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Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby gregp » Sat Nov 06, 2010 2:03 pm

Hello,
As an inexperienced climber I thought I'd ask you guys a question or two about climbing in the Chicago Basin.

This past September, I flew out to Colorado and did some hiking around Aspen (Four Pass Loop) and then climbed Quandary and Holy Cross. Well now I'm hooked. Best trip I've ever taken and I can't wait to get back out there. I have been working up a plan for next years trip (probably late June) and have decided that the Elk Park to Chicago Basin loop is a must do. A nice long hike through the wilderness and a couple of days climbing at the end just sounds too good to resist! \:D/

My question is if I'd be pushing it trying to climb Sunlight and Eolus with my limited experience? Is class 3 much more difficult than class 2? Will I need advance climbing skills to safely climb class 3? While having a healthy respect for heights, I have no phobias of high places so I don't think exposure will be a huge issue as long as I don't have to dangle in the air. I will be climbing solo unless I meet up with other climbers in the basin who don't mind me tagging along. Would solo vs. being in a group make a difference? I will say that I've read all the trip reports here and after reading them I feel as though I would probably be OK as I am extremely safety conscience.

I do feel that Windom shouldn't be a problem so I know I'll get at least one climb in while there but if I can get them all that's even better!

Anyway, thanks for reading my ramblings and if you have any advice I would very much appreciate hearing from you.

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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby pw » Sat Nov 06, 2010 4:06 pm

gregp wrote:Hello,


My question is if I'd be pushing it trying to climb Sunlight and Eolus with my limited experience? Is class 3 much more difficult than class 2? Will I need advance climbing skills to safely climb class 3? While having a healthy respect for heights, I have no phobias of high places so I don't think exposure will be a huge issue as long as I don't have to dangle in the air. I will be climbing solo unless I meet up with other climbers in the basin who don't mind me tagging along. Would solo vs. being in a group make a difference? I will say that I've read all the trip reports here and after reading them I feel as though I would probably be OK as I am extremely safety conscience.

I do feel that Windom shouldn't be a problem so I know I'll get at least one climb in while there but if I can get them all that's even better!

Anyway, thanks for reading my ramblings and if you have any advice I would very much appreciate hearing from you.


I think Class 3 is quite a bit different from Class 2. Class 2 is still basically hiking, just mostly off trail and on rougher terrain. Class 3 gets into what I think of as scrambling, but it's not terribly difficult, exposure is usually pretty limited. You shouldn't need any classes, I don't think trying Class 3 routes should present any problems. Also, remember when you look at a route and it's described as Class 3 (or 4 even), that refers to the hardest section, much of the route may be easier Class 2 hiking. And if you try something and you get to a place where you aren't comfortable, you always have the option to turn around before you get into trouble. (of course, I'm saying this without having done those 3 peaks, maybe next summer.)

Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby BobbyFinn » Sat Nov 06, 2010 4:10 pm

I haven't done those 14ers yet.

But regarding class 3 hiking/climbing: I've been on some class 3 routes where once I was finished I thought: Where was the class 3? And I've been on some class 3 routes where I thought: Oh wow - this is only class 3? So I think there's quite a range to what qualifies as class 3. However, class 3 is usually very intuitive. It's straightforward climbing where the hand and foot holds/steps are usually quite clear. In my opinion and experience, class 3 routes do not require advanced climbing skills (I'm not sure what that means exactly, but when I first started doing class 3 stuff, I had never been to a climbing wall and I had never used ropes or any sort of climbing protection). While exposure on a class 3 route can be pretty significant (fatal), I've never felt unsafe or that I was about to fall... well, except maybe for a couple tricky moves.
That's just my opinion, I'm sure others have their own.

There are some other threads on here that discuss climbing classes, specifically, I remember one somewhat recently (2010 sometime) that discussed class 3 vs class 4, but I don't have time to look for it now. See if the search function on here can bring it up.
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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby Nelson » Sat Nov 06, 2010 5:45 pm

I agree with the others. Class 3 is generally much harder than class 2. Furthermore Eolus can be a handful, particularly if you get off route which is easy to do on Eolus.

