| Chicago Basin - Part 1
This is part 1 of the report.
Participants: trishapajean and cftbq
Day 0: The train and the hike in
Mileage: 25 by rail, 7 on foot
Vertical: ~2,900 ft.
Everybody who's been there knows the routine: Leave Durango on the 9 am train, and get off at the Needleton stop about 11:30. The train ride along the Animas River is scenic, but the expense is an annoying addendum to your climb. So is having to go on the train's schedule.
We hiked the 0.8 miles to the start of the Needle Creek trail, and headed up. The weather was nice, although clouds threatened and the bugs were out in full force.
We decided to camp at the lower end of the allowed camping area in Chicago Basin to minimize the amount of hiking we would have to do with our full packs—especially going out on Friday. Our luxurious campsite:
Day 1:Sunlight Peak (14,064 ft.)
Windom Peak (14,087 ft.)
Vertical: ~3,750 ft.
We were up just before 4:30 am and on the trail at 5:40. Not quite as early as we had hoped, but still OK; this day we had all day. It had rained in the night, but the clouds seemed to be breaking up and the temperatures were mild. After the steep climb to Twin Lakes, we got our first, cloud-filtered, look at Sunlight Spire:
With only intermittent breaks, the clouds continued to wrap most of the high peaks as we made our way up the red gully toward the Sunlight Peak/Sunlight Spire saddle. We saw a group of 7 or 8 hikers heading up toward Windom. The climbing got slowly but steadily harder as the average size of the rocks increased with altitude.
Shortly after turning left just below the saddle, the big steps and crack climbing began. After giving up a few feet of elevation, we came to a rather large shelf where the exit choices consisted of a handful of equally difficult-looking cracks, until we noticed an arrow, constructed of pebbles, indicating the one at the far left. We decided to go with it and it worked!
Almost at the top, we got our final surprise, which had not been mentioned in any of my advance reading—an actual tunnel under an overhanging rock which we had to climb to reach the bench leading to the register and benchmark. Maybe there's a way around it, but I certainly didn't see it. Trishapajean coming up the tunnel:
The clouds still weren't gone, but we did have the clearest weather of the day for the 20 minutes or so we spent at the summit. We got there just about 10:30 am. Finally seeing the summit in person was amazing.
We signed the register, left only five days earlier and bearing about thirty names. Then we retraced our steps back to the top of the red gully and began scouting out the most efficient route over to Windom.
I'd read various estimates of how far down one has to go, but I think we ended descending only about 800 feet to where we had an easy shot at Windom's west ridge. We could see the large party of climbers coming down off the ridge as we made our way over. We picked our way across the tops of a couple of the few remaining snow fields, moving mostly on easy rocks. We gained the west ridge at the saddle between Windom and the small ridge point which separates it from Peak 18.
I got one decent shot of Sunlight on the way up.
Clouds were closing in, not breaking up by this time. We met two climbers coming down who said they were abandoning their summit attempt, fearing rain. We decided to press on, knowing that we didn't have very far to go. We found the route fairly well cairned. We also found it easy to stay near the ridge crest regardless of the exact route we took through the rocks. We also found the climbing relatively easy, after Sunlight.
About 2:00 pm we hit the summit under total cloud cover. It's just plain weird. We found the register canister hanging from a rock wall just under the high point, but empty, since its lid was missing. We replaced the register, improvised a temporary lid with a Ziploc bag and a rubber band, and placed the canister on the shelf above its attachment point, in hopes that this would help our temporary fix survive longer. The sooner some foresighted climber can get up there with a proper cap, the better.
Since we couldn't see a thing, and it was after noon, we headed down fairly quickly.We hadn't gotten very far when it did indeed begin to rain. Fortunately, it was fairly gentle, and there was no thunder or lightning, and only lasted about fifteen minutes. This happened a couple more times on the way down.
We actually met one other person coming up! He said he had climbed Eolus that morning, and just needed Windom to finish the basin. We wished him luck.
After a fairly uneventful hike down, we made it back to camp about 5:30 pm. And then, as if to mock us, the skies mostly cleared, and we had warm sunshine at the end of our day!
The next day's adventure is covered in a separate report.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):