Peak(s):  "Sunlight Spire"  -  14,000 feet
"South Windom"  -  13,740 feet
"East Windom"  -  13,460 feet
Date Posted:  09/08/2021
Date Climbed:   09/03/2021
Author:  goingup
Additional Members:   jscully205
 The 59th 14er   

In my last trip report I mentioned how big a turn on schlepping climbing gear into Chicago Basin to climb 50 feet of hand crack at 14,000 feet would be. I knew it would happen, but I didn't know it would happen this year. In 2014 while in Chicago Basin with a pretty rad 14ers group I gaped at Sunlight Spire and said, "some day." It is always fun when some day becomes the day. At the time the spire was 13,995 feet but it had a growth spurt or someone measured wrong, either way, it was upgraded to the coveted 14,000 foot mark, making it the most difficult to reach 14,000 foot summit in Colorado. There are even whispers that it is the most difficult 14,000 foot summit by its standard route in contiguous USA rivaling Thunderbolt Peak in California. Personally I would like to see these two mountains get in a fight on the 14ers.com message board. Regardless of height (we love a short king), I wanted to climb it. However, when it got that coveted 14,000 foot status I knew I HAD to stand on the summit to really finish the Colorado 14ers. North Maroon, North Eolus, Cameron, and El Diente count so why doesn't the Spire? Okay so truth be told, I successfully summitted the spire and I still don't feel like I finished the Colorado 14ers. My brain does have an uncontrollable attraction to lists and if we are counting four unranked mountains in the finisher list we should count ALL the unranked 14,000 foot mountains in the finisher list. More specifically: North Snowmass, West Evans, Southeast Longs, South Bross, South Wilson, West Wilson, Sunlight Spire, East Crestone, Northeast Crestone, South Little Bear, Northwest Lindsey, North Massive, Massive Green, East La Plata, South Elbert, and South Massive. South Bross being the biggest prize, obviously. I always thought I would finish what I consider the real 14ers list on the spire but I still have to climb South Wilson, North Massive, Massive Green and South Elbert. So close I can taste it but South Wilson does look tricky and there is zero info on it. I will do North Massive and Massive Green this winter and likely run South Elbert sometime this fall. Fingers crossed, my real 14ers finisher will be on South Wilson next summer. Thank you for coming to my Ted talk.

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Sunlight Spire - glorious!

I hope you enjoyed that pointless tangent. We return to the scheduled program and the pretty pretty photos that came out of Chi basin this weekend. James and Deb had a train reservation well in advance and were planning on climbing Sunlight Spire, Jupiter, Turret and Pigeon for James's cents finisher. There was a last minute cancellation in their group and Deb asked me to tag along. I would not have been able to climb the spire without them. I could not lead something that difficult, hell, I can't even climb something that difficult. I love rock climbing so much but I am actual shit at it. I try though. I get frustrated. I want to be better. But I just can't dedicate all my free time to it when sports, multi-sports! So I digress to being mediocre and having friends who will let me tag along. I do have a winning personality, will carry gear, and I take excellent photos. So Deb asked me on Monday if I wanted to join and approximately two minutes later I submitted my PTO request for Thursday and Friday. Approved, victory! I panic packed Tuesday evening and left right after work (Louisville) on Wednesday. A solo seven hour drive well into the night. We love our Spotify playlists eh? Remanence of a hurricane provided an abysmal forecast but I lived in coastal British Columbia for three years so I am a pro at dealing with rain. And rain it did. Wolf Creek Pass was actually terrifying to drive over in the dark. The fog was so thick the road was not visible and a combo of people driving too slow and too fast made it down right treacherous. At one point a Dodge Ram towing buggies passed a line of 10 cars not using a passing lane but driving into oncoming traffic. Is it really worth getting there 3 minutes faster? Do people not think about how their actions could potentially kill another person? Alas, I made it to the 5 star Durango Wal-Mart parking lot for a nice comfortable 4runner sleep. Storms rolled through all night. The morning came fast and soon enough the train was sweeping us and our 300 pound packs away to Needleton. Dark clouds threatened our good time.