To that I would add that class 4 is a big step up from class 3. I believe there are no easy class 4's. One of the guide books says that Sunlight has the single hardest move of all the 14ers.

Having said all that I think the Chicago Basin climbs and environment are about as good as it gets. It's your call. I started on Wetterhorn and gradually built my confidence up so that when I went to Chicago Basin I really enjoyed it.

Nelson

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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby Jim Davies » Sat Nov 06, 2010 7:47 pm

I don't think you'll have much problem with Eolus, if you're comfortable with exposure. It's kind of a maze of ledges, but none of the climbing is particularly difficult, provided you stay on route (easier said than done in this case, but basically the rule on this face seems to be "if in doubt, go left"). I'd suggest wearing a helmet. The summit boulder on Sunlight may or may not cause you problems. I think you'll enjoy the trip, even if you don't summit everything.
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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby 2giqs » Sat Nov 06, 2010 9:27 pm

If you go in late June, you'll likely encounter some snow and or ice on your route to the summits. We don't get too much experience with that in NC. Could be fun, but could be better, if you could wait till late August. You'd also get a break from the heat and humidity of home as well if you hold off until later in the summer.

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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby pw » Sat Nov 06, 2010 11:55 pm

2giqs wrote:If you go in late June, you'll likely encounter some snow and or ice on your route to the summits. We don't get too much experience with that in NC. Could be fun, but could be better, if you could wait till late August. You'd also get a break from the heat and humidity of home as well if you hold off until later in the summer.


I didn't catch the June part in the original post, but I'd agree, try to wait a bit if possible. High lakes are still frozen into late June/early July, and even a short snow field can make things a little dicey.

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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby gregp » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:44 am

pw, Thanks for clearing up the class 2, class 3 thing a bit. I feel more confident now that it won't be too much to at least give it a go. It's my understanding that only the the very top of Sunlight is class four (the final summit block) so if I get up that high, I'll just make a game time decision as to whether or not to try it. Again, thanks!

Bobby Finn, I'm not exactly sure what I meant by advanced climbing skills either other than maybe more advanced than intuitive climbing. You definitely helped to clear that up a bit for me so thanks! I honestly didn't think class 3 would be a huge deal but thought I'd check with you guys just to get a feel for it. And you're absolutely right about one thing, I can always turn around if things get too dicey.

Nelson, I think you touched on what is probably my biggest concern and that is route finding. I've read a lot about folks talking about using their route finding skills and I'm a little unsure of what that means. On Holy Cross, I simply followed the cairns and chose the path of least resistance in that general direction. It worked out well because I had studied the route and learned of the problems leaving the ridge too soon while down climbing. I can easily see how folks could wind up in the cross creek drainage there. What I'd hate to run into is finding myself way off route in a precarious situation. I've studied the routes up Sunlight and Eolus the best I can from this site, and will continue to look for more info in the coming months. Thanks for the insightful response.

Jim, Again, the route finding is probably the biggest concern (if you want to call it that) I have. I'll continue to study the routes and print them off to take with me.

-I'll definitely bring a helmet. I haven't purchased one yet but will definitely have one for this trip. If you have a favorite model or brand and want to share some more advice I'm open to suggestions there as well. Otherwise I'll probably just pick up a Petzl Elios as they seem to be popular.

2giqs, A fellow North Carolinian! You're probably right about June being too early. That's the impatient side of me wanting to get back out there as soon as possible! I guess what I was thinking is that by going in June, I may miss the monsoon season and be able to be a bit more leisurely about getting off the mountains. I waited until late September this year and got lucky with remarkably good weather. I suppose I could wait til the end of August. By doing so, I could add Labor Day on to the week off from work making the trip longer. :-k Nothing is written in stone as of yet so dates are definitely able to change. If I do wait I'll have to find something to do earlier in the Summer though. Maybe a packrafting trip?!! Heh. :)

Thank you all for all the feedback. I very much appreciate it!

