Peak(s):  Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,082 feet
Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
Post Date:  08/02/2007
Modified:  08/03/2007
Date Climbed:   07/05/2007
Posted By:  Ryk

 Sunlight, Window & Eolus, San Juan Trip Part 2   

After finishing off Sneffels & the Wilson group (see Part 1 at:, we continued our journey by driving to Durango. This was my first time in Durango and I wasn't sure whether there were a lot of extra people there due to it being the 4th of July or not, but it sure was fun people-watching and strolling along Main Street. We watched a charming but short small-town parade and ate ice-cream as any good American would on Independence day!

We stayed the night in a motel, giving us a chance to take a well-deserved shower and freshen up for the next leg of the showdown. Scott's friend James joined us late that night and we all met up at the train station the following morning for the trip to Needleton. The train is pretty neat, but rather than gawking at the views as most people did, I took the opportunity to just relax and do some reading.

The hike up Needle Creek was beautiful. There were several scenic waterfalls along the way looking even better when juxtaposed against the rugged terrain of the Needle Peaks. Our weather thus far on the trip had been nearly perfect, but it was not to remain so. About halfway up the trail it started to rain and then hail on us pretty heavily. When we got to the end of the trail we were lucky to find a free campsite. I was surprised that there were only two decent campsites there with a few more slightly lower down the trail. We were greeted by the overly-friendly herd of goats. We'd heard about them but were pretty amazed at how brash they were. The weather never cleared that day and it rained fairly hard that night, so I thought we might wake up to see fresh snow on the peaks, but we didn't.

We hit the trail that morning at 6:30, aiming to climb Sunlight & Windom. The climb to the upper basin is quite steep and as Scott said in his trip report, we met some folks working on re-routing the trail. As it is, there's a lot of erosion on that trail and sorely needs work. The Twin Lakes were beautiful as we passed them along the way.

In the mountain goats' house!

We crossed a lot of snow to get to the base of Sunlight, then cramponed up for the climb to the saddle between Sunlight & Sunlight Spire.

Sunlight's south slopes

James didn't have crampons, so he did an admirable job of picking his way to the top along the rock walls. He and Scott are quite good rock climbers, so I was glad he was on the rock, rather than me. The climb up the snowfield was pretty straightforward. There was only one point where it got pretty steep and very, very icy, making it hard to protect yourself, but mercifully it was only for a short stretch.

Once on the saddle, we took off the crampons and continued upward. Unlike the loose rock in the Wison group, this rock is wonderfully solid and consists of sharp, red granite that's super grippy, which made the scramble to the top pretty quick. I passed through the hole as written in the trip description and we were then at the summit block. We took turns standing on the actual summit which consists of a friction climb up a short slab, a hop across a gap to the actual summit then you stand up with some hair-raising exposure to the north. I stood there long enough for Scott to snap a photo, then proceeded down, which was harder than going up since you have a short jump down onto a downward sloping rock -- there's little room for error. All three of us hesitated when faced with this obstacle.

Climbing Sunlight's summit block

We made our way back down the peak and then contoured around and up to the saddle to Windom. Windom is an easy scramble from the saddle; we were on the summit in 30 minutes. There's not much to say about it in terms of difficulty or finding your way. The route is obvious. We went back to our camp and napped during a long-heavy afternoon rainstorm.

The next morning we awoke to a beautiful morning and left at 6:00 to climb Eolus and N. Eolus. We made very good time and were able to avoid almost all of the snow. We soon found ourselves at the saddle between the peaks, then ditched our snow gear for the remainder of the climb.

Scott on the ridge to Eolus

View of the ridge & Eolus, from N. Eolus

The ridge over to Eolus looks pretty airy, but wasn't really that bad. We again followed Roach's description up the peak. It's solid 3rd class climbing and again, well cairned. This climbing reminded me of the climb up Capitol Pk. We didn't hang out on the peak for long since we were trying to keep to a schedule that would get us back to meet the train by 3:30, so we headed back down to the saddle and then up to N. Eolus. From the saddle it took all of about 5 minutes to get to N. Eolus on the delightfully grippy granite. This was the last peak of our week-long run and I savored the view of all three 14ers in the basin in the mid-morning sun.

Sunlight, Sunlight Spire and Windom from Eolus.

We made our way back to camp, packed up, and hiked back to the train stop under cloudy, cool skies. The train experienced a mechanical problem on the way back, delaying our arrival back in Durango by an hour or so. The yummy meal and cold beer would have to wait just a bit longer. Once back in town, Scott, James and I said our good-byes as they had planned to get to another trailhead that evening. We'd climbed many thousands of vertical feet together and it was great to hook up and make friends with such strong, safe climbers.

I spent the remainder of the evening relaxing in town, eating a wonderful meal at Carver's and sampling all of their beers - a nice treat for a week of hard climbing! This completed my remaining San Juan peaks. I was looking forward to knocking them off so as to not have to head back to that part of the state anytime soon again. But after spending a week there, I'm sure I'll be back again, sooner than I'd planned!

The train taking us back to Durango, along the Animas river.

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