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And we're off....
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Pretending I am not dieing inside with a pack that weighs more than I do (taken on the way out when there was plenty of sunshine)

James and Deb move blazingly fast and before I knew it (2 hours) we were setting up camp. Good thing, as soon as we crawled in our tents for a nap it began to down pour for hours. What was in my pack? I carried one of the 60 meter ropes, personal climbing gear (harness, shoes, helmet, belay device, locking carabiners, slings etc.), food for four days, layers for every kind of weather, sleeping bag, pad, liner, tent, pillow, first aid, MSR pocket rocket stove, two small cans of fuel, stuff like a toothbrush and toothpaste (dental hygiene for the win), Katadyn be free water filter, and micro spikes just in case there was fresh snow/ice up high. Trying to save weight, I chose my ultra light single wall Gossamer Gear tent and suffered the consequences. All three nights the condensation built up thick on the inside and slowly dripped on my face driving me towards insanity. It sucked. Deb had the second 60 meter rope and her personal climbing gear and James carried the rack and his personal climbing gear. James and Deb did not go for Jupiter on Thursday night because they wanted views. The weather did break a bit in time for us to have dinner on the patio. We went to bed with alarms set for a not so alpine start of 6:30 a.m.

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Storms a brewin'
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Great tent until night falls
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The patio

James and I both have in reach minis and he checked the weather for Friday, it was so/so. We could not start climbing too early or it would be too cold but thunderstorms were predicted by noon. There was a narrow weather window but we went for it. The approach up to the climb is fairly obvious but it was Deb's superb route finding skills that got us there. Once again a blazing pace with no breaks got James on lead by 9 a.m (started from camp at 7 a.m.). A few notes on the approach, it is class 2/3 until the first base of the spire. I believe this is the start of the "5.7" pitch that climbs up to the second base of the spire. The third base is where the belayer stands. It is a short climb, maybe 30-40 feet but you would not want to fall and it was wet. Deb and James climbed it un-roped (they are far better climbers than I) but they both paused to think and pulled some weird moves so I decided to use the rope - I did just carry it 6,000 vertical feet up the side of a mountain. I am not sure I would call this short bit 5.7 but it was above my pay grade wet. We all rapped down it.

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Approach
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Sunlight Spire and the terrain that stands between it


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Deb at the third base or the belayer's base
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Beautiful views of the Eolus group from the 2nd base where I took photos while James led

A few notes on the climb: *James did not bring any nuts which means he did not use any nuts *There are 2 fixed nuts and a piton in the crack on the way to the summit * Cam ranges used were 0.75-3 * The length of the crack was mostly at 1 * The crack holds protection well * We used two 60 meter ropes * The initial moves are easier if you are tall, there are no left feet otherwise * Pulling these type of moves at 14,000 feet is hard no matter how you spin it * Extend your anchor at the top or else the rope can and will get pinned between the chain and the rock and this will make it really really hard to belay * The climb is SW facing and it is in the shade until later in the afternoon (brrrrr) *Wear crack gloves or rip your hands apart

So ya, it was cold and clouds were a brewing in a circle around us but James made it to the summit and primal howls were released. Awesome lead Mr. Scully.

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The views were beautiful.

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Windom
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Turret maybe?

I "climbed" second. Climbed is an air quotes because I definitely yarded the shit out of gear, especially as the crack shot off to the left. The first two moves off the ground I was able to do but once in the crack system the awkward angle alongside being freezing cold equaled tugging on gear. I did my fair share of crack climbing in Squamish British Columbia. This includes climbing the iconic Chief whose easiest route goes at a 14 pitch 5.9. I also did a bit of crack cragging at the Squamish bluffs and maxed out on 5.10a cracks. To me, the spire is way harder (read totally different) than anything I encountered during my time in Squamish. But then I wonder, was I trying hard enough? As my left foot continued to slip into oblivion dangling useless, I did not think I was going to make it up even pulling on gear. But with some serious encouragement from Deb and James, I got over myself and did what I needed to do to get to the summit. As the crack became more vertical I was able to do something that resembled actual climbing. The last move to pull onto the summit is awkward and it is necessary to climb above the anchor. The only option once attaining the summit is to let out a primal scream. For if you are not a superb rock climber, you have just gone to battle.

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Pre battle
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Mid battle
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Post battle
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Summittttttttt !!!!!!
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Can't beat the view while climbing
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Sunlight Peak from the summit of Sunlight Spire

Deb was up next and she cleaned. She is a great climber, the best climber out of the three of us. It was enjoyable to watch her technique. In the end this crack got all three of us. No one climbed it clean and weather moved in so we could not try again. All three of us agreed, had we been blessed with better weather we each would have tried again. It does take at least one go to understand the awkward movement and shake out the heebie jeebies. On Saturday (we climbed it on Friday) a group of four guys from the Vail valley spent the entire day cragging the spire. The weather (on Saturday) was perfect, it could not have been better. One of them in the group got it clean the first time, two of them the second time and one yarded on gear like I did. This spire is a real challenge from the logistics of getting into the basin, to getting the necessary weather window, to having the endurance to bring climbing gear all the way up to the base, to the actual climb at altitude. One word describes the experience, satisfying.