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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby jet » Sun Nov 07, 2010 9:33 am

After Labor Day weekend the crowds really thin out in the Chicago Basin. I have seen pictures of many backpackers getting off the train( up to 70?). We went the Tuesday after Labor Day and only 10 people s got off. We basically had our pick of campsites and for some reason not a goat in sight to fend off. Eolus is still one of our favorite climbs. The advice to stay left is right on otherwise it gets to be a little closer to class 4. I think the ridge from the catwalk to the summit is rated at class 4. We went up closer to the ridge and than down more in the center of the face. Seems that there was much more exposure near the ridge. Sunlight was pretty straight forward with the summit block the only real issue. If you chose to go from Sunlight to Windom (or vice versus) you would have to route find between the 2 peaks. There are different ways to do it depending on elevation loss and comfort level. We came down the gully on Sunlight and hit Windoms ridge about halfway between the saddle and the peak. We spent 4 days in the Basin and it is definitely on our do again list.

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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby edhaman » Sun Nov 07, 2010 10:05 am

For route finding, don't overlook the photos available on this website. For climbing skills, there's a lot of info in "Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills." I would also recommend waiting until later in the summer. My first 14er was Elbert in mid-July, and we had to cross a couple of good-sized snowfields. I'm not very familiar with climbing in the east, but could you find some class 3 areas to play on closer to home in June?

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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby Kojones » Sun Nov 07, 2010 10:30 am

Welcome to the addiction. One thing to consider is if you are going to do just 2 peaks, I'd group them either Sunlight/Windom, or Eolus/N. Eolus. You'll find that there is a good chunk of elevation gain that splits those 2 groups. Once up to the next shelf after turning toward Sunlight, you might as well hit Windom while up there. And vice versa, once you head in the direction of Eolus, you might as well hit N. Eolus. I have climbed both Sunlight and Windom, and was glad to group them. My next trip to the Basin will be for Eolus and N. Eolus.

I did this trip solo from Purgatory, which is an awesome hike to the mouth of the Basin. It adds a chunk of mileage, but starting at around 7:30, I was able to make it to my campsite up in the Basin by about 3:30. It goes through some very secluded areas where you can have peace to yourself. You do pass across the railroad tracks and past some cabins, but that makes it a more interesting hike. Watch out for bears at the Animas river crossing picnic area. Apparently this is a train stop where visitors can get off, eat lunch, and get back on later. Damn tourists probably drop food all over and effectively tell bears "easy food is available here."

I'd like to see your trip report when you get back. How do you plan on getting to the Basin? My next trip I'll do the train.

Kojones
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Kojones: "No, only half the hike is uphill."
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Re: Inexperienced climber vs. Chicago Basin 14ers

Postby gregp » Sun Nov 07, 2010 12:35 pm

Jet, thanks man, that's exactly the type of beta I was looking for. I'm definitely planning on trying to do two per day and doing Sunlight and Windom as a combo makes much sense as does doing Eolus and North Eolus. I'll check out the route from one to the next and will probably have some questions for you about it. Thanks again man, much help.

edhaman, So far, this site has had the best info on routes up these mountains that I've been able to find. In fact, it may be the only resource for actual pictures of the routes so I have and will continue to use this site as my primary resource for information. I'll look on Amazon to see if I can find the book you recommend. Sounds like an excellent read. As far as climbing here at home, well that's a good question as I haven't really looked into it. I know there's plenty of class 5 stuff but most of what I do is trail hiking along the AT. The mountains are steep, but I wouldn't say any of it is more than class 1 until you get up to New Hampshire and Maine.

Kojones, Addiction, obsession, frothing at the mouth, yep I got it bad! As far as the grouping of the peaks, I'm definitely going to try to do two a day as you said with the groupings that you recommend.
My plan is to take the train (gotta take the train once, right?) to Elk Park and do the loop back to Chicago Basin. If all goes well that should be a 3 night 4 day adventure and then spend 2 more days in the basin climbing the peaks. After that who knows. That only accounts for 6 days out of what will probably be a 10 day trip so I may try to do some more climbing in the area. I know Sunshine peak and Redcloud aren't too far away so I may try to hit those as well.

Thanks everyone. Just talking about this is good therapy. :)

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