This trip report chronicles my group's three day trip into Chicago Basin from Needleton. We took the Durango and Silverton train in on Tuesday, July 19 and hiked from Needleton to the basin. The hike is a bit of a grunt with full packs but well worth it. We came across a very nice campsite at about 11100 off the trail a little ways heading down toward the river. It had some nice downed trees to sit on and some flat areas for two tents.
Camping spot in the basin
We had four people in our group and thus we brought an REI Half dome 4 and an REI Half Dome 2 for nice comfortable sleeping quarters. The weather was absolutely gorgeous the entire trip and so we had opportunities to look at the stars at night. Of course no campfires are allowed in the basin so we typically hit the sack at around 2100 so we could get up early to hike the 14ers.
On July 20 we did the duo of Sunlight and Windom. This hike is actually quite a bit of work. We hit Sunlight first. The trek up to Twin Lakes is not the most relaxing of hikes but the trail is excellent. CFI must have done some major work on it. All I could think about going up the first time was that I'd have to do it again the next day with Eolus. No worries. Once we made it to Twin Lakes the fun begins.
Twin Lakes looking at Sunlight
The trek up to Sunlight is not bad at all until you hit near the top. There is a class 3 section a hundred or so feet from the summit that will get you using all fours. I enjoyed it and there is not much exposure at all on it. Once you hit the summit area, you have to go through a key hole notch to reach the top which was also quite interesting.
AND NOW, for the infamous Sunlight summit pitch. Everyone in the group had watched the youtube videos, read the trip reports, and studied this for, well, about a year now. It was finally time! I marched on up to the slanting slabs and got my first good look at what to expect. My first impressions were actually that this doesn't look that bad compared to all of the hype. I had heard there was a rock step in the middle of the gap and this truly was NO JOKE!
Sunlight Summit Step
The picture doesn't tell you much but this is indeed the rock that you can step down to in order to basically stand in the gap between the lower rock and the higher rock that most people "jump." This was enticing, especially for my analysis for the way down. After standing on the lower rock for a good minute or two, testing my footing, I decided I was going to go ahead and do it. As everyone always says, the way up is easy. I'm 6 foot tall and simply stepped across the gap, put my hands on the upper rock for support, pushed off on the lower rock, and pulled myself up.
On the upper rock across the gap
THIS WAS EASY, thus far. The next step up from the upper rock to the actual summit is very easy. I was finally there! I did not mess around on the summit because this picture shows what the other side of the summit has to offer.
Drop on North and West sides of summit
Everything was going great! Now for the way down... I got back down to the upper rock on the summit side of the gap. This is the infamous rock where people stand for what seems to be an eternity, debating when/how/where to jump across. Well, I'm not much in to jumping so I decided to try a different idea. Being 6 foot tall, I thought there was a chance I could turn face first to the rock and simply lower myself down to the step in the gap. So, this is what I did.
Standing on step in gap
I started lowering myself down and I just couldn't quite reach the step! Oh crap! I pulled myself back up to the upper rock and sat down for another second to contemplate. I had to talk myself back into. I can do this! So, I replaced my hands (by the way, I had glacier gloves on which helped tremendously in gripping the rock with leather palms) on the rock in a better position to get me lower. I then proceeded to lower myself down and I made it! Being 6 foot tall does come in handy sometimes. Thus, there was NO JUMPING across the gap involved. I always felt in control and safe. Once you reach the step, it's easy to just get back up onto the lower rock. Job well done!
Back down from the "stride" across gap
So, if you are 6 foot or taller, this is the way I recommend instead of risking a jump across the gap and falling off the lower rock down a cliff. Check out my brother's video he took of me doing the Sunlight Summit "stride" going up and my scoot going down across the gap. It's worth the click:
Now, down Sunlight and off to Windom. There were no snow fields to cross on Sunlight but there are a couple getting over to Windom.
Snow field you cross on traverse from Sunlight to Windom
We never pulled out crampons for these but we did have our ice axes in hand going across a few of them. Once you reach the ridge to Windom, it's a pretty steep class 2-3 climb getting to the top. Follow the goats if you don't know where to go. We pretty much stayed right on top of the ridge the whole way up but at some points you need to be on the left side. Not a big summit at the top but you get some great views.
