| Finisher Weekend in Chicago Basin
We had planned a trip to Chicago Basin for Labor Day Weekend and cursed the weather forecast as the departure date approached. It looked to be a wet one, but with the train tickets and hotel rooms already reserved, we decided to go for it and just about doubled our packs in weight in preparation for the inclement weather.
On Friday we woke up to beautiful skies and had a very pleasant ride in on the train.
After getting dropped off at the Needleton TH, the weather quickly started deteriorate and so we threw our packs on and set a hate pace all the way up to Chicago Basin which took us about 2 ˝ hours.
Just starting up the 6 mile trail to reach Chicago Basin
We hiked through drizzling rain and we could hear thunder all around us, but by the time we had reached the basin it had cleared up and remained that way for the rest of the night.
We got an early 5:00 AM start on Saturday morning to accomplish our goal for the day (Sunlight & Windom) before the weather could pull us off the mountains. Hiking under an almost full moon we made good timing up the hill to Twin Lakes following a great trail all the way. Then we paced ourselves for the slow huff and puff up the headwall, across the upper basin, and up the gulley in between Sunlight and the Spire.
Just above the upper basin looking back
Starting up the gully between Sunlight and the Spire
The ridge to Sunlight was uneventful, route finding was minimal, and we all got up the summit block to get our pictures standing on top of it.
Looking Northeast. Climbing is more difficult if you continue through this hole in the rocks
Climbing up through the chimney to reach the summit block
Scrambling up the summit block
Standing on top . . . a task much harder than it looks
A view of the exposure off the Northwest side?
We then traversed across under the Spire (man, I need to learn how to lead climb), up to the Windom ridge, and finally to the second summit of the day.
Windom from the summit of Sunlight
Looking back into the basin from the summit of Windom
Our descent went fine and if it wasn't for the growing clouds we probably would have made an attempt on Eolus and North Eolus that day. Good thing we didn't. Soon after we arrived back at camp it started to rain. Then it rained harder, then harder, then some hail, then even harder rain, more hail, and so on. We stayed fairly comfortable under a tarp that we had brought up, but cursed the weather has we saw a stream of water flowing right under our tents. It pretty much rained all night.
We woke up at about 4:00 AM expecting to get an early start on Eolus and North Eolus in order to catch the afternoon train back to Durango. Still pouring out. Hmmmm . . . what to do? We knew it would be one for the books if we started out in pouring rain, especially because we had no idea what it looked like on the summit, but hey, this was my last one; it wasn't supposed to be easy.
Well, it took us a while to get going out of camp and by the time we finally started hiking at around 5:20 AM, the rain had slowed down to a drizzle. That didn't make our pace slow down any because we were not sure what the rest of the day would look like. Right after we caught up with the Eolus trail above Twin Lakes we found ourselves in the clouds with poor visibility. Soon after that we hit the snow line (something we had figured we would come across eventually). We estimated there to be about an inch and a half on the ground. It wasn't bad getting up to the ridge, except for a little difficulty in route finding because the snow was covering the trail and the poor visibility made finding cairns harder.
On the standard trail leading up to the ridge
Just off the ramp and below the pitch leading to the notch
Once we reached the ridge, it immediately started to get interesting. The small pitch leading to the notch put the rest of the climb into perspective; a thin layer of wet slippery snow covering all the holds. The only thing missing was the exposure, but we would get plenty of that getting over to Eolus.
The pitch leading to the notch
Scotty scrambling up this pitch
We took our time getting up North Eolus and at the top I kept thinking, "well this isn't so bad; we might accomplish this easier than I thought." I didn't realize that North Eolus requires considerable less scrambling and exposure then its parent peak.
Climbing up to North Eolus
As soon as we started out across the ridge toward the catwalk and the exposure began to show itself, our climbing confidence started to shrink. I can see how this is a straight forward class 3 climb when conditions are dry, but with a layer of slippery snow covering everything, it became dangerous. There was one move on the catwalk that scared me the most out of anything I have ever done on the 14ers, and I have climbed 3 of the 4 great traverses. The ledges leading up to the summit gave us a bit of trouble and we really had to take our time. Some ledges were quite exposed and without having confidence in the traction of our boots, it made for a tense climb to the summit block.
Starting out on the ridge leading over to Eolus looking back
Nearing the summit
54!!! Or whatever the official number is these days
Finally at the summit, I thought I could celebrate, but the thought of getting down safely wore more heavily on the mind then completion of the list. Sadly, I did not have any champagne on the summit of my last 14er. After all, it wouldn't really count if I didn't make it down. So we put our game faces on again and carefully descended down the ledges and back over the catwalk. Once we had reached safer grounds I let out one of the biggest sighs of relief I have ever given off.
Just after getting down from the ledges; ahead is the catwalk
Example of some of the exposure on the ridge
The move that scared the living $@!# of me
Looking back at this same move
Looking back towards Windom from the lower slopes of Eolus; finally on safer grounds
We made great timing back to our campsite, packed everything up and made it back to Needleton with plenty of time to spare. Finally I could relax and let the fact that I had completed the last one sink in. What an incredible experience it was to climb all over the state of Colorado. I'll never forget the first time I climbed them all. These mountains are amazing!! Now I guess I have to try to ski them all or something.
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