Chicago Basin - September 2013
Sunlight Peak (14,059) - South Face
Windom Peak (14,082) - West Ridge
North Eolus (14,038) - South Ridge
Dates: September 7th - September 10th 2013
Wolf Pack: Kevin, Patrick, Andrea, Tina, Shawn, and Chris
This is my first trip report and what a first to start on! The six of us have been waiting a long time to get down south to do Chicago Basin, and the weekend after labor day was a perfect time to avoid the summer crowds and beat the 90 degree heat from Denver. This particular trip was to be Shawn's finisher after a summer of slaying fourteeners!
Most of us work in the restaurant business so naturally we thought it was a good idea to leave after work and drive though the night to Durango. Not advised!! We were like zombies, but here we go...
We met up and left Denver at 11:45pm and raced down to Durango. We opted to take 1-25 south even though it was slightly longer, to lessen the incidence of wildlife encounters on the road and to take advantage of the faster speeds. At 5:45am we pulled into the Denny's next to the train station in Durango to get a big breakfast before heading out on the train.
We boarded the train and left Durango at 8:45am arriving at Needleton at 11:30am.
Boarding the Train in Durango
Crossing the Bridge at Needleton
We took about half an hour to eat, re-organize our packs and stash some celebratory beer for the way back. At 12:00pm we crossed the bridge and headed up the Needle Creek trail. It's about a 6 mile trek up a pretty grueling (at times) trail to Chicago Basin. This in many ways was the most physically exhausting part of the trip. We arrived at the basin at about 4:00pm. There are numerous places to camp along the side of the trail as you approach the basin.
The first view of the Basin
We had read that camping higher up in the basin would make the peak climbing shorter, however, the mountain goats can be somewhat of a nuisance in your camp area. For that reason we opted to make camp about a hundred feet below the basin to not be in their way. There are some great spots close (but not too close) to the river. This area has some great trees to hang a tarp canopy. It rains a lot back here!!! We had rain every day and night as if the basin makes it's own weather. I highly recommend a tarp or two! Since campfires are not allowed in the basin, we went to bed early around 8pm and skipped the normal whiskey by the fire routine that usually keeps us up a while.
Day 1: Sunlight, Windom
It rained all night and kept me up wondering if we were going to be able to hike the next morning but sure enough it stopped and no sooner did I fall asleep and Shawn was knocking on our tent at 4:45am and pushing his TANG! (It's not OJ Shawn!!) We strapped on our headlamps and headed up the trail at 5:45am.
Day 1: Under cloudy skies
Shawn doing his most interesting finisher pose
We made quick work of Sunlight, which was a fun climb! After we reached the notch we ditched the packs and continued up the more difficult climbing. All in all Sunlight wasn't as tough as I thought, but there was some exposure. Be sure to avoid going through the first window you come across. We went though it for fun just to see the alternate route up, but it was much more difficult. The route continues around to the left where we located the small chimney window and climbed through it, reaching the summit at about 9:30am. Chris was the only one to take the "Leap of Faith". Congrats!! The wind had picked up slightly and after seeing him pause for a moment to figure out how exactly to get down, I made my mind up not to do it. It's still eating Patrick and I up a bit. Next time Bro!
ascending the south slopes of Sunlight
The chimney you go through to the summit
Chris and Patrick on Sunlight's summit
Sunlight from Windom
We weren't sure our luck with the weather would last so we descended Sunlight's south face and traversed over to Windom's west ridge. There is a good spot around 13,200ft where the rocks turn green to make this traverse. From there is a choose your own adventure to gain the ridge. Once on the ridge the route finding becomes more difficult, but the rock is big solid blocks that all lead to the summit. We summited Windom at 12:00pm. I think we were all in agreement that Windom's summit is a little under-rated. What an amazing summit! If it weren't for Sunlight's summit block, it would get more credit.
Steep but fun blocks leadaing to Windom's summit
Eolus and N. Eolus from Windom
We took our time getting down but still made it back to camp around 3:00pm.
The rain finally came in around 5:00pm and we were thankful to have the tarp canopy, otherwise it would have been a really early bed time.
Day 2:North Eolus, Eolus
Day 2: Cloudier Skies
It rained again but not as bad nor as long as the night before, so the sleep quality was better. We awoke the same time and hit the trail at 5:45am under similarly cloudy and foggy skies. The climb up the west slopes of Eolus was tiresome especially after two days of "the stair-climber from hell" that is the trail up to twin lakes. We passed some volunteers from CFI doing some trail work on Eolus which made the trek up the west slopes much easier than we had read about. I can't say enough about the job these people do. We as a climbing community owe them a lot! After stopping to chat with them for a few minutes we turned right at the ramp that leads to the upper basin. After some steep but fun climbing up the notch we reached the saddle between N. Eolus and Eolus. By this time it is so foggy we couldn't see either summit. We didn't waste anytime summiting N. Eolus at round 9:00am before heading over to the catwalk. At this point the Andrea and Tina decided the exposure was too much and they went down to the bottom of the notch to wait. MY hat is off to both of them for stepping outside their comfort zones and tackling some pretty tough and exposed peaks.
West slopes of eolus
Climbing the notch
On the ridge to N. Eolus
The remaing route to The summit
Only 2/10 of a mile now separated Shawn from finishing!!
The wet foggy catwalk (so close!!!)
Just as we approached the catwalk, it started sleeting for about 5 min, but that was all it took to soak the rocks and make the rest of the route much more dangerous to go along with the fog. After careful debate we called it. Eolus would have to wait another year. It is a hard thing to do to pull the plug so close to the top, but it should serve as a reminder that we as climbers have very little control. The mountain and mother nature decide whether or not we summit. All we have is the ability to make good decisions so that we can climb another day. Shawn decided to pop the bottle of champagne anyway and we toasted to a great trip.
We made the decision to double time down and pack out a day early. We broke camp at 1:00pm and made it to the bridge at Needleton at 3:00.
There we located the beer, drank some Breckenridge Bourbon and waited for the train which came a half hour later.
There is no cooler way to end an epic trip than seeing that train come around the corner to pick you up.
On the train we laughed and celebrated because next year we get to come back to this amazingly beautiful place to grab the last one, and because 3 out of 4 is damn good!!