Peak(s):  Windom Peak  -  14,087 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
Date Posted:  09/20/2018
Modified:  02/07/2019
Date Climbed:   09/01/2018
Author:  jladderud
Additional Members:   kentmw, Dean82
 When at first you don't succeed, take a nap   

I've seen several forum posts inquiring about how long it takes to hike the Chicago Basin 14ers, and how to get there when the train isn't running. I wanted to add my group's subtle variation on the Wimenuche experience as a trip report for the masses in case y'all are looking for one more piece of beta.

tl;dr: we approached from Purgatory, hiked Windom/Sunlight in the morning under interesting weather conditions, returned to camp, hiked Eolus/N. Eolus that evening, packed out the next morning.

The Team: Kent, Dean, Kat, Maddie, Mitch, Me

Trip Stats

  • Car Miles: 1,200
  • Trail Miles: 45
  • Ascent: 12,000'
  • Trail Time: 25.5 hours
  • Route: Purgatory Creek approach + standard trails from Chicago Basin

Day 1 - 8/30/2018 (Tucson to Flagstaff)

  • Car Miles: 250

The Chicago Basin is not a quick drive from the Front Range; but it's even farther from Tucson. Fortunately for me, my friend Kent is excited about helping me finish the 14ers and was willing to drive the two of us. What a guy! We ducked out of work early on a Thursday and drove to Kat's house in Flagstaff. She even cooked us dinner!

Day 2 - 8/31/2018 (Flagstaff to Purgatory; Backpack to Chicago Basin)

  • Car Miles: 350
  • Trail Miles: 15.5
  • Ascent: 3,500'
  • Trail Time: 8.5 hours

We hit the road early. Kent somehow doesn't need sleep and drove the whole way. I awake in the pre-dawn from my back seat slumber to be greeted by Kent's podcast dropping silver-dollar words such as "fastidiously" and "quotidian" and am quickly lulled back to sleep.

Sunrise somewhere near 4 Corners.

The team (minus Dean who was meeting us at camp) converged at the Purgatory Creek TH (across the street from the Purgatory Ski Resort) and hit the trail at 10AM. The parking lot was unexpectedly full for a Friday morning.



At the base of the descent, Kent tried to take us down the wrong trail. A quick check of the GPS put us back on track (a friendly reminder that navigation is important).

Mitch having fun on the bridge. PC: Kent

We reached the suspension bridge around 11:30AM and it was clear that all was not well. I've never had knee troubles; but now, out of the blue, every step sent a bolt of pain through my left knee and a muted wince through my clenched teeth. Not what I was wanting to experience having driven so far and with so much of the hike ahead of me. Fortuitously, Maddie is a physical therapist and was able to offer a quick diagnosis: patellar tendonitis from over use of my quads (maybe that 18-mile trail run last weekend with no mileage base wasn't such a great idea...). The good news: I could soldier on without worrying about exacerbating my injury. The bad news: the pain wasn't about to go away without some quality rest. The downhill sections were predicted to be extra painful. I lower my head and cross the bridge, thankful that the next several miles were flat.

River Flats
Forest Flats

While Kent and Kat surged onward to find us a camping spot, Mitch, Maddie, and my crippled self opted for a more leisurely pace. We rolled into the camping areas at 6:30, enjoying our first look at Windom, the sunset, and a plethora of mountain goats. Despite it being a holiday weekend, there were plenty of spaces to camp. Apparently the lack of train service (in the wake of the 416 Fire) has kept some folks away. Unlike Capitol Lake there are not numbered campsites so options are numerous (but use common sense and be good stewards of the area). I paused for a while to take pictures of the goats. I had read plenty about how tame these goats are; but it was still somewhat surprising to see them casually waltzing through all the camp sites in search of their next salt lick. We continued on to the next meadow to our own camp site and small herd of resident goats.

Windom in the background
Lots of little ones roaming about
Very photogenic
No fear

As night draped her quilt across the Wimenuche we ate our dehydrated dinners and prepared for bed. Lights out at 9PM; but we were still a bit uneasy because Dean, who was to have set out on the trail this afternoon and meet us at camp, was nowhere to be seen. Not much we could do about it.

