North Eolus - 14,039 feet
Mt. Eolus - 14,083 feet
Sunlight Peak - 14,059 feet
Windom Peak - 14,087 feet
North Eolus - 14,039 feet
Mt. Eolus - 14,083 feet
Sunlight Peak - 14,059 feet
Windom Peak - 14,087 feet
56/58 in 2020
San Juans Range complete
All the trip reports I am writing for the summer is simply a byproduct of my thoughts, reactions, and experiences from my summer mountaineering project of climbing the 58 CO 14ers before I head back to CU in August. I hope that these trip reports help me to learn from mistakes, to document my experiences as beta for others, and to help me to think and become a better person and mountaineer. Thank you for reading and for your support!
Nearing the end of my journey for my summer project, I had one last trip to the San Juans to make: the Chicago Basin 14er's. Due to COVID, this trip was harder than usual this year because the train wasn't running, and thus the best/shortest way to get to Chicago Basin was on foot from Purgatory. This is a 16-17 mile hike one-way from the trailhead to the upper basin, running right into the heart of the Weminuche Wilderness.
This would prove to be possibly my favorite trip of the entire summer. There are only a few areas left in the lower 48 that feel truly wild: the North Cascades, the Wind Rivers, and the Weminuche Wilderness (among probably a few more runner-ups that are deserving of recognition as well). To me, it's reputation as a vast, untouched, pristine landscape holds true, as I saw more mountain goats than people on this entire trip.
We made the long 8-ish hour drive from our hq somewhere North of Denver (iykyk) on a Sunday, driving through Leadville, Salida, the emptiness of the San Luis valley, Durango, and then North to Purgatory. The drive was a combination of excitement, boredom, and both familiarity and unfamiliarity with Colorado, as both of us had climbed many of the mountains we were driving past, but were also driving through a portion of the state we had never been before.
We reached Purgatory and began hiking around 7 pm, and hiked until we reached the crossing of the Animas River after dark. We rolled out our sleeping mats and bags on the ground, hung the food from a tree, and slept under the stars.
^^Sunset near the trailhead^^
^^Camped near the Animas River^^
A 7 am wakeup was in order, and we made some food. We packed up camp in like 2 minutes since there wasn't much to put away, and set off across the bridge at about 7:40. The sun was up and bright, and we began the work of getting to the Chicago Basin. It was a pleasant hike, with almost nobody else to be seen and an easy, flat, soft dirt trail following the Animas River through a pretty forest for a few miles to give us a content feeling of being present in nature.
At long last, we arrived at the junction that began heading upwards to the upper basin. By now we were warmed up and ready to climb this stretch.
It was still an enjoyable hike, but much more effort was required to get up it, as it was constantly uphill and the day was warming up. There were a couple neat spots in the river that tempted me to jump in and swim. Looking back, it wouldn't have been a big deal to do this, and I should've just done it.
We made it up to the flatter parts of the valley where there began to be less dense timber and fields of some strange plant that I have yet to learn what it is. The mountains rocketing above us did in fact remind me of Switzerland, in that they rose abruptly and sharply and are stupendous. There were beautiful lines all over the place that my rock climbing and my skiing eyes were seeing, and I knew that this was truly a special place in nature and my heart. How wonderful the San Juans were!
I was hoping that I might be able to climb Jupiter that afternoon, since we only got up to our camp spot around 1 pm, but even way down deep in the basin with mountains blocking a majority of the sky from view, I could tell that the weather was deteriorating. I decided against even attempting Jupiter since I knew I would be forced to turn back. Sure enough, around 3 pm, thunder and lightning welcomed us to Chicago Basin, where wilderness still exists. We spent the rest of the day resting and relaxing. I lugged Annapurna (the book) all the way out there with me because I had learned on previous trips that it is super nice to have something to pass time with- namely a book. I read Annapurna for while, and found myself dreaming of the Himalaya, which would hopefully be in my future.
The next morning, we awoke around 3 am and made breakfast. The weather forecast had predicted the weather to be decent in Ouray, Silverton, and Lake City for most of the day, and we had decided to try to do all 4 of the 14ers in one day, saving us a whole day of hiking and a good bit of elevation gain moving from camp up to Twin Lakes, but we had enough food with us to last an extra day out there just in case weather did cause us problems.
We began the hike up the trail in the dark. The trail was somewhat tricky to follow in the dark here because there were sometimes random offshoot for campsites and such and it was hard to tell which one was the actual trail. Or perhaps that's just my memory being scrambled because I am writing this trip report like 6 months after the trip happened. Either way, I remember that we ended up taking the wrong trail at one point and having to backtrack about half a mile to get back to the correct trail.
