First, condolences to the family and friends of Steve Gladbach. Steve and I had a great conversation on Shavano. It was a pleasure getting to know him and I know he contributed much to this climbing community and will be deeply missed.
Start Time: 1 AM
End Time: 3 PM
Total Time: 14 hours
Distance: 22 Miles
Elevation Gain: 8000'
I can't believe I almost paid $$$$ to ride the train and miss out on a great trek through the San Juans that is seen on the Purgatory approach to Chicago Basin.
By the time the train took off from Durango we had made camp in Chicago Basin and were on our way to Eolus.
First indication of whether or not you have reached Chicago Basin is whether you see the dozens of mountain goats. They seem to respond well to howling and swinging of the Ice Axe.
The hike up to twin lakes is spectacular, and you are rewarded with the view of the needles
Then began the trek to Eolus. We met Tom from Florida, and headed toward the catwalk.
We decided to do North Eolus first. Then Eolus
North Eolus South
We got over 12 hours of sleep, it felt quite good.
Start Time: 8 AM
End Time: 11 PM
Total Time: 15 hours
Distance: 23 Miles
Elevation Gain: 6000'
The goats didn't eat anything (thankfully) and we were able to get up to the peaks. We went for Windom first, then hit Sunlight. No snow anywhere.
I was able to hop right up to the Sunlight Summit and was pleasantly surprised with how it went. I did take a bit of time calculating going down, the rocks are angled in such a way that allows you to walk UP to the summit, but when going DOWN, I did find the "Leap of Faith" to be the best way. Next time I go, I want to take the friction slab. It would be quite comfortable with rock climbing shoes and some chalk.
Words can't express how ridiculously incredible this area is so I'll just post the photos.
Looking at Rio Grande Pyramid through Sunlight Window
Looking East from Windom
Looking North from Sunlight
West Fork Fire
Leap of Faith
The trip down was pretty sweet too. There were less than a dozen folks in the basin while we were there, but we must have seen 30-40 people coming up as we were going back on Monday.
We were both dreading the last 1100' gain from the Animas River Bridge back up to Purgatory, but for me what was the hardest was the constant pounding on my feet on the 7 miles from the Needle Creek Bridge to the Animas River Bridge. Good thing the scenery was astonishing. As my Dad said it looked like a "Dry version of the Pacific North West"
Dad Crossing the Animas
This is a valid and enjoyable alternative to the train. Highly recommended. This can be done in fewer days than the train given the train schedule.
Growing up in Durango, I do know how scenic the train ride is. However, the combination of the drive to purgatory form Durango, and the hike to the Needle Creek TH is even more scenic than the train.
Notably, you're actually hiking along the train for about 7 miles anyway.
Tip: get back in time for half priced appetizers at Applebees.