| Chicago Basin - 5 slash 5
There are already several trip reports on Chicago Basin. I was hesitating on writing another one (and my first report in general), until I experienced the Basin for myself. I found that after I got home, showered, ate, slept and returned to the normal drum of daily life, my mind was still in the Basin. The experience and the elevation had infected my soul in the best way possible. So I felt compelled to share it; so here we go:
Weather looked like it was going to be painful; with reports of heavy rain every afternoon and sustained rain during the day. But the bags were packed and the tickets purchased, so we were committed either way. The train from Silverton to Needleton was scenic and wet. Folks who purchased the Gondola pass on the train had the pleasure of driving rain and cold winds. Note to self, don’t buy an open air train seat, in the summer, in Colorado, in the mountains. When we finally stopped at Needleton, we were greeted with top to bottom soaked hikers returning from their Basin trips, looking like extras from a Spielberg WWII movie. Worried and ominous glances were more than casually exchanged between our hiking party. A light drizzle accompanied us the 3 hours as we hiked past piles of hail on our 6.6 mile warm up to base camp. Our adventure was underway.
Camp site selection was very easy, and even though we passed about 20 other tents, we found a site that was secluded from the trail, not within eye sight of other camps, and 100 feet from the river. After unpacking, filtering water, making early dinner, and just generally marinating in the lush colors and scenic beauty of the valley floor, we hit the sack early (8ish) with high anticipation for the next day’s track. Rain on the tent walls is way better than Ambien.
The Dudes, eating a celebration dinner at camp.
We were up at 3 out of camp by 4 and at Twin Lakes by 5. The trail is heavily traveled, and makes hiking in the dark no big deal (especially with 5 headlamps lighting the way). The only slightly confusing area is once you get to just about treeline, and the trail becomes slabs of stone. Looks for the little cairns along the way and continue up. During the day you can’t miss it. At night, with poor quality jetboil coffee and limited sleep, it was easy to miss. There were about 3 groups hiking the Basin this early; which is always still surprising to me. I would gladly trade a little sleep for clear skies and fewer people.
We decided to break up our weekend into two, two summit days. First stop today was Eolus. After filtering more water and doing some light stretching we took a hard left at Twin Lakes and continued to follow the trail up the south side of Eolus. Cairns and mountain goats lead the way up the steep but easy trail to the rocky base of Eolus. Mountain glow lit the slabs and turned the vantage into postcard material.
Just some rocks in the valley below.
Once on the saddle, we hit the catwalk between North and 'Regular' Eolus, and headed towards the summit. As with each of the 14ers in the Basin, there are many routes to the summit. Some easier than others, some marked with cairns, some not. We decided to follow the edge lips the run to just west of the Eolus Summit, on the south side of the peak. These were noticeably more green, a little wider, and a little less technical, than say the north route to summit. That being said, there was still a lot of exposure/class 3 stuff…but that’s the reason we bought our train ticket in the first place. On the summit, we were greeted with breaking cloud formations, which made for numerous “facebook cover photo-esque' photo opts.
Morning summit on Mt. Eolus.
30 photos, 5 minutes, and one probar later, we departed Eolus (hopefully not for the last time) and were tracking back down the south face to the catwalk towards North Eolus. We again, followed the more green shelves on the south face of Eolus, and made quick (but careful) work on the rocks. The catwalk is fun, with some nice exposure. There are several places where you can lay down and stick your head over the edge...good times.
Scaling the catwalk between North and Eolus.
A few photos and some great exposure later, we climbed the up to summit North Eolus. Even though North doesn’t 'officially' count as a 14er, I decided that I 'officially' don’t give a sh!t, and was just as taken aback by the view and experience from this sub-peak. As my buddy joey b says time and time again, the best view of a mountain is from the top of another mountain. North Eolus qualifies, and is certainly not to be missed, as the sun hits Eolus perfectly in the a.m., for photos from north. 30 photos later, it was time to head down to the saddle and back to the lakes.
North Eolus summit
More plain old rocks, nothing special.
All the mountain goats that we saw on the hike up had somehow vanished. It’s amazing how these guys work the rocks and move through this country. About half way down to Twin Lakes from Eolus, the now beaming sun and rising temperatures created near swamp-like conditions between my skin and my thermal layers. Needless to say, I was not date ready in the downstairs department. The only thing that would remedy this situation was a cool (make that polar) dip into lower Twin Lakes; which is what we did. I would wager to say that several ladies from other hiking groups fell instantly in love when I stripped down my to skivvies and dove in.
Best remedy for post hike sweatiness.
As we dried off, new mountain goats, and more hikers popped up out of nowhere. Probars and general R&R were enjoyed by our group as we basted in the sun and the view. We had hiked several hours, taken dozens of noteworthy (as least to us) photos, summitted two peaks, did a polar bear swim, and it was only noon. We had one hiker approach our group asking about which peak he should summit if he was 'afraid of heights.' From the looks of him, and the now building thunderheads, we advised him to just stay at the Lakes for an hour and head back to camp. He decided otherwise, and started up Windom. This would not be the last ill-prepared, ill-educated hiker we would run into. As we left Twin Lakes for camp around 1pm, we were surprised by how many groups were still on their way up the mountain. One hour later, lightning cracked above our camp and resonated through the Basin floor. I’m sure more than a few hikers were educated in the art of busting-their-a$$-off-the-mountain that afternoon.