At one point, after we had left the trees and were making our way up the headwall with the waterfall, we came across a porcupine chillin on the path. He seemed to be asleep, and we weren't sure what to do since this specific spot was surrounded by thick brush. Luckily, the little guy moved off the path when we shone our headlights on him for a little bit, and we were able to continue on.
We made it to Twin Lakes, and cut left on the trail up to Eolus. The first glimpses of light were being seen in the sky about now, and it was only a matter of time before the sun would be up.
We hiked steadily up the massive talus field, and made it up to the ramp. The views became more and more stunning as we ascended higher and as the region became brighter. We began crossing the ramp, and turned to see one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen.
Poetically, I call this photo Sunlight by Sunlight.
We continued on with our task at hand, and turned left again after the ramp. We were nearly there, just about to the saddle. There was some small class 3 scrambling, a tiny bit of ridge-picking, and we were at last at the summit of North Eolus!
The views West of Pigeon and Turret were magnificent. The North face of Pigeon especially was quite a sight for me, a wannabe big wall climber. As of now, I have learned that this face has, in fact, been climbed, but I am almost positive that it could warrant a brilliant line on it somewhere, waiting to be put up by a very dedicated trad climber. There seems to be much potential, still, for the Weminuche and all its fabulous rock, and I hope to someday develop some routes and get some FA's to my name.
We tracked back down the ridge, walked across 'the Catwalk', and found a line up to the summit of Mt Eolus. There were numerous options up this, and pretty much all of them required at least class 3 climbing. I remember countless cairns on this final stretch, but they only served to confuse the terrain more as they meant that they all lead to different parts of the face rather than to a clear, obvious way up the face. No matter, we summited, took a picture, and started back down quite quickly.
It didn't take long for us to reach Twin lakes again, by which time the sun was up and it was pretty hot out. We continued on up the other side of the basin towards Sunlight. As we picked our way through the talus field and grew closer to the dirt gulley that we had to ascend, we began to realize just how loose it was going to be. We did everything in our power to avoid the loose dirt, but unfortunately, the route required that we go through it at least a little bit because on either side of the gully there were near vertical rock bands or smooth and steep rock slabs that prevented us from avoiding the gully.
We ran into some goats between the top of the gully and the summit, who were rather curious about what we were doing in goatland.
The terrain on this last stretch was somewhat confusing but just required an observant and halfway experienced eye in routefinding. However, it did have a unique feature that I hadn't seen on another 14er yet: a small little tunnel to go through in order to get onto the summit!
At last, we were at the summit block, staring at the last move to get up on the true summit. This was the hardest final summit move of the whole summer, because it required good balance, trust in your feet, and a good head against exposure. Nonetheless, we both did it, and I can honestly say that I think Sunlight Peak is the hardest 14er in Colorado (yes, even more so than Capitol or Little Bear). It's combination of approach length, route finding difficulty, exposure rating, and technical requirement for the true summit is what quenches this as the hardest one, in my opinion. If you haven't climbed this from Purgatory, and only from the train station, its possible that you might not have considered this to be number one, but maybe in the top 8 or so. That's just my judgement on them all.
We went right down and back up to grab Windom, which was a piece of cake after Sunlight. It was mostly basic ridge following until the very summit, but even there, it was just a matter of choosing between the various different ways to make it onto the actual summit. This would turn out to be my last 14er of the San Juans!
We zipped on back down to the camp and relaxed for the rest of the day. By now, it was about 3 in the afternoon, and I would've gone and tried to do Jupiter, but there looked to be another thunderstorm coming in when were on top of Windom, so I decided against it. I would have to come back to Chicago Basin for Jupiter for the Centennials, but I'm ok with this. The San Juans are amazing, and I have zero quarrel with coming back here. Instead, I finished Annapurna.
The next morning, we got up at 4 am, ate, packed up camp, and headed out. We ended up doing the whole 16 miles out in a little under 7 hours, making it to the car around 11 am. I was not expecting to go this quick, but we hardly took any breaks, and didn't have to climb up the 3000 ft or so from the Animas River to the upper Chicago Basin, so I guess that time makes sense.
I stripped down to my underwear and jumped in the lake that's right next to the parking lot, which was an awesome relief for the hard work we had just put it. We took off, this time driving through Silverton, Ouray, Montrose, and Gunnison. We stopped in Montrose for Qdoba, which had become a tradition. Qdoba/Chipotle is my favorite spot to go after spending multiple days in the wilderness because it is super healthy and the burritos are some of the most calorically dense foods I can think of, which meant that after spending tens of thousands of calories achieving our goals, we would replenish a little bit with a burrito.
I miss the San Juans, and can't wait to go back!
Risk is for managing, not for chance.
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