North Eolus - 14,039 feet
Mt. Eolus - 14,083 feet
Sunlight Peak - 14,059 feet
Windom Peak - 14,087 feet
Jupiter Mtn - 13,830 feet
North Eolus - 14,039 feet
Mt. Eolus - 14,083 feet
Sunlight Peak - 14,059 feet
Windom Peak - 14,087 feet
Jupiter Mtn - 13,830 feet
|CHICAGO BASIN 5 in a day from Purgatory|
The CHICAGO BASIN 5 in one day: North Eolus (14,082ft), Mt Eolus (14,084ft), Sunlight Pk (14,059ft), Windom Pk (14,087ft) + Jupiter Mtn (13,824ft).
Purgatory Flats TH > Chicago Basin > Four 14ers + Centennial 13er > Purgatory Flats TH = 23:07:45, 43 miles, 13,000 vert ft gain.
September 6th, 2020 - Lauren Swigart (redheadontherocks) & Preston Dennis (illusion7il)
Wow. Many people will go up and tackle the four 14ers up in Chicago Basin, but seldom is the lesser known Centennial 13er, Jupiter Mtn at 13,824 ft tagged as part of the circuit. Preston Dennis and I have been talking about it ALL year and finally when the weather window, time, and fitness levels were promising we had to go for it. All the while telling ourselves “IT HAS TO BE POSSIBLE.” It was my first time to Purgatory and Chicago Basin, and Preston’s 4th time. A total glutton for punishment in the best way. As a 14er, Centennial, and Bicentennial finisher Preston had already been up all these peaks multiple times, but the project to connect them all in a one-day push was a goal that alluded him. I’m starting to come to the end of my 14er list and have simultaneously started the Centennial 13ers. So, I needed to check all 5 off my list and this seemed like the most awesome and epic way to do it. And since neither of us shy away from a challenge of MORE miles and MORE peaks it was the perfect trip for us to embark on together.
We set out from home on Saturday morning to start our trip with a fun warm up run up Mt Sneffles (#43 for me….#8,367 for Preston…or something like that. Lol.). The weather for the weekend was perfect and we thought we could miss the morning crowds by getting a later start. We started around 1pm to go up the SW Ridge, and then go down the standard south slopes. That way we also avoided any back up with groups going up through the ‘V-notch’. Holy Moley that SW ridge was full of loose rocks. I was pretty happy to be wearing my helmet, not because it was any scary moves but because of the number of people on the route and the potential for rockfall. The plan to avoid crowds by going that way: total fail. Going down the south slopes was equivalent to hiking down a field of bowling balls, on top of marbles, on top of kitty litter. Pick your shoes (grippy!) and steps carefully down this one. I felt like the SW ridge was a much more fun route. But, no time to dilly dally at Sneffles and Yankee Boy Basin, we had a date with Purgatory to get to!
This was also my first time driving the “Million Dollar Highway” from Ouray to Silverton. I haven’t spent a ton of time in the San Juans yet, and that entire range is beautiful and unique in its own way. We aint in the Sawatch anymore Toto!
View of the Trinity Peaks from Molas Lake en route to Purgatory
We were in for a big surprise when we pulled up to the Purgatory Flats trailhead parking lot and it was PACKED. Cars upon cars all the way along the road. I guess with the train not running, and the phenomenal weather for the long weekend had everyone and their Grandma going for Chicago Basin. A small bonus of showing up just before sunset was that a spot opened in the main lot for us. Our bags were packed and ready to go, and we crawled into the back of my FJ Cruiser for a few crucial hours of sleep and then be ready to begin our epic journey in the middle of the night.
Alarm was set for 2:15am, with a boots-on-the-ground time of 3am. (*Also, I feel the need to clarify that our definition of “in one day” was within a 24-hour time period. We started at 3am on Sunday and finished around 2am on Monday. So, yes it was not all on the SAME day, but was done in “a day.” Weather we started at Midnight or 3am seemed arbitrary and we would benefit from the additional few hours of sleep.)