Basin trail back to camp.
Day two’s routine began as day one’s, and we all reached the lakes at 5:15am. Our goal today was Windom and Sunlight, and from Roach’s description, we decided on the more technical peak first (Sunlight). The trail veered right of the lakes, and tall cairns marked the way up to the red valley slop which was the doorway to the climb up Sunlight. The rain the night before actually added in the ascent, as the grainy path took on a tackier, wet sandcastle sand consistency. We stayed low of the rock cliff face on the western slope, and made our way up. Again, several general routes lead to the top, so pick the one that is most tasty for your experience level. At the saddle, we ditched trekking poles and began the class 3 scramble to Sunlight’s top. The last 200 feet of elevation is definitely the most fun.
We all made a successful final-move to Sunlight’s summit slab. The exposure is definitely of the highest quality. I’m talking about straight from Columbia, pre cut, 190 degree melting point, style quality. Even though heights don’t bother me, my stomach did a little dancing during and after. It’s fun to watch other people go through the rollercoaster effect that Sunlight has. Fist pumps, F&$% Yeahs, and high fives for everyone. The track down was technical but very enjoyable. It seemed like great photos were around every corner.
Key hole sunbeam on Sunlight Peak.
About half way down Sunlight, we heard a big rock slide crashing down the north face of Windom. After staring at the mountain for a few moments, we could see two hikers making their way down the extremely steep, precarious, scree-ladened north face. They were the ones that created the rock slide. We ran into these two hikers on the valley floor as we rested before our Windom ascent. They were dress in shorts, wore member’s only wind breakers, and had one fanny pack between them. They said the north face 'wasn’t too bad.' Ill-prepared and Ill-educated indeed. We wished them well and hoped they made it back home safely but were glad they were hiking below us instead of above.
The hike up Windom Peak was definitely a little more than a simple class 2 adventure (as is listed in most 14er books). Big rocks and some route finding added to a fun late morning summit. We were glad that we did Sunlight first, as the hiking on Windom was done with a more tired, autopilot mindset, which would not have been great on Sunlight. Unfortunately, we had to take about 30 more photos at the top, because, once again the scene was devastatingly beautiful. I wouldn’t say my camera is a slut, but she was definitely used and passed around over the course of the weekend. It’s hard to believe that all the scenery and vistas and sunrises are free.
The trek down to Twin Lakes for Windom went by quickly, following the cairns on the western ridge, and then into the upper valley above the lakes. The lake water was just as cold and just as refreshing as it was the day before. No clouds on the horizon allowed for a lengthy relaxation session by the water’s edge. There is definitely something very satisfying about looking up at peaks that you have just summitted.
Eolus, catwalk, and North as seen from just below Windom summit.
The hike back to camp was leisurely and nice. The mountain goats seemed to follow us, and rushed hungry towards our crotch every time we unzipped to pee (apparently they crave the salty urine). Their proximity to the trail gave us ample time to take some goaty photos.
Family of mountain goats, they sure do look tasty.
This snap would make a great puzzle.
We also found a few old mine shafts at the tops of some tailing piles, and did a little spelunking. The mine walls and roof were seeping out water, and mineral veins of quartz, iron, and granite stretched a rainbow of color everywhere you looked. 60 yards back into the mine was already 59 yards past the safety zone, so we decided that since we had survived the mountain tops, we should also try to survive the mountain deeps; and turned back around. I'm not sure how far back the mine went, but it would have been nice to find out. Sadly, we didn’t find any burlap sacks with dollar signs on them, or any smelted bricks of gold left behind. Bummer.
Once back at camp we did experience, what I would surmise to be a true, modern day miracle. At the little pool in the river by our camp, we found two Oskar Blues tall boys wedged under a large stone in the rapids. With all other camps around us long gone, these beers were either accidentally left by previous hikers, or a gift from Zeus Himself. Whichever the case, the rich Christmas-like lager flavor was graciously shared and enjoyed by all members of our hiking group. We who are about to drink (your beer), salute you.
Miracle in the river.
Sleep came easily and the morning dawn quickly on our hiking day out. 6.5 miles is much easier downhill, but legs and shoulder were noticeably worn out. Our mesh bag of beers we had stashed was waiting at the bridge, where we killed the hour before the train arrived by reminiscing about the hike, and jumping into the river to cool off. The train was both a welcome and a sad sight. We were headed home, but our adventure was over.
Old timey train photo.
I found it odd to see tourists on the train taking pictures of every small rapid or waterfall outside of their window; knowing that they could have so much more if they just went 8 miles and 6000 vertical feet away from their seats. But, hey, at least they were enjoying the outdoors. The train ride was long and the drive back to Denver longer, but totally worth it to live in Chicago Basin, if but for a little while.
Blistered feet and sore muscles have since faded away, but the memories of the experience are as crispy and clear as the day they occurred. Somehow I find myself longing to replace my store brewed morning coffee, for that horrible yet wonderful jetboil version. Because sipping on jetboil coffee usually means I’m in the middle of nowhere about to experience something awesome.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):