ALAS! The Chicago Basin Trip Report has arrived!
Now, dear Reader, this is not a report for the faint of heart. There is love and ambition, terror and pain, friendship and determination all combined into one slightly offensive summary of our adventure. The Adventures of Lady McClimbsalot continue!
July 6 we embarked on our journey to Durango, laden with packs so heavy I joked of the car doing a wheelie. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. 7 hours and a BBQ at a friend's house later, we were in Durango. We woke up excited and ready for what lie ahead as we boarded the train. Oh yeah, we managed to pull this guy, Jesse (code name: RamanDestroyer - nice spelling, btw) away from work to go climb with us, too! We enjoyed the open-air train car and took in the amazing views... and some cinders to the face.
Chugga chugga choo!
To Needleton we go!
When we were dropped in Needleton, we were more than ready to lay eyes on those mountains and set up camp. If only we knew it would take us the next 4 hours to get there.
Embarking on our 7 mile approach to the Basin!
"Backpacking is fun!"
I weigh a whopping 120 lbs, while this pack weighed at least 60-70. I've also never backpacked before. Or carried anything that heavy before, even for a short time. Needless to say, it was slow-going to the Basin. Jesse was the only one who weighed his pack before we left, reading around 96 lbs. Oh how I love the learning curve! I think perhaps next time I'll leave the green beans at home. I can tell you this, those people who hike in from Purgatory must really have some hair on their chests... or really, really light gear. We stuck it out and made it without seeing any bears, even though the ranger we passed informed us he saw five that morning. I was disappointed by their absence, as my KA-bar hasn't seen much action lately. Still, we trudged on, dying a little inside with every step. But good news! I remembered both my soles AND my sunglasses for this trip!
Our first real view of what we were getting into
Goats. EVERYWHERE there were goats!
The views were indescribable as more mountains came into view. Of course the pictures don't do it justice, but we had made it. I had read that there were a lot of goats... but dude. There were HUNDREDS of goats. Ranger man said it's the most he's seen in 40 years... and most aggressive. We were told a woman got head-butted by one while she was poppin' a squat in the middle of the night. Oh yeah, goats love piss, apparently. Marmots, too. They'll tear the ground up where you pee, so make sure to pee on rocks to protect the ground. After spearing a few and pelting baby goats with rocks, we set up camp around 11,000 ft, ate a feast, and went to bed. (Animal activists, I'm JOKING. Although the ranger DID advise us to throw rocks if they were too aggressive. We thought that was hilarious) The next morning we woke up at 4:45 am and were on the trail by 5:30 on the dot.
We had read up on the route descriptions and realized that all 4 peaks share the same approach (about a 2 mile hike up to Twin Lakes), so we decided that if the weather faired us well, we were going to try to knock them all out in a day Weather reports promised thunderstorms every day, so we had to take advantage of the sun when we got it. Now, for those of you who have read my previous reports, I just climbed my first 14er June 2 of this year, and am now attempting Sunlight Peak as my 6th 14er. I had only just done my first combo and first Class 3 on July 4 (four days prior), so I had a lot of internal self-talk going on so that I wouldn't hear that little voice asking, "ARE YOU FREAKIN INSANE?" You see, I had originally thought "4 peaks, 4 days." Silly me 8) Had to kick it into Beastmode and dominate, or else we might lose our chance. And so it was decided that Sunlight would be our first of four for the day. A towering Class 4 looked down on us scrambling in its shadows. It was at this point we were met by two other climbers, Todd (code name: aLien) and Brian (code name: slapshot).
This was by far the greatest connection we could've imagined whilst climbing. From what I've heard, it's rare to adopt multiple people into your group and have everything work out so perfectly. It was amazing how naturally we all molded together and began working as one unit up the mountain. Between my man friend's Contour and Todd's GoPro, the footage we gathered is incredible. We made it to the summit around 8:45 am, soaking in the jaw-dropping scenery.
Climbing to the Sunlight summit!
You can see another climber up on the left in blue
The Spire with Windom behind to the right
I'd like to take a moment and pause so that you can understand the heart-stopping fear I experienced in these next few photos... Photo #17 shows a young girl, full of life, determination, and a mission in mind. My, what short legs to make that jump...
Class 4ing it up to the summit block!
Photo #18, as you can see, shows a face beaming with the utmost pride. "I DID IT!" I twisted my head backwards to realize I was sitting on a very small piece of rock that dropped off a few thousand feet right behind my tush. I decided I had had enough of my summit and began scooting down towards my friends.
Now here you see an emotion I would describe as, "aiehgioeghiosdgjarjgs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" for lack of an adequate swear word.
After choking a bit, I made the Leap of Faith and thanked my rock ;)
JUMPING from rock to rock when a little stub of the toe may end your life is TERRIFYING. I did it, got some high fives, and then tried to keep my entire body from shaking for the next 20 minutes. Leap of Faith, check. All the others wanted to do it a second time, I happily sat on the "summit" below that a lot of people claim is the real summit and took their pictures
Mountain goat status
Keepin' it classy
We spent about 30 minutes on Sunlight's summit and it was worth it. As you can see, the majority of our pictures were up there. Again, those views... I just can't even put into words how they made me feel. It was almost like I wanted to gasp and punch something while trying not to throw up and laugh and kind of squeak all at the same time. Make sense? It was remarkable. We descended down towards where the trail splits for Sunlight/Windom and took a bit of a short-cut through the valley. We broke for lunch for about ten, then started scrambling again. This part was a blast and we were surprised it's only considered a "Difficult 2." It was a bit challenging, I thought. It definitely had some technical parts, but kind of reminded me of the east ridge to Bierstadt we did on the 4th. We made sure to remember that a simple slip can end it all. We regrouped, focused, and summited. Took a few photos, but were eager to move on.
