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Sunlight Peak
standard South Face
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Difficulty:
 Class 4 
Risk Factors:Exposure: Extreme!
Rockfall Potential: Considerable  
Route-Finding: Considerable  
Commitment: Considerable  
 
Trailhead:Needleton
Start:11,100 feet
Summit:14,059 feet
Total Gain:3,000' starting at Chicago Basin
6,000' starting at Needleton
RT Length:5 miles starting at Chicago Basin
17 miles starting at Needleton
Duration:User Climb Times
Author:BillMiddlebrook
Updated:6/2019
Weather:NOAA Forecast
Conditions:69 reports
Cell Signal:7 reports
Sheriff:La Plata: 970-247-1157
Forest:San Juan
Wilderness:Weminuche
Quad. Maps:Log In to View
Camping:On Google Maps
Eats:On Google Maps
Downloads:Log In to Download
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Trailhead

Drive to Durango and follow signs to the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It's near McDonald's and has a large parking area nearby. Buy a ticket for the train that stops at Needleton and ride the train 2.5 hours (~30 miles) to the Needleton stop. The train will drop you off next to a suspension bridge that crosses the Animas River. From here, it's a 6 mile hike to reach Chicago Basin. Note: you can also take the train from Silverton and be dropped off at Needleton.

Route

To reach Chicago Basin, use the Approach Page. From your camp in Chicago Basin, hike northeast toward the end of the basin on the great trail - 1. Near 11,200', turn left toward Twin Lakes at a signed junction - 2. This trail is used to reach Windom, Sunlight, and Eolus. Continue up through the forest ( 3) to an area where the trail is a bit difficult to follow over and around some rock slabs - 4. Near 11,400', leave the trees where you have a great view of the two streams that flow down the slope below Twin Lakes - 5. Follow the trail north up the slope and cross the first stream at 11,700' - 6. Immediately after the crossing, climb steep terrain for 300' before the trail angles right and the slope eases. Cross the second stream near 12,300' and continue toward the top of the slope - 7. Near 12,500', arrive at the south end of Twin Lakes - 8.

Hike around the first lake and continue east up through the rocks - 9. At 12,600', reach the base of a headwall that separates you from the upper basin - 10. Follow cairns and trail segments to reach the upper basin near 13,000' where there's a great view of the route to 13,800' - 11. Continue east for a bit, then angle left and hike northeast toward talus and boilerplate rock below a gully separating Sunlight and "Sunlight Spire" - 12. Continuing northeast up through talus, look for cairns that lead into the gully . Continue to the dirt-filled gully ( 13) and climb 400 feet up its left side. Near the saddle at the top, turn left and climb into a notch - 14.

The remaining route includes Class 3 climbing and a bit of route finding - 15 and 16. Climb from the notch, traverse under some initial cliffs ( 17) and scramble toward the ridge to a location where you may find a hole in the ridge - 18. You can pass through this hole to reach the summit but it involves more difficult ledge climbing on the east side of the ridge. Turn left and walk over to another section of steep rock - 19. Look for cairns and/or the easiest way up and climb these rocks. Before reaching the top, swing left to enter a small chimney with a hole at the top - 20. The hole has a large rock across the top. Climb through the hole to reach ledges on the east side of the ridge. Turn left and walk up to the final summit pitch - 21. The final summit pitch is very exposed but the rock is "grippy" when dry. The easiest way up is shown in 22. Pick your line and gain the summit - 23 and 24. If you're comfortable with it, the easiest way off the summit may be to jump from rock to rock. To climb Windom after Sunlight: Descend the gully, traverse south across the upper basin and hike up to the saddle on Windom's west ridge - 25, 26, and 27.

Notes

IMPORTANT: This route enters the Weminuche Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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