Sunlight Peak (14,059’)
Mount Eolus (14,083')
Windom Peak (14,082')
San Juan Range; the Needle Mountains
Dates: September 3rd thru 7th, 2013
Trailhead: Needle Creek Trail, No. 504 (accessed from the Needleton stop on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad)
Distance: ~23 1/2 miles RT (12 miles RT from train stop to camp, 3 1/2 miles RT from camp to Sunlight Peak, 4 miles RT from camp to Mount Eolus, and 4 miles RT from camp to Windom Peak)
Elevation Gain: ~12,000’ (~3000' from train to camp, and 3000' per summit)
Difficulty: Easy but steep trail to Twin Lakes. Lots of CFI trail improvement on approach to peaks from Twin Lakes. Class 4 on Sunlight Peak, Class 3 (and perphaps 3+) on Mount Eolus, and Class 2+ (but I would add a couple of Class 3 moves) on Windom Peak).
Exposure: A little exposure on the final approach to the summit of Sunlight Peak and then a lot on the final summit block of Sunlight Peak. A lot of exposure on the Sidewalk in the Sky (also called the Catwalk) on Mount Eolus and in places on the final climb to the summit of Mount Eolus. A little exposure on the summit of Windom Peak.
Resources Used For Trip Planning: Trails Illustrated map, Weminuche Wilderness, #140; weather forecast (NOAA); A Climbing Guide to Colorado's Fourteeners, Walter R, Borneman and Lyndon J. Lampert; Colorado's Fourteeners, Gerry Roach.
It has been over twenty years since I climbed my first 14er in Colorado. It wasn't like I hadn't been doing anything in between. There were other 14ers such as Rainier, the Matterhorn and La Malinche in Mexico. There were 15ers, 17ers and 18ers such as the Mont Blanc, Iztaccihuatl, and El Pico de Orizba. And there were many 13ers (such as the Grand Teton) and different routes up Colorado 14ers (such as the Cross Couloir on Holy Cross and the Cable Route on Longs Peak) to explore.
So I finally decided to finish my Colorado 14ers upon retirement. And what better way to finish than in Chicago Basin with my good friends Marlyn Peet and Carson Black. Marlyn and Carson were so gracious to accompany me since they had already climbed these peaks numerous times before.
We started our trip on the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad where we were dropped off at Needleton. The only damper on our trip was the hour and a half of steady rain we encountered on our hike in to Chicago Basin. However, all our climbing days were weather free, which is a blessing for the San Juans.
My Final Fourteeners...
We woke up at 5:00 to totally cloudy skies. I should have followed a similar approach that my friend Darin Baker had used on a previous trip to Wildhorse Peak and Blackwall Mountain, which was to start out and see if the weather cleared up. However, we slept in until 6:45 and awoke to mostly clear skies! Getting a late start we decided to head up Sunlight and see what happened.
The trail from Chicago Basin to Twin Lakes is a work of art (and sweat) by the CFI. The scenery is spectacular and worthy of the trip on its own. Wildlife is in abundance everywhere.
Chicago Basin is teeming with life
A natural fountain by Twin Lakes
I decided to take the standard route up Sunlight via the red couloir. Carson and Marlyn made their own routes.
My approach up Sunlight's red couloir
Carson and Marlyn climbed up to the summit block. I scrambled up and took a look at the gap and the way across. Carson had carried a rope and was willing to belay me, but there was no way to belay from the summit block itself, only from below. I was grateful for the gracious offer, but I decided to decline.
Carson on Sunlight's summit block
Alpine glow from camp
Marlyn and I left for Mount Eolus the next day. Carson decided to climb Peak 11 since he hadn't climbed it yet and it was on his top 300 list.
The Sidewalk in the Sky on Eolus
I really enjoyed the Sidewalk in the Sky; it was very solid rock for the most part. However, several people we talked to turned around at this point.
Marlyn on the Sidewalk in the Sky
But I was not thrilled with the final approach to the summit; it was loose, steep and exposed it many places. I was very careful on this section.
The final approach to the summit of Eolus
Me on the summit of Eolus
More wildlife on the way down
The next day all three of us climbed Windom Peak. We were lucky to have a third beautiful weather day in a row.
Carson near the summit of Windom
Carson and Marlyn on the summit of Windom
A window to Chicago Basin
Just for fun, on the way down Windom Peak, Carson and Marlyn decided to climb Peak 18 on the west shoulder of Windom Peak. I hiked down to its base with them and then decided that it was a little more than I wanted to tackle. I sat down and watched them climb through my monocular.
Marlyn and Carson summit Peak 18
They say that Sunlight Peak was named for "rays of sunlight shimmering through its summit needles". This probably is true, but this view of its sunlit face from Chicago Basin was prominent every evening.
Sunlight on Sunlight
As we were packing up camp the next day a herd of 30 goats came into camp. They were after the salt in our urine and remained in camp for a couple of hours, constantly battling each other for rights.
Mountain goats invade our camp
We left at 3:30 from Needleton. I learned where the phrase "blowing off steam" comes from as the train did just that to reduce the pressure on the engine.
The train arrives
It was a great ending to my 14er saga. Thank you Marlyn and Carson for everything!