| I Ain't Afraid Of No Goats
MOUNTAIN(S): Sunlight Peak, Windom Peak, Mt. Eolus, N. Eolus
DATES CLIMBED: 9/2-4/11
TIME FROM TRAIN TO BASIN: 2.5 hours
DAY 1 TIME (SUNLIGHT/WINDOM): 8 hours
DAY 2 TIME (EOLUS/N. EOLUS): 5.5 hours
TIME FROM BASIN TO TRAIN: 2 hours
CLIMBERS: Jeff (SurfNTurf), Steve L., Andrew (awknox), Joe B., Leah (MtnGoats)
The pack for my first trip to Chicago Basin on Aug. 30, 2009 included an actual gallon jug of water, five pounds worth of ingredients for one chili dinner, and a heavy three-person tent I had no idea how to set up.
Two years have changed a lot.
Having finally accrued a bit of vacation time at my still relatively new job, I decided to schedule off Friday, Sept. 2 to make a four-day Labor Day weekend. I initially tried to make more ambitious plans – the Wind Rivers or the Tetons, for instance – but couldn’t find any takers. I “settled” for the Chicago Basin.
Steve, who was my only partner on that initial foray into Chicago Basin, was the first to sign up. We’d managed only to summit Windom on our first attempt (my first 14er), as we were on an abbreviated two-day itinerary. He was as eager as I was to go back for the other three. Andrew agreed to the trip shortly thereafter, and Leah and her dog Rope joined near the last minute. With a full car, we set off for Durango after work on Sept. 1 and camped at Junction Creek.
Photo Credit: Andrew Knox
Equipped this time with a lighter pack and two years (and 30 peaks) of experience, Andrew and I managed to get first pick of campsites in the basin, arriving from the train in 2.5 hours. We chose an awesome spot near a flat, treeless area we called our beach, on which we’d spend much of our downtime lounging and reading. Camped on the right side of Needle Creek (when you’re facing toward Windom/Jupiter), we had absolutely zero issues with goats or other critters. We saw them routinely in campsites on the other side of the creek, though.
Views from our beach (Photo Credit: Joe)
Steve and Andrew at Needle Creek Beach
A solo hiker kept pace with us most of the approach, making us the first three into the basin from that day’s train – and he was wearing SANDALS! He was on exactly the same itinerary as us, so we invited him to join our party. Joe became our fifth member. Leah, Steve and Rope arrived a short time later.
Knowing how volatile the weather in Chicago Basin can be, we hit the trail at 4:30 a.m. on Day 1. The goals were Sunlight and Windom. I was surprised to see how many other people chose such an early start, including a nine-person Colorado Mountain Club group. As crowded as the trails were, Leah said she didn’t mind if we went ahead. Steve and Andrew tackled Sunlight’s West Ridge, while Joe and I slogged up the standard scree gully. I regret that looking back – do the West Ridge!
Andrew on the West Ridge's "primal wall" (Photo Credit: Steve Lynn)
Andrew and Steve on the West Ridge, viewed from the standard route
We timed our hike to hit Twin Lakes at about first light, which in my opinion was ideal. Once out of Sunlight’s gully, the Class 3 scrambling is really fun. We didn’t make much of an effort to stay on route, instead choosing fun variations that eventually got us to the summit block.
Andrew making his own way to Sunlight's summit
Joe playing around near the window
Sunlight’s summit block was one of those things where I told myself, “Just get there, see how it is, and make a decision.” Before I’d even taken off my pack Steve had practically skipped up the damn thing. Andrew went next with similar nonchalance, and then it was my turn. The move up is a piece of cake. I admired the exposure to my right and posed for a few pictures, then scrambled down to “the leap.” I just went for it before the move got into my head, and it was as simple as others have claimed. Joe went last, but made it perhaps look the smoothest out of all of us. I’m not even sure he used his hands.
