Peak(s):  Mt. Sneffels  -  14,150 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,087 feet
"Sunlight Spire" - 14,000 feet
Date Posted:  07/16/2015
Modified:  09/12/2016
Date Climbed:   07/11/2015
Author:  Conor
 Sneffeluffagus + Chi Basin Redemption   

To set the stage, I was in Chicago Basin last October, with blankets of horrible, post holey, continuous snow above twin lakes. I couldn't even find the trail to AEoli and only had one other group up there with me, and they were hiking just Windom. I hiked into the basin some how with a 35-40 lbs pack with everything but what I really needed - some hiking poles. Trudging through the snow wiped me out, and I was only able to knock the AEoli, Sunlight & Peak Eighteen (which I thought was Windom), stranding Windom. It killed me to hike out of Chicago Basin with Windom mocking me. But, I was out of time and both of my heels had earned blisters that would make silver dollars feel like dimes.

Oct 2014 Eolus Conditions

Fast forwarding to today, with the wife and kids gone for almost 2 weeks, I had a big trip planned. I wanted to knock out all the San Juans in 7 days. A tall order if your last name doesn't rhyme with Cameliton or Yaune. Then on July 3rd, I thought I was going for a quick jaunt up Mt Timpanogos in the Wasatch when the class 1 terrain really beat me up. The result being 15 stitches in the bottom of my foot. It's a long story (rather an embarrassing story), and I've paid for my sin as my 13 year old nephew heckled me all 4th of July weekend.

My foot after a hike up Mt Timpanogos

With the stitches, I scaled down my San Juan trip.

7/11/15 - Sneffels
I arrived in Yankee Boy Basin @ 3 am hoping to see Brett Maune pass, but was left watching hard rockers coughing up his dust. I quickly hopped in the back of the cruiser and took a nap until 5:30. I wanted to throw my phone acting as alarm clock out the window when it finally went off, but I some how got up and going.

Officially I shoved off at 5:58 from the "Restroom" trail head. I quickly made my way to the crappy loose slope where it looked like Jokers Wild. Crappy it was, I was soon in the gully heading towards the col. The top half had hard snow that I had to kick a few times to get anything I could stand on. I eventually found my self at the notch thinking about how bad the return will be without any traction. Sulking wasn't going to do me any good so I hauled my big butt through the notch. Personally, I found the 2+ rating to be a bit stiff for the one move wonder, but it's all relative. I quickly made my way to the summit to enjoy the solitude.

View from Sneffels Summit

Finally gully heading up Sneffels Standard Route

Clouds were building all around and it was only 8:15. I was planning on catching the train in Silverton @ 2:30, so I started my hustle downwards. People were then making their way to the summit, and some were taking the line directly below the summit towards the saddle, avoiding the notch all together. They all said they thought that way was easier to cross into the final gully a bit lower. Regardless, it had to be safer than going for a ride down the gully on firm snow without any way to self arrest. So I tried the supposedly "Easier" way and popped back into the gully right where the snow started. I quickly found myself at the bottom of the slope emptying my shoes of rocks, sand and snow. It was then a quick hustle down to the restrooms where I touched the car at 9:57 - bringing the total time to 3:59 car2car. I was satisfied with this considering I was taking it "easy." Some thunder clapped in the far distance and rain started to come down just before I reached my vehicle.

I arrived in Silverton @ 12:30, ready for them to rob me of my money. I stopped at Avalanche Brewery to get a couple of crappy wraps, one which I ate immediately and one which I put in my pack for later. Finding the train station in Silverton wasn't as easy as I had hoped, but I finally figured it out. I got my train ticket and then relaxed in the back of the cruiser for an hour. After a small pseudo-nap, I got my stuff together and hopped on the train to Needleton.

Obligatory train shot

The trail from Needleton into Chicago Basin always seems to be a slog. I was worried about securing a camping spot, but I think the "snowy conditions" are keeping some people away. Personally, I feel hiking poles, gaiters and some boots are one needs in the basin right now. There were plenty of people, but it was hardly crowded. I got the same spot I had last October, just under the turn off for Twin Lakes. I made camp and at 7:25 I was in my bivy ready to doze off.