Stoke was high. We we’re ACTUALLY doing something that we had talked about dozens of times. “IT HAS TO BE POSSIBLE” was our little mantra that kept playing in my head. I knew I was going to face my own challenges mitigating the pain from my Achilles tendonitis and the chronic fatigue from my job. (I’m an arborist, and the summer is an extremely busy and strenuous time, with lots of hard work. Some days I am so tired and the last thing I want to do is hike/run, but I know it is the one thing that will ultimately make me feel better.) Preston was also coming off of a serious wrist surgery and his right hand/arm has been almost totally immobilized for the better part of the summer. The scrambling and moves that needed two hands was a bit of an unknown. Despite the odds I knew that once we got going, and if nothing went wrong, there was no way that we were not going to complete what we set out to do. Our competitiveness, tenacity, stubbornness, and ability to put up with pain/discomfort make us a perfect adventure team and couple for this.
The first few miles down the trail seemed surreal. And since we would be making the return in the dark as well, I would never see Purgatory Flats in the daylight. We got water when we crossed over the Needle Creek bridge and signed the trail registry with “Chicago Basin 5!” as our reason for the trip.
Next stop: Twin Lakes! The ~17 mile approach to Chicago Basin and Twin Lakes was enjoyable and not too strenuous, but the whole day came into perspective when after 6.5 hours of hiking, it was 9:50am and we are just starting up the first of five peaks for the day. I don't care who you are, that's one helluva warm up! We started with N. Eolus and Eolus, as our grand plan was to tag Jupiter as the 5th and final peak. (in retrospect I think I would have rather taken the gamble and started with Jupiter. The lack of trail and couloir full of loose rocks made it a trying peak to end on…or just all the more EPIC.)
We started up the standard trail to the saddle between North Eolus (14,082ft) and Mt Eolus (14,083ft). We went north (right) and summited North Eolus first. Since it's just a spur summit of Eolus with 179 ft prominence it was a quick little scamper. 18.85 miles in at 10:50 AM and we were on our first summit (~7h40min elapsed time) above 14k!
Looking at the pictures now, I can see how fresh and cheery our dispositions were at the start of the day...then you can see the fatigue behind them by Jupitor. haha. The climb up to Eolus goes at an easy class 3 with a series of broken ledges that you climb up. It was alot of back and forth, up and down, zig and zag up the slope. There seemed to be multiple routes and dozens of cairns all over the place, so choose wisely. Roach says that if you are making a hard move then you are probably off-route. It's not straight forward, but plenty of safe ways to make it to the top. Stay comfortable.
11:30 am/ 8h18min elapsed time - 2nd peak in the bag baby! Although, North Eolus was a bit of 'freebie' with not alot of vertical or effort. Still a long way to go....
At 21 miles/9h40min elapsed time we were back down at Twin Lakes and filling up water for our next segment and heading up Sunlight. We figured we were halfway with our mileage and vertical gain, but still had three more summits to stand on before sunset. At 10 hours in I would say the body started to feel a little tired from the super duper early morning and not alot of sleep.
The hike up to Sunlight started off with a pretty wide open class 2 hike with small slabs of rocks, pebbles, and gravel. This was my favorite and most enjoyable peak of the day. The rocks get bigger and more blocky towards the top portion. Feels more like 'easy climbing" rather than "scrambling". A nice change of pace.
I was pretty anxious to see the infamous summit block of Sunlight. When you get to what feels like the "top" there is an exposed move that requires stepping over a gap between two boulders. A fall here would not be fatal, but it would break a thing or two. I can see how being taller would make this move less scary and more secure. You just have to TRUST YOUR FEET as you thrust yourself onto the slanted slab of rock. After a bit of pacing around like a nervous feline I made the final jump onto the summit block of Sunlight to stand on the true summit at 14,059 ft! I didn’t come that far to ONLY go that far. In retrospect, it was a lot easier than my nerves were making it. I would have hated myself if I didn't make that little leap to the top. It was a good victory and much needed shot of adrenaline and excitement into my day.
