| Chicago Basin Part 2--
Part 2 of the report
Participants: trishapajean, cftbq
Day 2: "North Eolus" (14,039 ft.)
Mileage: ~4 climbing, 7 hiking out
Vertical: ~2950 ft. climbing, -3,000 ft. hiking out
Remember, it was being turned around just a few hundred feet short of Eolus' summit three years earlier that was my big motivator for coming back to Chicago Basin…
Friday morning we set the alarm for 4 am MDT again, and this time we were both out of the sleeping bags by a few minutes after 4. After a quick breakfast and cup of coffee, we hung up the food bag and were off up the trail by 5:06 am. There had been only a few drops of rain in the night, and the skies seemed to be clearing. We could actually see a few bright stars in the dawn. Things looked good…
At Twin Lakes, we free-lanced a few dozen yards to the trail up toward Eolus and North Eolus. (We never did find any actual trail junction, but we could see the Eolus trail traversing to the left up the slope, so we went directly over to it.) As soil gave way to rocks, we found adequate cairns to follow up to the elevation of the few remaining snow fields.
Despite having seen a moment of clear sunlight on Eolus' summit on the way up, however, we soon found ourselves running into the cloud ceiling. At somewhere around 13,700 or 13,800 ft., just below the Catwalk, we were in the clouds, and visibility was reduced to less than 100 ft.
We still found cairns, however, so we didn't worry. No spectacular views, perhaps, but we would get there. We depoed our crampons and ice axes, confident that there was no significant snow higher up, and continued following the cairns as they led to our right (north) and up.
After reaching a relatively flat area, the cairned path took a severe turn to the left. Then it first paralleled, and then began climbing to the crest of, a ridge. We kept waiting for the Catwalk to appear out of the now very thick fog. Instead, we were presented with increasingly challenging stretches of scrambling.
Eventually, we found ourselves at the base of a narrow crack some thirty feet high, and just wide enough to allow one person at a time to wriggle up. Hand- and footholds were there, but sparse and often weird to use. It had to be Class 4 at least. Still, we could see no other way—not that we could see much at all. Trisha went up first and, while it was slow, she made it. I followed, taking almost as long to struggle with a difficult section right in the middle.
The top of the crack finally deposited us more or less on the crest of the ridge. From there boulder hopping mixed with Class 3 scrambling sections. But since it kept leading up, we kept climbing.
We were beginning to be a bit concerned about time. We had to be at Needleton by 3:45 pm. My original intention was to summit or turn around by 9 am, but we finally agreed that we could tolerate 9:30. That time was approaching.
Then, I saw a ridge looming through the fog on my left. Was this, at last, the Catwalk? If it was, would we still have enough time to get across it and climb the summit block? It seemed doubtful. But then, a few more yards of climbing revealed an obvious high point. Was it, against all odds, the summit—or just some minor ridge point?
As I approached to within a few feet, my hopes rose as I spied a benchmark! Had we made it after all? The place didn't look at all like the photos I'd seen of the summit of Eolus, but maybe that was just the fog. I put on my glasses to read the elevation inscribed on the marker. It was 14,039: the official elevation of North Eolus. We had climbed our secondary objective peak first by mistake, deceived by the lack of visibility!
Now, I knew in what general direction the true summit of Eolus had to lie, but visibility was at an all-time low, and we were totally out of time: 9:30 had come.
I regretfully informed Trisha of all this as she approached, and opined that we were just going to have to abandon Eolus. There was no way I was going to lead us down that ridge to the Eolus/North Eolus saddle—despite the fact that it's reputed to be fairly easy—when I couldn't see more than 25 feet in any direction. Plus, there was no telling how long climbing the summit block ledges would take, even if we never got off course.
We had no realistic choice but to retrace our steps. Some of it was difficult climbing—especially that crack—but at least it was a sure thing, guaranteeing that we wouldn't have to search for our stashed gear or otherwise get delayed.
In the shiftings of the fog, Trisha actually found a more gently sloped alternative to descending the dreaded crack, but I had already started down it, and elected to finish the downclimb, rather than climb back through the top half.
Shortly (100 vertical feet or so) after re-stowing our crampons and re-slinging our axes, we met a couple on their way up. It had taken us an hour from the summit. We informed them of what we had found, and gave them the best advice we could as to how to proceed in the proper direction to summit Eolus. Then we turned our attention to making the best time we could down the trail and back to camp.
We knew we needed to get there by about noon in order to have a reasonable amount of time to break camp and pack up. We figured we should allow three hours for the hike out, since it had taken us just under four hours to come up.
Once on a clear trail, we made it, but not with a lot to spare. We got to our camp at five minutes before noon. We tempted fate by taking the time to prepare a cup of coffee apiece, but we got everything packed up and were ready to begin hiking at 12:50 pm. We had five minutes short of the three hours we had anticipated to get to Needleton.
We pushed ourselves, despite having gotten unaccustomed to the weight of our full packs over the past two days. We reached New York Creek at 2:10 pm. Despite intermittent light rain, we shed clothes all the way down, and ended up back in the shorts and short sleeves we had started in on Wednesday.
We made it to the train stop at 3:25 pm, and promptly sat down, leaned against our packs, and did virtually nothing for the next twenty minutes. We had made it. We had also made most, if not quite all, of our climbing objectives. We had taken a good chunk out of Chicago Basin. We decided to enjoy our success, rather than dwell on the fact that we would have to return, by some means, to finish the basin off.
There were precious few pictures, both because my camera had mysteriously malfunctioned, and because were both mainly too preoccupied with the difficulties of the climb even to remember to take pictures. Not to mention that we couldn't see much anyway. The pictures I took on the two previous days can be seen at: