| A landslide, 4 summits and a llama rescue
We had planned to take the train from Durango to Needleton on August 4th. Following a suggestion from Mike66 who we met at Willow Lake trail a couple of weeks ago, we decided to stay at the KOA camping, which is just 10 min from Durango, the night before the trip. But just after arriving at the camp, we found out about the landslide that had just occurred the day before and the train was not running to Needleton the following morning. We went to the train station to check on the status of the trains and they told us we could only get to Cascade Canyon, which is about 6 miles from Needleton. After a 7 hour drive from Longmont and having planned this trip for such a long time, we decided to go ahead and keep our plans and hike the extra miles. The train arrived at Cascade Canyon about 11am and we started our long hike to Chicago Basin. That was not easy and it was quite hard work with the heavy packs we had.
The trail to the junction with Needle Creek was pretty easy to follow in spite of the rain, we made it in about 6 hours and a half (not bad considering the long mileage from Cascade Canyon, we stopped for lunch and snacks along the way).
We later found out that there was a lot of misinformation about the schedule and trains after the mudslide. Apparently there was a work train that could have taken us to Needleton that day, but nobody at the train station in Durango informed us (or others) about this. There were two more parties of people heading up to Chicago Basin that day and everybody hiked from Cascade Canyon, although we were the only ones that made it in one shot.
Once we reached Chicago Basin, we were happy to see the clouds go away and the amazing views of the peaks ahead. We decided to camp at the lower basin since we were pretty tired by then. We figure out we hiked a little bit more than 10 miles total.
So, the next morning (even though we could feel the pain in our legs) we woke up to clear skies at 5.30am and started hiking up to Sunlight Pk.
Starting elevation: 10,850
Start time: 6.00am
From Sunlight Pk: about 1 hour and a half
Back to camp: 2.30pm
The hike to Twin Lakes went pretty fast, we were surprised nobody else was there, in fact we would not see a soul the whole day. Apparently the mudslide had driven everybody off the peaks and even Chicago Basin. I had always read that this area gets crowded in summer, but let me tell you, we felt like we were the only ones there!
From the lakes, the gully is pretty easy to find and route finding is straightforward. Half way up the gully to Sunlight Pk, a goat came to greet us.
And then later, a whole family of goats were showing us the notch where we were supposed to go left, thanks little goats!
After a little bit of route finding (which at this point it became more difficult) and more scrambling, we finally got to the infamous summit block.
Since we had our rope we decided to use it to get to the block. Mike did not have a problem making the gap between rocks, but I (short legged, only 5’6’’) could not get my feet across, so he belayed me for that step. I literally “planked” the summit block, I was too nervous to stand up, so I just planked it, which seems to be the latest fashion here in 14ers.com, so hey “I have one now!”. I don’t have pictures since we were too focused on our moves.
After more than half an hour rest we headed towards Windom. The traverse was straightforward and you can see it from a distance.
We did not have to cross any snowfields, so that made it very easy. Once on the ridge the trail seemed to faint and it was hard to follow. But we finally figured out that the route went to the left of the ridge, and up, up and up. Finally made it to the summit blocks, what is it about these mountains that they have so many summit blocks?
A nice view of Mt. Eolus and North Eolus
The clouds started coming over us, so it was time to head down. We were chased by storms on the way down, but then the skies cleared out again and the sun was shining one more time.
Starting elevation: 10,850
Start time: 5.30am
From Mt. Eolus: 45 minutes
Back to camp: 1.30pm
The next day we decided to start a little bit earlier just in case the storms started before noon. Again, another blue sky day above us. We hiked to almost Twin Lakes and then we spotted the trail going up towards Mt. Eolus.
On our way up we met a hiker who was trying to summit North Eolus but he had got lost in the dark earlier in the morning and could not find the ramp that leads to the saddle between Eolus and North Eolus. We took a look at our route info and decided that we were going right towards it and should see it at 13,400 feet. Soon enough we saw the ramp marked by cairns.
Soon after that we saw the green gulley that goes up towards the saddle. You can see the hiker ahead of us going up towards North Eolus.
And this is me making it to the top of the notch.
From here we could see the famous “cat walk”. At the beginning it was a little bit scary, especially if you look down on both sides, but the rock is solid and it is not that narrow (I guess I imagined it narrower). Also, the wind was non-existent, so that made it easier, I can not imagine what it feels like when it is windy.
Now, here is where the route gets confusing, once we passed the cat walk we saw cairns and trails in all directions. We had read to traverse to the center of the face and start ascending there, but I guess we did not go all the way to the left of the face, and we ended up doing to many class 4 moves. We were probably off route or on another route. We tried to follow cairns, but they were going in all directions, in fact, I don’t recall this many cairns in any other route. One has to wonder if it is worth it to have so many (what a mess!), they are just confusing and not helpful when trying to follow a route. Anyway, we finally figured out how to bypass the many ledges on this route (I don’t have any pictures from this part since I was too focused on maintaining the three points of contact and did not have an extra hand for the camera). We finally got to the summit:
Although there were no clouds above, we did not want to spend much time here and started the way down. This time we went more towards the left side of the face (where the cat walk is) and the route was much easier to follow. Got to the kitty walk, this time (as a second time) was even enjoyable.
Once on the saddle, the way towards North Eolus becomes obvious and the beautiful granite rock makes it a really fun climb.
Again, another beautiful day in the San Juans and no rain! We were really fortunate with the weather. It only rained the first day, and we had the solitude of all peaks (we did not see a soul in any summit during those 2 days).
On our way down we spotted a ptarmigan and her little baby.
Now the llama story. This is day 3, we were leisurely at camp having our morning coffee when we heard a noise, then looked up and saw a llama running down the trail at about 20 miles per hour with a rope hanging from his neck. We looked at our watches thinking that we would later see somebody behind. Sure enough, 9 minutes later a lady with 2 dogs was running down the trail looking for the llama. We spoke to her and told her she was 9 minutes behind the llama. She told us they had rented two lamas and apparently this one got scared of the goats that went into their camp that morning. The goats surrounded him, as territorial as they are, and he could not take it. He ripped the rope he was attached to in the ground and started running down the mountain. The lady continued hiking down, but after about one hour later we saw her coming back without the lama, she could not find him. She had warned other hikers and backpackers that if they saw the llama just to take him down to the trail. Since we were headed down to catch the 4pm train, we told her we would keep an eye out for the llama. By the way, his name was Hector. So, we started our way down and met 2 hikers, John and Chris, also heading down. They had just spotted a mama bear with 2 cubs! We were just behind them but we missed seeing the bears. Chris sent us the picture, it is a great one!
Photo Courtesy of Chris Tomlinson
And 2 minutes later, when we just got to the bridge at New York Creek, we saw Hector! As we promised the lady, we decided to take him down the trail. John took the rope and sure enough he was happy to follow us.
But just after starting down we met two young fellows that were hiking up and they were doing the whole loop (towards Columbine pass and to Elk Park), just like the woman with the lamas. So, we suggested they take Hector up to them, and they were more than happy to do so. I hope they took advantage and put the backpacks on him that would make it for a easy hike, I wish we had had a lama on our way up the 10 miles.
That was the last time we saw Hector, we knew he was in good hands. We hope he is now reunited with the other lama and his companions. If you happen to see him let us know!
Oh, we were happy to see that the train was running on its normal schedule again, this was the first train from Silverton after the mudslide.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):