I still have a crazed look on my face in our summit selfie below. Preston had already been on the "true summit" and didn't feel the need to do it again. As always, he was super encouraging and patient so I could experience it. We also took a break in the shade of the "worm hole" for snacks and reprieve. We probably spent a bit too much time on Sunlight. It's a tenuous balance between enjoying the peaks and views, and still moving quickly...especially for the day that we were doing. But, moving quickly through the mountains is also what's enjoyable for us as well.
We descended back the way we came up Sunlight, down the steep gravel slope and traversed down and across the little basin in between the peaks. We dropped low enough to be below the Class 3 northwest face and joined up at the saddle on the west ridge. Windom is the highest peak in La Plata County and "the monarch of the San Juan's rugged heartland," Jerry Roach. Sounds awesome! Unfortunately, I feel like this was the most uninteresting peak of the day. I just remember pretty solid rocks, a few disheartening false summits, and then taking some fun pictures on the blocks of rocks on the summit. We reached the top of Windom Peak (14,087ft) at 4:30pm, in 24.1 miles and at 13h17min elapsed time.
This was the 4th and final 14er for the day. No small feat. We did come across a few people that were running the whole route from Purgatory TH and tagging the 4 peaks, but to the best of our knowledge no one else was going for the “Chicago Basin 5!” So, getting a Centennial 13er was going to push the day into the EPIC status that we wanted. Onward!
I’m not one for math, but Preston was crunching the numbers of how long Jupiter was going to take us….and how much daylight we had left. The original plan was that we would be well off of Jupiter by sunset. So WE HAD TO MOVE. Super duper, let’s just start a sprint up a mountain after a marathon….
We started scampering with cautious urgency back down the west ridge of Windom. When we reached the saddle where we had come up the north side from Sunlight, we started to contemplate a possible “short cut” off the south side. (CLASSIC mountaineering mistake #1 if you ask me! But we are all guilty of it from time to time.) This would allow us to not loose as much vertical feet, and stay higher in the basin up to Jupiter. We dropped down a little and checked out some couloirs and possible sections of rock we could downclimb. Ultimately, nothing looked super promising and we couldn’t tell if things cliffed out. It was not the time to be making risky moves. We backtracked up to the ridge and followed it down a bit more until we reached the rocky gully that we knew was a good route down. It was only a few minute detour, but the rock deteriorated and got steep pretty quick down there. Time to hammer home the ultimate hiking principle: WHEN IN DOUBT, STAY ON ROUTE! No matter how many mountains I climb, I have to check myself of this when I start looking around for quicker way, or that a certain slab of rock does not look “that steep”, and that “Oh, I’m sure it goes.”
It was at this time that we also had a lapse of communication. I was under the assumption that we would be able to refill water somewhere before ascending Jupiter Mtn. NOPE. I drink a lot of water. It seriously stresses me out if we are on a route with few/no water sources and I have to focus on rationing my drinking. I don’t like being thirty and staying hydrated in kinda a passion of mine. Lol. Preston on the other hand will go through a few sips in the time I can down 2 liters of water. The good thing is that often I can pillage some of his extra water to get me through those hikes. I have my own water mule. But, even he was a little low on water himself. It was just going to be small sips for the next 2-3 hours.
It was 6pm and we were looking up the dirty couloir to our final summit. We set a goal to be on the summit by 6:45pm. Time to break out the secret weapon: CLIF SHOT DOUBLE ESPRESSO WITH 100MG OF CAFFEINE. On par with my water consumption, is my dependence on caffeine. These milligrams are as equally calculated as the amount of food I am carrying that day. At that point of the day each gel provided a 15 minute energy boost and then it felt like the tank was empty again.
The loose dirty couloir up Jupiter Mountain was pretty exasperating and it felt like EVERY SINGLE rock moved and slid. Naturally, I let the rocks know how I felt by yelling some obscenities at them. This short couloir is right in the middle of Jupiter’s north face. We kept traversing left and up until we gained the ridge at ~13,700ft, just below the false summit. Reaching Roach’s route description and looking at our tracks it appears we ascended what he calls “Europa” and puts it at a class 4. We might have come up slightly in between that and “Ganymede”, which he also puts at class 4. Preston and I both agreed that our moves hardly exceed 2+, so I am not totally sure what Roach is calling class 4. Bottom line, we made it safely to the top!