As I am drifting in and out of sleep I hear a shout: "Jeff! Kent!". Kent and I jolt awake in our tent--Dean had made it! My apologies to all of the preceding campsites that Dean had likely awoken in his trial-and-error trek towards our camp. We exchange jubilant, albeit groggy, hugs and learn that Dean had simply gotten a later start from the TH than anticipated. He still made it in five hours flat--what a machine! More sleep ensues.

Day 3 - 9/1/2018 (Windom, Sunlight, Eolus, North Eolus)

  • Trail Miles: 14
  • Ascent: 7,100'
  • Trail Time: 13.5 hours

Sleep comes fitfully (as is often the case for me at altitude). Kent and I are both awake and simultaneously decide that it's a good time to pee. Headlamps in hand we venture into the darkness, Kent stopping about 50 feet before me. Just as I'm ready to relieve myself I hear Kent screaming bloody murder. I turn to see him being accosted by a nanny and kid mountain goat. Apparently they want their salt badly enough that they're unwilling to wait for it to hit the ground. Kent is rattled but unhurt. I finish my business, grateful that Kent has run goat defense, and return to the tent. That's twice we've woken up the neighbors.

Not so cute in the dead of night

The alarm jars us fully awake at the ungodly hour of 3:30. I had continued resting fitfully until then, unsettled by the distant flashes of lightning I was noticing at 2am through the rain fly. We prepare to mobilize, cautiously not-so-optimistic. Mitch, Maddie, and my crippled self start earlier than the others. Maddie, who was never hellbent on making any summits, soon decides that this type of "fun" isn't what the doctor ordered for today and turns around to go back to bed. Mitch and I press onward, increasingly nervous about the lightning and, now, occasional thunder. We reach the Twin Lakes at 6AM and the others catch us shortly thereafter. With first light we get a better sense of the clouds. The good news is that the lightning appears to be keeping its distance. The bad news is that the valley below is quickly blurring behind a veil of precipitation. Time to bust out the rain gear! After assessing the sky we opt to continue on towards Windom and turn around if the lightning comes back.


A nice trail up Windom

We quickly learn that the encroaching precipitation was not rain but rather snow. Not the bluebird day we were dreaming of; but not a game over given that we had the right gear. However, the snow did put an end to our plans of climbing Sunlight Spire. Mitch and Kent carried climbing gear all the way to 13,000' only to have to carry it back out to the car un-used.

Mitch ascending Windom and insisting he didn't need gloves. PC: Kent
Jeff and Dean. PC: Kent

Precipitation intensity ebbs and flows along with morale. But, with the experience and gear to keep safe, we press on. My leg is still very gimpy and I avoid bending my knee as much as possible.

Dean looking like a bada*s
Is that blue sky?!

We top out at 7:30AM just as the clouds start to break revealing sublime views of freshly dusted mountains as far as the eye could see--grandiose peaks coquettishly draped in a swirling ether of water vapor.

Staring wistfully at Sunlight Spire. Alas, the weather said no. PC: Dean
Sunlight appears
Looking back towards Twin Lakes, Eolus, Sunlight, and several 13ers
Future objectives
Mighty Mitch
PC: Kent

Encouraged by the break in the weather, we agree to try for Sunlight. I peg leg my way down to the trail junction.

Eolus and North Eolus

The climb up Sunlight is fairly uneventful. Dean Machine blasts up the gully and the rest of us draft off of him. I am mostly able to ignore my leg on the uphill. We summit at about 10AM

I had heard a lot of hype surrounding the summit block on Sunlight and was curious to experience it for myself. As I near the top of the mountain, Mitch (my rope gun for our now-abandoned attempt on the Spire) is already casually atop the infamous rock. The exposure is real; but as one who lead climbs 5.10s I have no trouble making my way up (or down). Others in our group elect to stay down by the summit marker.

Mitch looks north towards Vestal and Arrow.
Camp is way down in the meadow at the top center of this picture
Atop the Sunlight summit block. PC: Kent


The Grenadier Range -- one day I'll make it out there!

I peg leg my way down to Twin Lakes where speed demon Dean has been been waiting for half an hour after running down Sunshine. It's close to noon and the forecast calls for lots of rain and possible lightning in the afternoon. The skies are mostly blue; but there is an obvious storm system building behind Eolus. It's an exposed hike, so we make the tough decision to head back down to camp. The new plan is to summit Eolus/N. Eolus in the morning before packing out.

