Peak(s):  North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,082 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Date Posted:  06/26/2013
Date Climbed:   06/26/2013
Author:  zephyr_pelicante
 Zero tickets to paradise: Chicago basin from Purgatory  

First, condolences to the family and friends of Steve Gladbach. Steve and I had a great conversation on Shavano. It was a pleasure getting to know him and I know he contributed much to this climbing community and will be deeply missed.
RIP Steve

6/24/2013: North Eolus and Mount Eolus

Start Time: 1 AM
End Time: 3 PM
Total Time: 14 hours
Distance: 22 Miles
Elevation Gain: 8000'

I can't believe I almost paid $$$$ to ride the train and miss out on a great trek through the San Juans that is seen on the Purgatory approach to Chicago Basin.

By the time the train took off from Durango we had made camp in Chicago Basin and were on our way to Eolus.

First indication of whether or not you have reached Chicago Basin is whether you see the dozens of mountain goats. They seem to respond well to howling and swinging of the Ice Axe.


The hike up to twin lakes is spectacular, and you are rewarded with the view of the needles


Then began the trek to Eolus. We met Tom from Florida, and headed toward the catwalk.

We decided to do North Eolus first. Then Eolus

North Eolus South

Eolus West

We got over 12 hours of sleep, it felt quite good.

6/25/2013: Windom Peak and Sunlight Peak

Start Time: 8 AM
End Time: 11 PM
Total Time: 15 hours
Distance: 23 Miles
Elevation Gain: 6000'

The goats didn't eat anything (thankfully) and we were able to get up to the peaks. We went for Windom first, then hit Sunlight. No snow anywhere.

I was able to hop right up to the Sunlight Summit and was pleasantly surprised with how it went. I did take a bit of time calculating going down, the rocks are angled in such a way that allows you to walk UP to the summit, but when going DOWN, I did find the "Leap of Faith" to be the best way. Next time I go, I want to take the friction slab. It would be quite comfortable with rock climbing shoes and some chalk.

Words can't express how ridiculously incredible this area is so I'll just post the photos.


Sunlight Spire

Upper Basin

Looking at Rio Grande Pyramid through Sunlight Window

Looking East from Windom

Looking North from Sunlight

West Fork Fire

Leap of Faith

The trip down was pretty sweet too. There were less than a dozen folks in the basin while we were there, but we must have seen 30-40 people coming up as we were going back on Monday.

We were both dreading the last 1100' gain from the Animas River Bridge back up to Purgatory, but for me what was the hardest was the constant pounding on my feet on the 7 miles from the Needle Creek Bridge to the Animas River Bridge. Good thing the scenery was astonishing. As my Dad said it looked like a "Dry version of the Pacific North West"

Dad Crossing the Animas

This is a valid and enjoyable alternative to the train. Highly recommended. This can be done in fewer days than the train given the train schedule.

Growing up in Durango, I do know how scenic the train ride is. However, the combination of the drive to purgatory form Durango, and the hike to the Needle Creek TH is even more scenic than the train.
Notably, you're actually hiking along the train for about 7 miles anyway.

Tip: get back in time for half priced appetizers at Applebees.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

06/27/2013 01:55
Wow, what a looooooooooooooonng trek for two days. Your dad is a beast for doing the whole thing with you. Good job again zephyr!


did we see you??
06/27/2013 02:11
We also came out on Monday, and we played poker with ”Tom from Florida” and his family while we waited for the train.

You're right about those goats... the baby ones were cool for all of 30 seconds, until we figured out that they were the decoys while the older ones went for our stash.

Nice work taking this trip from Purgatory... that had to be a beast of a hike back out of the Animas Valley.


Beautiful Area!
06/27/2013 03:16
Indeed, your pictures say it better than any words good. Two marathon hikes back to back - impressive work by both dad and son!


06/27/2013 04:42
To live vicariously through your photos!


Great job, all!!

I Man

06/27/2013 16:10
Nice job, man. I have enjoyed watching you progress through your trip reports.
I am hoping to do something similar to this in August or September. Thanks for posting!


Sounds good!
06/29/2013 02:42
I will be doing this later this summer.


07/11/2013 18:19
We are on our way to duplicate this AWESOME alternate route tomorrow!!! Thank you sooooooo much for posting!


Train vs Trail
07/15/2013 17:14
We have a very similar trip planned for the first week of September but were planning to take the train to Needleton, it is expensive. Did you start at the Purgatory trail head at Purgatory? How long did it take to get from there to where the train drops hikers off?



07/15/2013 17:22
It's about 10 miles

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