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 Peak(s):  Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,082 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
 Post Date:  08/14/2013 Modified: 08/18/2013
 Date Climbed:   08/08/2013
 Posted By:  leafmiles
 Rain Delay: Windom Group - standard routes   

I anticipated our trip might require a "rain day" in the San Juans. I didn't expect to need it after getting lost 50' feet from our tent.

Walking up from Needleton, we noticed a volunteer for the non-profit 14ers initiative making her way steadily behind us. She passed us on our water break and then we re-passed her on her snack break. We leap frogged her a few more times until, while trying to stay dry under a pine tree, I figured I'd save time and ask her were a good spot to camp would be. We stood near the lower camping areas which said where great spots, but overcrowded. Up by the yellow gulch, where the initiative staked out a sort of base camp, she promised some flat areas - although a great spot, an area popular for goats. A mile or so later, this nice young lady motioned to us to cross Needle Creek with a long beckoning arm movement. Already torched by the altitude my sea-level eyes caught one last glimpse of her as she climbed up a steep hill into the camping area and I haven't seen her since then. My friend and I gasped our way into the tall pines and eventually, out of desperation strode through the wet underbrush to a flat, yet more primitive and remote than she might have had in mind, site for us to hastily erect our tent. By 7pm we were digesting dinner, stashing the canister and hanging a lunch filled daypack for Sunlight and Windom and an early start the next day. Just before hiding in our tents my friend pulled a long nylon chord out of the grass. The cord about twice as long as the one I repurposed from the Marmot tent extras to hang the pack. Well, had we not found that cord, things might have been different. We need a new place to use this longer line. We traverse a small hill and use the splintered end of a felled tree to rehang the pack. The next morning at 3 am, it's no where to be found. In fact we become so disoriented in searching for the pack, we lose our tent and the Needle Creek trail in the pitch dark. 3 hours later, soaking wet, completely frustrated, freezing and wet we decide the entire day is a loss. We finally locate the tent and return to our sleeping bags.

Not a good start! Disheartening to say the least after flying from the east coast, two days earlier. But we laugh - you must. I wake back up at 8am, pleased to hear the sound of steady rain pattering on the tent fly. Return to sleep again. 11am I venture out for the daypack. There she hangs, at the same 50-second-walk distance as she did the night before. "Lets move camp, stay busy, attempt drying, cook dinner, hike up to the tree line and salvage the day." We are re-invigorated in the PM hours. In awe of the basin's misty charm and breathless beauty. Tomorrow is our second chance. This time we leave the pack right near our tent. 3am rise, daypack loyally hanging in line-of-headlamp-site. We're the first ones up Sunlight. Thanks to some great advice from this forum, I don't hesitate on the summit block and sit myself right up there, gasping narcotic-level spurts of adrenaline. The following Windom hike is much tougher on my endurance. We can't knock all three out in one day. My knees hurt and I can't climb more than 20 feet without stopping. Eolus on our final day and we'll start as early as we have the first two days, leaving us plenty of time left to walk out. It hails that afternoon, continuing the fun. More reason to sleep all afternoon. Our final day - a crystal, a gem, a ruby. We woke up at 2am and climbed out of our tent at 3am to a display of infinite stars twinkling above the basin, met by the sharp Needled silhouette surrounding us. Embedded in the scene, a glowing and milky band haunts the dark ether above. Randomly, sudden white streaks thread brief sections of the night. We count them.

Almost the first to summit Eolus for the day, we steer over to N. Eolus. Thanks to the forum, I knew my routes and that North was a quick little side serving. From North we watched a pair of brothers contemplate Eolus's upper portion just after the Catwalk bridge and one of them scale the blocks on the completely wrong, western, side! When we caught up I told him how crazy it looked to me and he admitted his mistake! The blocks to the right, wester side, were much steeper and covered in a slick frost to boot. The brothers and my buddy and I followed the cairns up the east face ledges and until one cairn pile lead us back to the right ridge and the one taller brother ended up traversing there to the summit. Again, he admitted later, not the best way to go. Us other three switched back across the ledges and climbed towards the left ridge were the blocks and cracks were more suitable to my comfort and seemed well traveled. Eolus, with the catwalk and that impossible stack of ledges has to be the strangest most exciting hike of my life to date. Loved it!

Two other little side stories from the trip: About ten minutes into the walk from Needleton, I de-layered and left my brand new sunglasses on the side of the trail. Three days later they were sitting just where I left them. "People don't just come all the way out here and take other people's stuff. It's Colorado," my friend said.

Stash a few cold ones in Needle Creek for your return, they said. We stashed six. Buried them deep, under three 20 lbs stones. Four days later, they're gone. Very let down. The look in my buddy's eyes. He'd just lost his childhood pet. Just dumped by a heartbreaker. Drowned his favorite cactus plant. Found a hair his mulligatawny soup. Just leaned on a freshly painted.. ah whatever. Well maybe the steady rains swelled the river a little bit and six pack shifted loose and floated away. It was worth a look down river. I'm not so sure how altruistic this tradition is because it's pollution in the long run. The six pack was about 30 yards downstream, snagged on a log, above a short water drop. 3 out of 6 beers are drinkable. The excitement alone of losing and rediscovering the brews, worth the loss in alcohol content. Besides the popular cheap brew on the train tasted much better than our snooty micro-brew selection.



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