Though it felt awesome to be halfway done, we were still only HALFWAY done. The Eoluses were not exactly close by, either. I remember pointing and asking, "So that's Eolus right there?" as my finger's direction was lost in the miles of valley we had to descend into, losing a great deal of elevation, and then gain back as we slogged their approach. "Yep," was the answer I got. "Welp, let's do it!" And so we began. We descended down to the lakes, as half of us were already on empty water-wise. We didn't realize it at the time, but of the two from our original group of three, neither had brought their water filters. Luckily, Todd had his, which is kind of comical due to the fact he had been frustrated about forgetting his sunglasses, phone, and a few other things earlier. Looking back, it goes back to what I said about how amazing it was we all came together. Our group of three would've had to go back to camp at this point... and probably would've had a rough, very thirsty time with it. Not to mention canned our chances for the Eoluses, as the weather sucked the next day. Todd and Brian literally made our climb possible... and for that, we thank you Funny, it was also at this very time while we were filling our Camelbaks that Todd came across a rogue pair of sunglasses at the edge of the lake. Polarized and everything! Sweet find for the day, for sure 8) We filled up, rested a couple minutes, and continued on. The clouds were not looking too promising at this point, which worried us. It also didn't help that they were blowing in from behind the Eoluses, so if we attempted to go up, the weather could worsen without us knowing until we were able to see over the summit. At one point heading up, it was suggested maybe we should turn back, but nobody gave the idea a second thought. We were going, praying the wind would carry the clouds elsewhere. I think the hardest part of the entire day was that first mile after we crossed the creek and saw North Eolus ahead of us. It looked so close, but the approach was SO steep, it hardly felt like we made any progress for so long. Finally we were back among the marmots and pikas, hands on rocks, making headway. The weather was holding up.
To the Eoluses!
We passed some cool kids who had attempted and failed Eolus with Jansports backpacks and Air Jordans on. They advised us that, "Eolus is super sketch, bro!" After incredibly serious consideration, we decided their advice was probably worthless and continued to be super awesome.... BRO. We summited N Eolus with ease, and turned to begin the catwalk, which was AWESOME.
The wind added a whole 'nother variable into the equation, but nothing that held us back. It was actually surprising how many people we met along the trail that day and the next who said they had attempted and failed Eolus. Our group all agreed the cairns were extremely helpful, but that there are a few different possible routes, depending on how hard you want to make it. It definitely helped that there were five in our group. It sounds like a crowd, but none of us could've done it without the rest of the group. It's amazing to me that five people made it to all four mountains and summited all four mountains without complaints, quarrels, or injuries. We were a team. Some would go ahead and test out different ways to get around tricky parts while others would scope out where the next cairn might be and help them with perspective. Over the course of the day, each and every one person in our group contributed in a huge way. I was dubbed, "Eagle eye" after spotting a lone trekking pole with a hat on it well before anyone else, a few distant cairns no one had noticed yet, and a couple good routes. Oh yeah, not to mention an actual EAGLE that flew below us on Windom, which was an awesome experience. I had brought a ham and cheese wrap that I ate before Windom, but forgotten ALL of my snacks for the day. Everyone willingly shared what they had with me to keep my energy up, no questions asked, just happy to help. Jesse is absolutely insane and was always the first to bound from one wobbly rock to the other - gripping menacing handholds like it was no big deal - and then calling back to us, "Yeah. Don't come this way!" Brian, despite having hellish blisters ALL day, continued on without complaint, offering to bring up the rear because he "might go a little slower," which he didn't. When we got back to camp, the back of his heel looked like a potato chip was hanging off of it. GNARLY, MAN. Kudos to you for keeping morale high, assisting in some awesome route finding (especially descending Sunlight), and still going at a quick pace while your shoes were surely filling up with blood.
The smelliest man of the day! No shame in that face
Best trip of my life, hands down. I have never been so sore... or taken a bath so cold as I did in the river of ice melt. There were a lot of weird looks from campers who came to fill up their water from my bathtub. It's not every day you see a girl in a river in a sports bra with a backpack/knee brace tan, arms so burnt she looks like a lobster, hyperventilating and laughing all at once. You're welcome!! The day we hiked out was filled with mixed emotions. So much had been accomplished, so much from that adventure had impacted and changed us, that we were heartbroken to leave. It was hard to narrow down all our pictures to 30. There are just so many good ones, but a few of my favorite are our farewell photos. We each stood on a rock - the first rock you see when you hike over that grassy hill with the peaks behind it - and took pictures with the jagged peaks framing our heads. "We will be back," we promised. Jupiter and its other 13er brothers were calling our names... The hike back to the train was overcast, cool, and very enjoyable. It also took half the time since we made sure to eat EVERYTHING we could so we didn't have to carry it. I probably ate some gear just to lessen the weight. HAR HAR HAR. At long last, the bridge came into view. We sat in the shade and fantasized about all the junk food and alcohol we were about to consume (which totaled to 2 beers and 2 margaritas each, Doritos, Cheetos, sour Skittles, and a Snickers bar). Finally, my train instincts kicked in and I informed everyone the train was coming.
Waiting with eagerness for our train (and MARGARITAS!)
Thank you, Chicago Basin, for allowing us passage. Your beauty, your terror, your threats, and your blessings have changed us and learned us. I will be back...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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