7/12/15 - Windom and Sunlight Spire
My original plan was to hit The Spire, bag Windom and then cross over to Jupiter. But when I woke up at 5:30 to cloudy skies and a tired back, I was seriously doubting bagging anything other than Windom (which was my #1 priority for the trip). It would have sucked to only bag Windom, considering all the climbing gear weighed in at 28 lbs. After I finally coaxed my self to stand and get going, I hung my sleeping bag under some tree cover to dry and moved the bivy into similar cover in case it rained while I was hiking. By 5:45 I was moving up the trail trying to shove down some pizza. I was moving way off my normal pace and it took me about 60 mins to get to the lakes. Snow cover was at, and above the lakes, so I put on the gaiters and with my pace, I prioritized my three objectives to be Windom, Sunlight Spire and then Jupiter (which meant, I wasn't going to get Jupiter this trip).

Snow conditions were great above twin lakes, easy to cruise

The snow was firm in most places, with an occasional post hole for good measure. It was predictable where most post holing would occur (usually by uncovered rocks). When I reached the saddle up to Windom, I finished my pizza and ditched my pack. A big fat marmot poked his head up and I made sure to clear my pack of food. I had some pizza sauce left in the pocket where I was storing the pizza, so I made sure leave it unzipped. By 8 am, I was on the Windom summit. I hustled down and passed by Brett Maune's footprints going down the Widow Maker. Too bad I didn't have my pack with me....

Windom, Brett Maune's foot prints are visible down the Widowmaker

When I approached my pack, the fat whistle pig was on my pack. I hustled over to it and thankfully he didn't chew any holes and he kindly cleaned out the pizza sauce. I followed some foot prints on excellent snow over to the base of the slope below the sunlight/sunlight spire saddle. Another slog that slope is. I hate to give away too much beta but....left foot, left pole, right foot, right pole, left foot, left pole, right foot, right pole, left get the idea. I was tired and moving slowly up the hill. I found the exit Roach talks about and the route finding to base of the spire in non-trivial. It's easy class 3 at best if you take a couple seconds to find the path of least resistance. Finally, I found the 5.4 down climb to a grassy ledge Roach talks about - I simply threw my pack down and easily down climbed to the ledge. It didn't feel 5th class to me. The business is supposed to start here, but I climbed up a little further just below the 5.7 move. It was 10:45 as I began to build my anchor and get ready to climb.

It took me 30 mins to get all my gear together, build my anchor, tie in my screamer and triple check everything (which is probably the most dangerous thing when climbing solo). I began my climb and struggled with the 5.7 move. Since I was aiding and not really setup to free climb, the move off the ground up to the second belay stance was difficult for me since it isn't really an aid move. But, I finally figured it out and found myself below the beautiful crack in the spire. Based on photos I had studied and the beta of the FA, I thought it may be possible to walk up the ledge, which is down and to climber's left, to maybe cut 10-15' off of the start, but it was trickier than I had hoped. So, I started plugging gear and making my way up the crack. The crack is vertical for about 10' to a fixed piece of gear (1 of 4), then it works its way up and to the left (the other 3 pieces of fixed gear are in the left slanting crack between the 2 vertical crack sections) and finally brings it home in a 15' vertical crack which narrows slightly. I agree it goes at C1, as plugging gear was easy and almost automatic.

Aiding is something I am not very good at. It involves doing 4 or 5 things, plugging gear, moving to the next aider, undoing those 4 or 5 things, clipping a piece, letting out more rope and then re-doing the 4 or 5 things all over again. I am not very efficient at all. But, the climbing was great for me - it was one of those times where all you focus on is that moment, climbing and the goal you had been working on and planning for months. It was a great climb for me. 75 minutes later, I was on the summit of the Spire. As I summited I heard someone yell and cheer across the basin. I gave a fist pump and a yell , then I sat down to enjoy my moment when I heard a clap of thunder, to the west it looked like a storm was actually starting to form. Up to this point, it was just scattered fluffy clouds.

What do you do when you just see months of prep come to fruition but have impending storms? Take some half assed pictures that make no sense at all.

RRRR....I'm on top of the Spire!

Incoherent picture of the anchor on top of the Spire

After my rushed pictures, I started getting ready for the descent. It took a few minutes to get my tangle sorted and put away so it wouldn't be annoying on the way down. One problem with an anchor which hangs over the ledge is actually getting on rappel. I prefer the beached whale stomach shuffle (being careful not to tear my clothes), one hand yarding on the anchor and the other locking off the rope. It was a not very graceful transition, but I made it, and my screamer didn't let go, so it probably wasn't as bad as I thought it was. I quickly cleaned my gear and was back at the base of the crack (second belay point), where I opted to pull my rope and arrange a second rap (the rope did get stuck between the spire and the ramp, but I was able to give it a couple yanks to get it out). I rapped to the anchor, cleaned it, and then rapped to the top of the 5.4 down climb move. My legs were stemmed out, but I was able to pull rope and coil it enough to get to a comfortable spot to be able to get the rest of my gear in my pack and start high tailing it out of there without climbing up the 5.4 section. Winning.