Summit of Windom
We headed back down and almost was attacked by goats who act like they own the mountain (which I guess they sorta do). Don't get in between a mom and her babies.
The next day (July 21, 2011) we trekked back up to Twin Lakes. This was much better given that you don't have to go far once you reach the lakes before you cut across the stream flowing from the lakes and hit the Eolus trail. Don't waste too much time heading toward the lakes when you can pretty much make the cut right away when you reach the top of the basin. The Eolus trail is very nice heading up into the bowl. We had one goat that joined us here and followed us all the way to the summit! More on that later. There are two snowfields that I believe the trail "technically" goes through. The first snow field we simply walked around. The second one is right at the bottom of the ramp. We decided to put our crampons to use and went straight through it. It's not very much snow and may be melted by now but we wanted to put the crampons to use since we brought them.
Snow patch at ramp, steps seen in middle
You can pretty easily walk around this snow field also but it does get into some loose rock that was easier for us to just take the snow. No major exposure yet. The ramp has a slippery wet slab toward the middle that you must go across but again, it's nothing major. Make sure you don't turn to early for the "first" ramp as it looks treacherous! Be patient and head up further until you see the real ramp. The ramp is nothing to brag about until you hit the green notch. The climb to the green notch, a 30-40 foot class 3 section is a good climb. You will be using all fours. Be careful here as there is a little bit of exposure. Once you reach the top of the green notch, you get to view the catwalk and your mind starts to fly! It looks awful!
catwalk, Eolus *Notice Gus on the catwalk*
However, once you start going it is not bad at all. There are just two areas where you drop off the ridge slightly and there is some exposure as you skirt some rocks. Nothing horrible! Now, once you cross the catwalk and hit the main part of the peak, the fun begins.
You head to the left as you attack the ledges. Do not go right even though it looks like a trail goes this way. Start heading up right away after turning left. There was a snow patch there with foot prints in it when we went but it might be gone now.
Head up through snow to right, not below snow
Once you get above the first pitch, start heading across the mountain on a very nice grassy ledge for a while. Once you get to a good spot that has a ledge heading up tot he summit area, hit it! Make sure you pop up to the summit ridge just to the left as you will need to do some class 3 climbing once you get there to head to the real summit. There is a nice notch that you come up to on this summit ridge. The ledges, in my opinion, are the most dangerous part of the climb. They are steep, at times slippery, and there is a LOT of exposure. Take your time route finding. Turn back on a ledge and go back to where you started if you find that it did not materialize into something good. Don't risk a class 4 section just because you picked the wrong ledge and think that it will get you to where you need and you don't want to turn around to find a better one. You shouldn't have to do any class four on the ledges if you find the right ones. Once you reach the summit, the views are awesome!
Turret Peak to North from Eolus Summit
In addition, I mentioned a goat earlier. Seriously, I kid you not, this goat followed up the entire mountain and down the entire mountain. When we needed to pick a ledge, we followed the goat. He joined us on the summit. I nicknamed his "Gus" and Gus became our guide for Eolus.
Apparently he has climbed Eolus more than any of us have as he new exactly where to go for the good ledges going up. He would go about 50 feet in front of us and then stop and wait for us to catch up. This was absolutely fascinating and sad all at the same time because he has obviously been fed by hikers. I can assure you, we gave him nothing. The trek down the ledges proved to be easier for us because we could route find better on the ledges. Once we reached the green notch we went over to North Eolus which is a very enjoyable climb. The rock is solid and there is no snow or major exposure spots.
N. Eolus from Summit of Eolus
The climb back down was nice as we did not take the green notch going down. We cut early across the face of N. Eolus and this proved to be a better way down than having to down climb the green notch. We glissaded two snow fields on the way down and did it all quickly and safely.
Snow field below green notch we glissaded down
Once we got back to camp we packed everything up and hit the 4:00 train back at Needleton. The full pack trek out of Chicago Basin seems long! This was probably because we had done Eolus that same day but it seemed like it took forever to get back down. We enjoyed a nice beer on the way back to Durango. Mission accomplished.
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.