We finally stood on the summit of Colorado’s 92nd tallest peak at 13,830ft. It was 6:50pm. 15h42min and 26.1 miles into our journey. A gorgeous setting sun was casting an orange glow over the entire mountain range. Truly magical to be standing up there together.
I adore our photo’s together on the top of Jupiter. I feel so lucky that I get to experience all this with this guy beside me. Xoxo
I wish we could have stayed longer to savor it. Unfortunately, standing on top of our last summit could not be a huge celebration yet because we had A LOT of work and hiking ahead of us in the dark. According to Roach it was 16.2 miles back the trailhead from there.
Time to move! We made it off the rocky summit and onto the southwest slopes (“Class 2”) through a mildly annoying boulder field onto some tundra grass before it got dark enough to merit headlamps. At that point I think we had found the Columbine Pass Trail and were cruising down.
My feet were sore and all I wanted to know was how much longer until we reached water. We passed a guy at his campsite and he cheerily told us that there were plenty of good campsites along this trail. We said thanks, but our campsite is back at the trailhead. I think he was confused. After all it was past 8 pm and pitch black.
We reached Needle Creek at 8:30pm. We dropped packs, filled up water, sat down, took off our shoes, stuffed a bunch of food in our faces, and put on a fresh pair of socks. And wow, a fresh pair of socks really revitalized the feet. I got a good scare from some glowing eyes in the meadow that turned out to be mountain goats. But it was enough to make sure my knife was at the ready. I’m a little paranoid sometimes.
I don’t really know how to put the rest of the hike in words. We’d been on the trail for almost 17h30min.... It was going to be another 6 hours back to the trailhead. Before that point it was hard to wrap my mind around what it was going to take and what it was going to feel like to finish this. Damn. 6 more hours of hiking seemed like an eternity and I didn’t know how it was possible. Oh well, TIME TO MOVE!
I was impressed with out initial speed jogging down the Needle Creek Trail. There are big sections that are very well maintained and we had to take advantage of those parts and run what we could. Then sections got steeper with loose rocks, which slowed things down. I love running at night. There is something about getting into that zone of pure focus on the beam of the headlamp and trail below your feet. All senses are heightened. I love it.
We switched off leading the way and it worked really well because we each seemed to need a little extra push from each other at different times. And so the hours, minutes and miles ticked on. I tried to not look at my watch. The Purgatory Flats trail descends and then you end with an uphill back to the trailhead. So we had a nice 4 miles of uphill to look forward to.
Energy was low and when I ate something it only seemed to provide a small bout of energy. Then the last 1-2 hours it was hard to even get any more food down. We just needed to be done. Also, my feet were pretty sore and I would have killed for some cushy trail shoes. The downhill hiking actually hurt my feet more, and by jogging I was able to keep some of the impact distributed better. Going uphill actually felt better than more downhill at one point.
At 2:20 am we emerged from the trail onto the road. WE DID IT. 23 hours and 7 minutes. ~43 miles. 13,000 ft of vertical gain. The Chicago Basin 5 in a day from the Purgatory Flats Trailhead was in the books.
We crawled into the back of my FJ, ate some veggie burritos (in need of REAL food), and managed a few fit full hours of sleep. It was impossible to get comfortable and the body was sore and buzzing with energy. The next morning my feet felt so sore and I couldn't imagine how I was going to put on steel toe leather boots in 2 days for work. It sounded like torture. We stopped in Silverton for some COFFEE and breakfast. It was nice to relax a little, but as usual... WE GOTTA MOVE....it was still a nice 7 hour drive back home.
I had some extra pictures that I added to the bottom here. Thank you for reading and letting me share this totally incredible day. and thanks to Preston for even coming up with this stuff. Bottom line: if you think "IT'S GOTTA BE POSSIBLE" then go for it!
Life's short, do big things...
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