Andrew on Sunlight's summit
Staring down the abyss (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
Joe makes "The Leap" (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
Me, taking a deep breath after negotiating "The Leap" (Photo Credit: Steve Lynn)
The Wilsons (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
Grenadiers (Vestal and Arrow, especially)
As always, downclimbing a scree gully was miserable. A couple hundred curses later, we were back in the upper basin and starting up Windom. What minimal solitude we’d had in the early morning was gone, and now we shared the route with dozens of other people. There were about 10 other folks on the summit. Some of them thought it was fine to use my head as a handhold (without asking) before wondering if I’d like to join the CMC. I bit my tongue.
Andrew ascending toward Windom
Me, on Windom's summit (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
Sunlight and Sunlight Spire
Joe and I headed straight down while Andrew went after some extra extra credit on Peak 18. Steve had summitted Windom previously, with me in 2009, and had opted to skip repeating the mountain. Joe and I got back to camp at about 12:30, making our round-trip time for the day approximately eight hours. We spent at least 45 minutes (likely longer) on each summit.
Obligatory goat photo
We napped through afternoon showers then went to lounge on the beach. Leah, who had been successful on Sunlight and Windom, informed us she was sitting the next day out. A few pints of whiskey (Andrew contributed some infernal concoction called Black Velvet) were passed around and we went to bed early at about 9 p.m.
We got a bit of a later start on Sunday, leaving at 5 a.m. Speaking for myself, my legs were about shot at this point (2800 feet with a two-night pack on Day 1 and 4500 feet and two summits on Day 2 with a minimal calorie intake will take it out of you!). We still managed good time up to Twin Lakes and found the steep, scree-laden trail toward Eolus. There was one large group of four ahead of us, and we caught up to them at about the Eolus/N. Eolus saddle. We all scampered up N. Eolus (literally 5-10 minutes from the saddle) as a big group. It’s an easy, thin Class 3 scramble.
First light on the way to Eolus (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
The Catwalk, or, The Sidewalk in the Sky
Steve scampering up N. Eolus (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
Next up, The Catwalk (aka the Sidewalk in the Sky). We were all four full of confidence at this point and made short, easy work of this obstacle. It’s really no big deal. There is one especially narrow section, but we still all felt comfortable walking right across it.
There are cairns marking the trail up Eolus’ face, but we each kind of chose our own adventure. It was one of the most enjoyable climbs I’ve had up a 14er, including Crestone Needle and Wetterhorn. The rock was (mostly) solid, there was plenty of exposure beneath my boots and it was fairly sustained Class 3 and 4 (again, we chose our own routes). We swarmed to the summit from all angles, sparking some laughs out of the group already up there. They left shortly after, and as we were good on time, we spent quite a while on top goofing off. We even planked The Catwalk on the way down.
Me, climbing up Eolus' face (Photo Credit: Steve Lynn)
Andrew rocking out on Eolus
Climber portrait: Steve Lynn (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
Climber Portrait: Joe (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
Group shot on Eolus (Photo Credit: Andrew's Self-Timer)
The views from all of these mountains are incredible, but Eolus really took the cake. Crestone Needle’s short-lived stint as my favorite 14er immediately came to an end.
The previous day's work, from Eolus' summit (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
On our way down, we passed a whole gaggle of people. Not surprising given it was Labor Day. I worried a bit about these folks shortly after, as no sooner did we get back to camp (at 10:30 a.m.) then hail storms slammed into the area. I wouldn’t want to be on some of those Eolus slabs if they were slick. I was glad to hear of no accidents.
Last look at Twin Lakes (Photo Credit: Andrew Knox)
We had to be back at Needleton for pick-up at 4 p.m., but we knew it would only take us about two hours to cover that ground. We made lunch, lounged, and took our time packing up camp. We left at about 12:30 and, as predicted, arrived at Needleton at 2:30.
We then proceeded to drink the train out of beers. This is not hyperbole. We also ran into Katie and Bobby Finn, who after Chicago Basin were only two mountains away from finishing the 14ers. I believe they were trying for both Little Bear and Capitol this week, so if you two see this, GOOD LUCK!!!!!!
After checking into our hotel and taking much-needed showers, we feasted at Steamworks and enjoyed a night out on the town in Durango. Of course, after three days of hiking, we didn’t make it much past midnight.
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