A Day Hike of Chicago Basin's Four For the Finisher!
So, what's one way to make a 14er finisher a memorable experience? By making it the most difficult hike to date - a day hike of Sunlight Peak, Windom Peak, North Eolus, and Mt. Eolus from Purgatory TH.
These were my last four 14ers and the last leg of my trip: Day 1: Vestal Peak & Arrow Peak from Molas Lake TH
Day 2: R&R
Day 3: Mt. Wilson from Navajo TH
Day 4: El Diente from Kilpacker TH
Day 5: Wilson Peak from Rock of Ages TH
Day 6: R&R
Day 7: Sunlight Peak, Windom Peak, North Eolus, & Mt. Eolus from Purgatory TH
I'm mostly writing this trip report for future references for any hikers who plan to day hike or backpack into Chicago Basin from Purgatory TH. For the train approach, there should be other trip reports that are more detailed than this one. However, I'm going to provide some photos so as to not cause any outrage (I do see the thread that is trending right now) .
Since I'd day hiked all the 14ers so far, I didn't have the necessary gear to be able to backpack and camp in the Chicago Basin. Being a broke college student, I didn't want to shell out the necessary funds to be able to do so for this trip (don't worry, I will eventually join the crowd). After reading some trip reports by people in excellent shape (i.e. ultra runners and the like) being able to do such a day hike, I figured it was at least possible for me. I only consider myself being above average in shape. Just a regular dude who frequently enjoys Chipotle burritos and large steaks. This should be good enough, right?
The initial plan was to split these peaks into two days: Sunlight & Windom first, R&R the next day, and the Eoluses the day after. I kept on reminding myself that under no circumstances should I attempt all four in one day. That would be like going through hell on earth! I had already experienced the pain and suffering that comes with a super, long hike on day one of my trip. The lesson I learned from that hike was to bring calories. I made sure to pack a lunch and dinner. Usually for me, granola bars and slim jims are good enough for any hike less than 12 hours. However, I estimated that this hike would take around 24 hours. To be able to reach the second summit before noon, I knew that I had to start before midnight.
The problem with that idea was trying to get enough sleep. I was car camping at the Purgatory TH, which is right across from the Durango Mountain Resort. I fell asleep at 3pm for two hours, laid there for another four hours, then fell asleep again for another hour. When I woke up around 10pm, I laid there debating with myself regarding whether I should attempt this hike with such a lack of sleep. In addition, it was lightly raining outside. I knew the weather the next day would be terrible, and if I didn't get the first two peaks that day, I wouldn't be able to finish the last two two days later, which would be on my birthday. Wouldn't it be nice to finish the 14ers on your birthday? Alright, let's do this!
The trail is pretty simple to follow. It loses about 1,000 feet of elevation before getting to the river crossing on the suspension bridge. I remember in the beginning that there was an unmarked trial junction - you go right. I also remember a less defined, unmarked trial junction closer to the river - you stick on the more worn trail by going left. However, I am not exactly sure if that was indeed a trial junction.
After crossing the suspension bridge, you will hike along the train tracks for a short bit before crossing over. I recommend that you make a mental note of where the trail initially approaches the train tracks because I missed the turn off during my return hike in the dark until I looked at my GPS.
After crossing the train tracks, it is pretty much completely flat the entire way to the marked trail junction that will lead to Chicago Basin. The trail junction is right after a small bridge. From there, I will let the route descriptions on this site do the rest.
Overall, the trail from Purgatory TH to the trial junction for the train approach is relatively easy. However, it is really long! Around 8-9 miles one way.
So enough about the trail description, let's get back to my adventure.
After daylight broke, I was completely awake and full of energy! My first peak was Sunlight, and it was pretty straight forward. I then teamed up with another hiker to do Windom. By this time, it was noon and rain clouds were starting to roll in. Then came my dilemma! Remember when I told myself that I would not do all four peaks today? Well, who knew they were so darn close to each other!! I still had the energy to go for it, but I had to make a choice.
1) Go for North Eolus and Eolus to finish the 14ers today with bad weather coming in, or
2) Return two days later and do this super, long hike again.
Option 1 was going to come with some pain and suffering on the long hike back. However, I was more concerned with getting caught in lightning and thunder. I knew the Eoluses required class 3 climbing, but I was comfortable doing class 3 on wet rocks. Rain clouds eventually came in, but there was very little lighting or thunder. Whatever, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to finish the 14ers today. Let's do it!
The weather held as I did North Eolus. When I got to the saddle, it began to lightly rain. No major lightning or thunder in the area; that was good enough for me. I made sure to be extra careful on the wet rocks as I climbed Eolus. Finally, I made it to the summit! #58!!! All to myself.
There was still no lightning or thunder on the summit, but it was still lightly raining, then it started to snow. WTF? So it is true. It can snow during the summer in the mountains. Even though the forecast said there was a good chance of a rain/snow mix, I needed to see it to believe it. Even more interesting was that I could hear the electrical currents running through the rocks. I could even hear and feel the electrical currents running through the tips of my fingers. Taking photos with my camera didn't seem to help the matter. Very strange phenomena; it was the first time I'd ever experienced something like that. I would have been concerned if there were lightning and thunder, but fortunately for me, there weren't. After spending a good 10 minutes on the summit, I started heading down.
Well, the time of reckoning eventually came. You thought you could do this hike in one day? Okay, now suffer the consequences!
The hike back was slow and brutal! I remember looking at my GPS and saying "holy crap, I have a freaking long hike back!" My legs were still keeping up, which was a pleasant surprise, however, my eyes just wanted to take a little rest. Somehow, once I started regaining the 1,000 feet in elevation at the end, I had less trouble staying awake. The return hike still sucked, but it was still better than the return hike I did on day one on my trip. Eventually, I made it back to the car!! I chomped down some Twizzlers, guzzled some Gatorade, then passed out. Done & done.
This is year four for me since I started the 14ers. Two in year one. Forty-seven in year two. Zero in year three. Nine in year four. It has been an amazing adventure so far, but now it's time to move on to the next adventure, whatever that may be.
Here are my times for reference:
- 1 hour to the train tracks
- 4.5 hours to the trail junction for the train approach
- 7 hours to Chicago Basin
- 11 hours to Sunlight Peak
- 13 hours to Windom Peak
- 15.5 hours to North Eolus
- 16.5 hours to Mt. Eolus
- 27 hours to the car
Roach has one peak at around 35 miles RT from Purgatory TH, so I estimate the total was shy of 40 miles RT. No idea what the elevation gain was. You can download the .gpx for the Purgatory TH to the trail junction for the train approach below. If the link dies, you can PM me for a copy. Thanks!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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