Storm clouds building behind Eolus
More goats!

Walking is not getting any easier on me and there is obvious rain coming. I send the crew ahead. No need for them to get extra wet while I gimp my way down.


I get a little wet; but arrive at camp at around 1PM not much the worse for wear. Everyone is asleep in their tents and Kent is mad that I'd be so selfish as to wake him up by trying to crawl out of the rain and into our shared tent. Eventually the rain stops and camp life resumes.

Camp cuddles

Naps, hydration, and calories had worked wonders on morale, though my knee still hurts and no one is looking forward to an early wake up the next morning. Then, two game-changing events occur:

1) Maddie learns that I have an Ace bandage and offers to wrap my knee. Immediately the pain stops. Maddie is my hero.

2) The weather continues to improve.

Filled with newfound resolve, I propose we head back out posthaste to catch the sunset on Eolus and save ourselves from another 3AM alarm. One by one the team signs on to my plan. Kat and I leave camp by 4PM and Mitch, Dean, and Kent follow at a faster pace later. Maddie once again opts to stay behind.

Maddie's magic leg wrap performs miraculously and Kat and I blaze our way up to Twin Lakes in an hour. We head west up an awesome trail (thanks, CFI) that winds its way up a boulder field. The rest of the crew catches us eventually. Skies look stormy to the south; but nothing seems to be moving our way.





As we reach the ridgeline between Eolus and North Eolus the clouds begin to roll in, creating some pretty rad conditions. Looks like we won't be getting any stellar sunsets; but seeing Pigeon and Turret popping out of the clouds made up for it.

Looking towards the summit of Eolus.
Pigeon and Turret



We continue upwards and Mitch and I both hop on the struggle bus. Kent, meanwhile, appears to be auditioning to be the next Energizer bunny.

Unbounded energy

We top out at 7PM and I'm exhausted!

On the summit of Eolus

The descent was characterized by fog and an increasing degree of altitude sickness.

Descending Eolus

Somehow I reach the summit of North Eolus at around 7:30PM. I had to dig deep.

North Eolus (I think)
Current mood

The next two hours were rather unpleasant for me. Kat and Dean ran ahead while Kent was gracious enough to hang back with me and Mitch. All I wanted to do was curl up and take a nap--a siren song that I fought the whole way down. We lumbered into camp at 9:30PM and I still felt like sh%t. Fortunately this wasn't my first rodeo and I knew I could sleep it off. I chugged some electrolytes, forced down a few calories (I lost my apatite long ago), and went to bed.

Day 4 - 9/2/2018 (Backpack Out)

  • Trail Miles: 15.5
  • Ascent: 1,400'
  • Trail Time: 5.5 hours

We awoke to the patter of rain at 7AM. Just enough to get everything wet; but fortunately not a deluge. We weren't in a huge hurry to pack up; but there were ribs waiting for us back in Hermosa. Mitch and Maddie took off by 8 and the rest of us departed an hour later. The hike out was rather uneventful, minus waving to the tourists on the train! The skies threatened rain; but we never experienced more than a light drizzle. And the constant cloud cover was a godsend.




Day 5 - 9/3/2018 (Hermosa to Tucson)

  • Car Miles: 600

The majority of Labor Day was spent driving back to Tucson. Shout outs to Dough Works in Durango and MartAnnes in Flagstaff for some great grub. Pro tip: don't travel on I-17 between Flagstaff and Phoenix on a holiday weekend.

Parting thoughts

I want to give a huge thanks to Kent for making this trip possible. He drove most of the way, provided GPS tracks, carried lots of gear for me, and kept the stoke high when I was bonking. The Chicago Basin peaks are beautiful and really deserve more than a long weekend; but at least the company was the best I could ask for. Major kudos also to Maddie for fixing my knee and to Mitch's parents for hosting and feeding us in Hermosa. Even though things didn't go as planned, the weekend served as an excellent reminder of the generosity and camaraderie of the mountain community. Socialist backpacking at its finest!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
I haven't been there
09/23/2018 02:26
In a decade but the fun you all had is infectious. Maybe I'll go back next year. Congrats on your trip.

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