all to downclimb to the saddle. The climbing was class 3 and not very exposed (only at times).

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The route from the saddle of Sunlight to the upper basin.


Weather was holding out, so we decided to shoot for Windom. We climbed down the steep chute and curved to the left around some large rock outcroppings in the upper basin, making a B-line to the saddle between Windom and Peak 18.

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The view from the saddle between Windom and Peak 18.


The 14ers.com route description does a fine job of navigating the upper basin traverse between Sunlight and Windom. Try not to lose elevation, obviously, and just aim straight for the saddle. From the saddle, it was a slow slog up to the notch on Windom's ridge, and the slow class 3 (class 2+ apparently) climbing to the top.

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The summit blocks of Windom were more exposed than I expected... maybe I was just tired and sketched out after climbing Sunlight.


I was tired and not quite acclimated yet, so this was tiring. Regardless, we made it to the top, with slightly more exposed summit blocks than I was expecting, took our photos, and headed down.

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The view of Eolus and Twin Lakes climbing down from Windom.


Weather started to build during our climb down Windom, and it started to sprinkle by the time we made it back to Twin Lakes.

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There were tons of mountain goats in the basin.


There were plenty of people, and mountain goats, at Twin Lakes.

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Sunrise silhouettes.


We put on our rain jackets and started hiked back to camp in the basin. The rain lasted literally less than 5 minutes and we were suddenly sweating in the sun in our rain jackets. We made it back to camp, made lunch (freezedried of course), washed off in the river, and napped. During the day(s), there were thousands of flies that incessantly buzzed around our bodies; I could swear some were even biting me. I guess flies are better than mosquitos (which I only saw maybe 5 of), but these were so annoying we had to always be moving, or in the tent. We saw some deer in the basin and a large hare that was content eating the grass in our campsite even though we were close by. After dark/when it began to get colder, the flies retired thankfully. That night we made dinner, prepared for the next day with water and calories, and tied up our food. We tied up our food mainly because of mountain goats, deer, and small critters, not so much bears. We were in our sleeping bags by 9:00 pm. Although it took an hour or so to finally fall asleep having napped 3 hours earlier, I slept very well.

Day Three: Mt. Eolus, North Eolus and Hike Out

The alarm clock at 2:45 am was a rude awakening, even though I felt rested and ready for a long day. We got up, dressed, ate breakfast, and were on our way up the trail with our small daypacks on by 3:23 am. The stars were beautiful, there were hardly any clouds in the sky, and we both saw multiple shooting stars. We knew this had to be good luck and signs of a successful day ahead. We saw some eyes in the distance from the light of our headlamps; Cody thought they could have been mountain lions, but with shining more light we discovered it was just a herd of mountain goats eating and minding their own business. They aren't aggressive at all, but definitely used to humans. We made quicker time to Twin Lakes- only one hour this time- and quickly refueled with energy snacks and water. The 5 Hour Energy we took around 3:00 am did wonders as did constantly eating food every one hour. We knew generally where to catch the Mt. Eolus trail from Twin Lakes having seen it the day before, and there are some cairns and a faint trail near the lake. Although it was a somewhat slow slog up the increasingly steep trail, hiking at night made it seem not as bad since we couldn't really see our progress and surroundings. I'd highly recommend climbing in the early morning when it's dark, at least until you reach tougher climbing. By the time we made it up the ramp (described in the route on 14ers.com) and into the smaller basin above Glacier Point, the light was bright enough to take off our headlights. We put helmets on and ate some food.

From there we decided to take the class 3 "green gully" outlined in the route description. The climbing was more technical, but not bad at all compared to what we had done. It was simple, easy climbing up firm rock with good hand holds. This gully spit us out on the notch between Eolus and North Eolus. We turned our GoPro's on and headed down the "catwalk." The "catwalk" was exposed on either side, and demanded attention, but was not bad at all. There were sections were I knelt down to have more points of contact, but it really was not all that terrifying, and the morning sunrise views were stellar!

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My favorite photo from the trip. A stunning shot of Sunlight, Sunlight Spire, and Windom from just above the ramp on Eolus.
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Some typical climbing lower on the Eolus route, as well as the "catwalk" and route up North Eolus.


Once off the "catwalk" it was slightly unclear where the trail went because there were cairns everywhere. One thing was sure... stay to the left of the mountain when it splits at the end of the "catwalk" because going right cliffs out and is loose. Follow the 14ers.com route description. The trail descends farther than expected before climbing up. Initially we thought going that far down was a mistake despite the trail and cairns. So, we followed other cairns immediately on our right that lead us straight up the side of the mountain. No matter where we were, we found a cairn leading me to believe that there really is no "correct" route up.

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Another sunrise photo. It was unreal.


