If you have been following my other trip reports from a week ago, you have seen that we climbed Mount Wilson, Wilson Peak, and Mount Sneffels. We unfortunately failed to summit El Diente after Sneffels due to a horrid day of wet weather that started before the sun came up. We were doomed from the get go. However, a trip to Chicago Basin was still in the plans for the end of the week. On Thursday last week, we hopped on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and made the ride into Neddleton.
Two summers ago (2011), the three of us planned on accomplishing everything in Chicago Basin. We had three days scheduled and were pushing all three peaks. My brother and I were able to pull it off but my father turned around half way up Mount Eolus due to overall fatigue. He was smart and didn't want to risk it on class 3 if he was tired. So, this trip to Chicago Basin was all about tackling Mount Eolus and nothing else.
We stayed the night in Durango at the Econo Lodge and packed our backpacking packs up with everything we needed. Let me tell you, Army MRE's are an excellent easy source of hot food in the backcountry! We each packed one and were ready to go! There is nothing like a messy hotel room filled with backcountry gear to make you feel good!
In the morning, we were on our way for an 8:45 departure on the train. I had a phone job interview at 7:30 AM mountain time that I had to tackle before hitting the train. There is nothing like interviewing for a job while looking at the mountains at a picnic table. Anyway, we were on our way. For lunch, we enjoyed some of the train's amazing fat and juicy Hebrew Beef hotdogs. You just have to try one people. Yes, that's my backpack in the first boxcar. I guess it's worth the extra $10...
Here is the obligatory video of the train ride for your viewing pleasure:
So, Neddleton arrives and we get off...and so did 1/2 of the train. In 2011, there were maybe 10-15 people that got off. Well, in 2013, about 35 people got off. It was unbelievable. About 20 of them were quickly rushing to get there things together and to get on the trail. We took our time and made sure we had everything and were comfortable before we got going.
We started out hiking and started passing a few groups every so often until we took our first break. Well, during this break a group of about 10 (adults and kids) comes blowing by us then proceeds to clog the trail when we started to hit the beginning of the elevation gain. There is one patch of the hike that has a steep ascent to get up and over a rock slide area and then a steep descent back down. It's about a 15 foot elevation gain and drop. After this point which I nicknamed the Chicago Basin Hillary Step due to the backlog and clog of people, we once again started passing groups. It was not until we ran into the first group coming down from the basin that they told us, "You are the first group off the train!" Alright, that's good news to hear out of the 35 people that got off! We might just find a decent camping spot.
It took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get up to the lower basin where we started looking for a camping spot. Of course we had to scout out our camping spot from 2011 to see if it was available but unfortunately it wasn't. However, we were able to find a very nice spot tucked off the trail a little ways which served perfectly for our purposes with a nice log to sit on.
There is always excitement in a backpacking camp right? Well, I couldn't help but secretly film my father and brother putting up the food bag rope to keep it safe from the goats, deer and other critters.
Once we got the tent up and settled into camp, a deer arrived! Go figure, we did not see a single goat on our first day in camp. I guess that's a good thing considering how intrusive they are.
We got to bed early that night and planned on yet another 3:00 AM wakeup so we could make sure we had decent weather and had plenty of time to get back down to the train at 4:00 PM. We were on the trail by 3:25. The hike to the upper basin went fairly quickly in the dark and we were most of the way up the trail by the time the light started to peak through over the mountains. Actually, we were all the way up to just below the ramp before it got light out. Here is a shot of Sunlight and Windom from just above the ramp:
The ramp is the first obstacle that you must tackle after hiking up the face of Eolus. Take note that you do not turn right onto the first "ramp" that you see going up. You must take the second ramp. Here is a video of us going down the ramp on the way down but it gives you an idea of what you will face coming up:
For whatever reason, I did not take any video going up Eolus and so everything you see will be us going down. Once you reach the top of the ramp, you have a little hike up to the "green notch" The trail is good and well marked up to this point. This is a picture of my brother going up the green notch. It's a fun class 3 climb with good hand and foot holds.
Once you reach the top of the green notch, you are on the saddle between Eolus and North Eolus. This is the view you will have of what is to come from a little bit up the catwalk:
Here is a view looking the other direction at North Eolus from just above the green notch on the catwalk:
The infamous catwalk is not as bad as it may sound. There is some exposure and tight areas along the ridge but the rock is good and there is nothing i felt uncomfortable on. Here are a couple of videos of my father and brother heading back across the catwalk from Mount Eolus.
As you get to the end of the catwalk, you are now beginning the class 3 portion of the climb which is the East Face of Eolus. Here is a video of what you will see and a description of what we did going up and down:
The face of Eolus is a bunch of loose rock, scree, and vegetated ledges. There are quite a few cairns and no real trail for you to follow. My recommendation is you start out going high (not on the ridge), as this will take you to a ledge that you can following for quite a bit of distance across the face of Eolus. Here is a picture of what the end of this ledge looks like:
Here is a video of my father and brother descending the ledges:
Here is a video up high on the East Face of Eolus descending the ledges:
I will say that going up, I decided to take on of the large green ledges over to the ridge about 3/4 of the way up and I took the ridge the rest of the way to the top. The ridge at this point is all class 3 with some exposure but actually quite a nice climb. I had had enough of the crappy ledges. In 2011, I took the ledges all the way to the top but this year found the ridge to work out just fine. On the way down, however, I took the ledges the entire way. The ledges are fairly steep with loose rock and exposure. Take your time and route find and you can find a great way up and down with minimal class 3 if any at all.
Once you conquer the ledges, you are on top! Obligatory summit panorama:
Here are some pictures from the top:
Coming off the summit, you drop down to the south slightly on the ridge and then hit the ledges. Here is a shot of the ledges right from the summit ridge:
Since we had such good weather and an early start, we could not pass up climbing North Eolus and adding that to the peaks for my father. Here are some shots from North Eolus:
On the way down off of North Eolus, we decided to avoid the green notch as we did in 2011 and just head almost straight down off the side of North Eolus through the solid rock ledges. There was a large group coming up and we didn't want to get mixed up with them waiting on the green notch. It's not a bad route at all.
Of course you can't pass up the luscious green pictures of Sunlight and Windom on the way down.
And then of course there are the goats (first ones we saw thus far on the trip). This daddy/mommy goat just about attacked me as I hiked closer ON THE TRAIL as he/she was defending his/her baby goat.
I'm a bit of an adventurous person and had to stop by the mine shaft that is on the right side of the upper basin as you are heading down.
And of course the photos hiking out of Chicago Basin are extraordinary. The mountains here truly make it "God's country."
Overall, it was a great hike and #48 for my father. You truly can't beat the pictures back in Chicago Basin and the lovey camp sites. What a blessing! The hike out went well as we trudged back to Needleton. Thankfully we got rained on a little on the way down because when you get near Needleton, it gets HOT! We got back on the 3:30 PM train (we were actually scheduled for the 4:00 PM) but they had open seats available for us on the 3:30 so we got out a half hour early. Thank goodness this was the case because we had to drive back to Denver that night still. The only part of this trip that went wrong was that they RAN OUT OF HEBREW BEEF HOTDOGS on the train ride out. The hikers coming in wiped out their supply. So, we had to settle for Durango Brewery Dark Lager to fill our tummies...yum...
Chaplain (CPT) Witte
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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