| Chicago Basin Extravaganza
After several months of planning, our much anticipated trip to Chicago Basin was finally upon us. Taking the train in from Durango were Len (msianmama), Alli, Drew, Nick (Badgernick), and Jason (Uffda). Hiking all the way in from Purgatory were Frank (RoadRunner), Steve, and Geo.
After a restful night at the excellent Durango Hometown Hostel (http://www.durangohometownhostel.com/), we drove the few blocks to the depot and boarded the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train #463 for a prompt 9 AM departure.
We arrived at the remote Needleton stop at about 11:30.
After collecting our packs and hiding our cans of Coors under some rocks on the bank of the Animas River, we began the 7 mile trek up the Needle Creek Trail towards Chicago Basin. While the scenery along the trail was spectacular, the hordes of flies were not - be sure to apply plenty of bug spray before beginning this hike!
We finally met up with the rest of the group at our "base camp" site at the Columbine Pass/Twin Lakes trail fork high in Chicago Basin after about 4 hours of hiking. Everything you've heard about the wildlife in the basin is true - we constantly had fearless mountain goats and deer wandering through. Be sure to hang up anything edible/chewable when you're not around!
After setting up camp and relaxing a bit, we all found our sleeping bags just after sundown.
The alarm went off at 6, and after a quick breakfast we were on the trail by 7. The trail up to Twin Lakes is steep in parts, but luckily a CFI/SWCC trail crew is currently hard at work mitigating the worst sections (THANK YOU!).
Drew crossing a waterfall below Twin Lakes
We reached the amazing Twin Lakes after about one hour and quickly found the trail leading to Sunlight and Windom.
The trail to the base of the gully between Sunlight and Sunlight Spire is pretty straightforward. Once there, some easy scrambling and scree surfing gets you to the ridge between those two peaks.
A little route finding is required to keep the remaining ridge to the summit at Class 3, but if you watch for cairns it's pretty easy.
Once on top, I was finally able to see the famous Sunlight summit block for myself. Steve immediately jumped up to the block and was obviously impressed with the exposure. Nick gave it a try next, but he was not too comfortable with the moves required to get back down. I was able to put a foot over the "gap", but that's as far as I was willing to go.
The exposure directly under the gap isn't as horrible as you'd think, but a fall would definitely ruin your day. Getting back down from the summit block requires either an awkward Class 4 downclimb move or a "leap of faith" that would be very bad to overshoot. Frank and Geo were also able to summit, but the rest of us were just fine stopping where we did.
After resting up, we started the downclimb back to the base of the gully and began the traverse over to Windom.
The snow field we crossed for the traverse was the only part of the trip where I felt an ice axe would be warranted, but I was fine with my trekking poles. I elected to climb straight up to the west ridge after crossing the first snow field, while a few others decided to cross both fields and ascend from there. We both arrived at the ridge at about the same time, so either route is about the same time commitment. Steve elected to climb the steep north face directly, which got him to the summit about 30 minutes before the rest of us.
About an hour of fun scrambling on the ridge got us to the summit of Windom. Windom Peak was named in honor of William Windom, a former US Senator from Minnesota - it was nice to climb a peak named after someone from my home state.
Sunlight Spire and Windom
The summit block was pretty exposed here as well, but it made for some good pictures.
The clouds were starting to build up fast, so we descended quickly. We had to avoid several groups of stubborn goats on the way down. After stopping to filter some water above Twin Lakes, we continued back to camp as the rain and hail was starting.
After resting at camp for a few hours, the clouds cleared up and led to a very nice evening.
Once again we were on the trail by 7. The hike up to Twin Lakes seemed to take much more energy than the previous day. At least the trail to Eolus promised to be shorter than yesterday's Sunlight/Windom combo.
Going the other direction from Twin Lakes, we gradually ascended the trail up to the headwall below Eolus. From there we quickly scrambled up to the saddle between Eolus and North Eolus.
We decided to knock out North Eolus first to get a better look at the route up Eolus.
After a few minutes on top we returned to the saddle and started across the "sidewalk in the sky" catwalk over to Eolus.
Fortunately for us, Steve had climbed Eolus earlier and volunteered to guide us up the route. Apparently route finding isn't the easiest here, as we had to help out a few other parties who were off-route either below or above us. Keep an eye out for those cairns!
With Steve's expert guidance it took us maybe 45 minutes to reach the summit from the end of the catwalk.
Steve on the top
There were some clouds building in the area, so we hustled back down.
We made good time back to Twin Lakes, and since the weather seemed to be holding off we took some time to relax by the lake and soak our feet in the crystal clear (and cold!) water. After returning to camp the rain was off and on for the rest of the evening.
Nick, Frank, Steve, and Geo all packed out that evening. Since there was no way for the rest of us to make the train that day, we had a leisurely evening hanging around camp.
After a late wake-up and a hot breakfast, the "train crew" packed up and hit the trail back to Needleton at 8.
We made great time going down the trail and arrived at the stop just as the northbound train was stopping. As the Silverton-bound hikers loaded up, we retrieved our cold beers from the river (much to the amusement of the tourists watching us from the train). After a few hours of playing cards and nursing our Coors, we gathered near the tracks to watch the first Durango-bound train head past.
The timetable specifically said that train would not stop for us, but we were pleasantly surprised when they did! We all had to run to grab our packs and race back to the train to ensure we got on in time.
After a pleasant ride back to Durango, we drove to Pagosa Springs for some margaritas and well-deserved soaking in the hot springs.
Unfortunately, we didn't realize until we were driving home that apparently we were doing the whole "camping" thing totally wrong.
More pictures from this trip can be found here:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):