I took my time on the hike out. Clouds were building, but nothing threatening was headed my way. I enjoyed the slow hike out, relishing my accomplishment.

Me climbing the spire (Thanks Kurt!)

Break time below twin lakes to fill up for water and take off the gaiters

The Spire is barely visible

By 3:30 I was back at my camp when mother nature started her light, misty drizzle. I sat on the out cropping rock, ate some more pizza, organized gear and packed up the rest of camp. I had a 36L pack, so everything was a tight fit. The drizzle was annoying, but very light. 45 mins later, I was packed and ready to go. If it was going to rain, I wasn't going to hunker down in my bivy for the next 10 hours - I'd much rather be hiking.

My goal was to sleep in the shack by the train stop, but I feared rafters would be in there and I didn't want to hike around looking for a spot to camp. When I saw a perfect spot at a base of a tree that was bone dry (it was now 7 pm and had been raining a good bit for 3+ hours) I grabbed it. I was soaked, but I didn't have to worry about covering my pack and I actually slept on top of my bivy sack the coverage was that good!. I changed clothes, made camp and 10 mins later I was in my sleeping bag and texting my wife with my delorme.

Camp spot near Needleton where I hunkered down in the rain

7/13/15 - getting skunked at Redcloud and Sunshine
Sleeping in until 8 is a great thing when camping. I slowly packed up my clothes and walked the 15 mins to Needleton where I put out my clothes out to dry and then visited with some other climbers waiting for the 11:15 train. I met Kurt and Beth who yelled out when I summited. It was good company and great to talk climbing.

Once in Silverton, I packed up the cruiser and stopped at the BBQ place (featured on Diner's Drive-In's and Dives). My eyes were much bigger than my stomach, so I ordered a bunch of food. While the guy was ringing up my order, I asked if the only grocery store in town was the one on main street whose sign should read, "We bend you over the barrel and take all your money." The guy finished telling me how he got screwed for a $10 tube of toothpaste and then with a straight face asked for $36.95 for my BBQ food. To be fair, I got a lot of food, I just didn't know it was $37 worth. The meat is ok there (I prefer more smokey flavor), but the fried pickles were excellent. If I was to ever go back, I'd get fried pickles, onion rings and a sandwich. Which would still be over $20, but I just spent 2 days eating half of a Costco pizza.

Silverton BBQ

I took the drive over Cinnamon pass and I planned to bag Redcloud/Sunshine and hopefully Handies the next day. I found the much needed restrooms at Grizzly Gulch/Silver Creek and once I had taken care of my nagging issue, I talked with some other people camping there. Finally I retreated to the cruiser to rest and fix up my foot. I had used a hydrocolloid bandage, which is suppose to last for days, but my wound on the bottom of my foot was looking worse. And to be fair, the bandage had lasted almost 3 days of some pretty heavy use. I peeled back the bandage and my wound looked horrible. I quickly counted 10 stitches, knowing very well there were 11 external stitches. After poking around the wound, I found the top of the missing stitch. My foot wasn't hurting, but the wound looked horrible and much worse than 10 days ago when I had just gotten sewed up. I decided to bag the Redclound/Sunshine/Handies peaks and headed back home. Initially I thought I would drive to Gunnison and have the stitches removed, but I knew they would tell me not to hike on it. And after looking at my insurance card, I wasn't going to pay $100 to have them tell me to take it easy and pull my stitches, so I headed home and finished the job myself....

Cinnamon Pass!

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Comments or Questions

07/17/2015 08:29
lookin trip, Conor. From skiing Guyot to the Wasatch to bagging Sneffels to aid climbing Sunlight Spire – you’ve had a well rounded couple of weeks! Sorry to hear about your foot troubles.


37$ worth of food!!??
07/17/2015 08:49
Wow – that might be the most impressive part of this entire trip.

That’s what you call taking advantage of your time when the wife and kids are gone.

Brian C

Solo aid!
07/17/2015 14:56
That’s some great effort! Way to go!

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