The cairns took us over essentially a bunch of exposed ledges to the summit. It was airier-than-expected, sustained class 3 climbing on wet and sometimes loose rocks/ledges. Although Sunlight gets most the attention in Chicago Basin, Cody and I both underestimated the exposure and climbing on Eolus. Don't be fooled, it had its own challenges too (I would argue aside from the summit block on Sunlight, the climbing on Eolus was more mentally taxing and at times harder than Sunlight). We made it to the top of Eolus taking more time than expected, but the views from the top became my new favorite of all the mountains I have climbed.

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From the top of Eolus. We were happy climbers.
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Exposed ledges on Eolus.


The fresh sunrise below the clouds and the striking facades of the San Juan and Needle Mountains were something else. It's clear why they named it Sunlight Peak as the mountain appeared to slice the sun rays through the basin. I could go on and on about the views- definitely worth the tough climb.

We didn't stay long on the summit after taking photos and eating some food. The route down Eolus' face was much easier to follow from above, as it usually is. We could see cairns and the easiest route easily. Be careful descending as it was slippery with gravel for a lot of the way down.

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Cody crossing the famed "catwalk."


We made it back across the "catwalk" without incident and were ready for North Eolus.

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This was his "I can't believe what we have done... These views are amazing!" look.


North Eolus was easy class 3 climbing up very solid rock. It took no time to get to the summit and the views of Eolus from there were stunning in the still new sunlight.

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A common view of Eolus from North Eolus. The lighting was awesome.


A quick downclimb of North Eolus brought us back to the notch and we opted to hike down the slopes under North Eolus rather than down the class 3 green gully we had gone up that morning. The rocks were covered with gravel and some water, but for the most part it was an easy downclimb to the top of the ramp. In the daylight, hiking down the ramp was easy and quick. From the bottom of the ramp, we looked at the time and said "It is still possible to make it back to the train before it leaves this morning, so let's go for it!" From there, we ran down the decent trail all the way to Twin Lakes. We passed CFI workers rerouting the trail between the lakes and the ramp; of course we thanked them for the work they do because where would we be without them!

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The CFI sign we passed shortly after seeing the crew. Again, thanks for your work!


At Twin Lakes we saw a herd of mountain goats (maybe 12+) which are know to inhabit this basin. They made for good (quick) photos. From Twin Lakes, we ran back down to our campsite in the basin in a desperate attempt to pack up camp as quickly as possible and make it to the train in time.

After breaking camp, we were headed down the basin at around 9:20 am, leaving less than 2 hours to hike 6 miles down to the train. Despite having 40 lb backpacks on, we ran the flat portions of the trail, and quickly hiked down the steeper sections taking no breaks. Our trekking poles helped save our legs as much as they could. After passing the trail register and "Weminuche Wilderness" sign, we had 20 minutes and ~0.8 miles to go to get to the bridge over the Animas River. I'm not going to lie, I almost cried. My muscles hurt from running 6 miles, I was getting blisters, my pack seemed heavier by the minute, and I knew if we didn't keep running, we would be stuck camping at Needleton another night. I was ready to leave! We made it back to the Needleton stop at 11:03 am, 7 minutes before the time we needed to catch the train. Luckily, the train was a little late, and there were three other parties waiting for the train. I washed my feet and smelly armpits in the Animas just before the train pulled up. I wasn't gonna take the chance of being left there, so I waved my hands across my knees to signal the train to stop (even though they were stopping for arriving passengers anyway). It was fun and made me feel relieved that we were actually going to make it out.

Having not eaten, and being low on energy, the train ride back was long and spent in delirium. Part of me was ecstatic we had completed such an ambitious trip, part was confused as to how my body did it, and part of me just felt dead from all the physical work... I was tired. We made it back to Silverton, retrieved our packs, and headed to the car, which we were happy to find was not towed/ticketed. We were on the road shortly after. We stopped at the Ouray Brewing Company, tradition for us, and had celebratory burgers/BBQ and beers. Oh it was such a good feeling.

We then began our 6 hour drive back to Littleton on a beautiful evening. We made it home, quickly unpacked, and had a great night's sleep in warm beds.

WHAT A TRIP!



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

Great Trip!
08/18/2016 01:01
Hey man! My friend and I did Chicago Basin probably a day after you. I agree with you on so much of what you said in this post, feeling the same concerning the difficulty ratings of the peaks, especially Eolus (and those danged cairns!). Your sunset pictures are incredible, and I agree wholeheartedly: Eolus is beautiful, especially from the top. Congratulations on a successful few days!


grahampa
Well done!
07/25/2017 11:51
Thanks for the great report! Going up to chicago basin this weekend so it will be very helpful!


thomkath
awesome!
08/23/2017 21:26
great trip report-- very ambitious!



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