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Deb climbing
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Rapping down to first base

As Deb was climbing thunder was cracking off to the west of the Eolus group. I would say, "James that's not moving towards us, is it?" and he'd say, "No, no...." As Deb got off the climb, James and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, "it is definitely moving towards us." We packed up, rapped down and as we were scrambling back towards the saddle with Sunlight Peak at exactly noon the sky unleashed its hell fury upon us. Luckily, sans lightning. It went from 0 to 100 as we were in a pocket of sun/part clouds most of the day. Hooray, we were off the climb! Success!

By the time we got back to camp the rain had let up. We ate lunch on the patio and James and Deb shot off to do Jupiter James's 98th centennial. I did Jupiter as a day trip from Purgatory in 2018. I like my solo light pack long run days. I napped while they climbed but it only took them a few hours to return and then it was dinner time on the patio. Really everything happened on the patio.

We discussed plans for the next day (Saturday). James had one, well two major objectives Turret and Pigeon which makes him a centennial finisher. I did Pigeon and Turret via Purgatory and North Pigeon Basin solo in 2017. I had one, well two major objectives, South and East Windom because I want to be a climb all the unranked 13ers in the state finisher. If everything worked out, James and Deb would stash climbing gear above our camp in Chicago Basin, go cross country over Twin Thumbs pass into Ruby basin, set up camp, summit Turret then Pigeon, camp in Ruby Basin, and come back Sunday by 11 a.m. I absolutely love the challenge of climbing mountains with little to no info and South and East Windom from Chicago Basin presented the perfect challenge. I would solo climb those on Saturday, stay at Chicago Basin camp watching over the stashed climbing gear and wait for James and Deb until 11 a.m. on Sunday when we would all hike out to Needleton and catch the train back to Durango.

From the Twin Lakes trail coming down from the spire I had been eyeing up potential routes to get into the basin southwest of Windom, southeast of Peak 18, and northwest of Jupiter. There is a major head wall full of waterfalls, rock slabs and willows to negotiate and I had one cryptic trip report from Boggy B to go on. I am still unsure how he got into this basin which I am naming Windom Basin. I left the Twin Lakes trail around 11,700 feet, crossed Needle Creek and headed east doing an ascending traverse and negotiating terrain as it came. It felt very intuitive and before I knew it I was on top of the headwall staring at a maze of rocks and rock shelves below the massive ridge that runs from Peak 18 to Windom to Jupiter. My guess is a handful of people have been in this upper basin but thousands have stared at it from lower Chicago basin camp as it frames many photos. I have no idea why anyone would travel this way unless they wanted to do South Windom which is much easier from the Sunlight Lakes side. I felt a tremendous sense of connection as I live to experience wild spaces devoid of human contact.

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First light on the Eolus massif
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Peak 18
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Interesting angle on Jupiter
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Windom to Jupiter ridgeline and so much rock

The one thing Boggy's report confirmed is there is a shit gully that gets you to the Windom - Jupiter ridgeline just south of South Windom. There is a lot of rock hopping and talus scrabbling to get to the bottom of the gully. The gully is a horrid nightmare and I was grateful to be solo. You do not want a partner on this one. In fact, I would probably just skip it all together. I made the mistake of initially going up the center but quickly realized clinging to the left side wall for dear life worked better.

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Backed up view of the access gully (taken on descent)


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Looking up
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Looking down

When I crested the ridge I was greeted with glorious views, a quick scramble to the summit of South Windom, and the nauseating feeling that I still had to go back down this gully. Let me just say, more than once I visually searched for another way back to Chi Basin but this place is a fortress.

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First view of the other side - Greylock Mountain and Grizzly Peak frame this shot
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Windom from South Windom
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Close up of Windom from the South (much more impressive)

From the summit of South Windom, East Windom is a straight shot down, through Sunlight Basin, and around Sunlight Lakes. I had the distinct feeling not many people visit this basin either. It was very pretty. I initially went around the north side of the lakes while going up East Windom and the south side coming back to make for a nice tour de this rarely visited beauty of a spot. I practice intuitive eating, fasted running, and sometimes I fast for a day or two. I woke up on Saturday not at all hungry or thirsty so, I did not eat or drink until the summit of East Windom. I had a little bit of tailwind and a small bar.

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Sunlight Lakes Basin - East Windom photo center
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Sunlight Lakes Basin - East Windom photo right
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Summit of East Windom
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Jagged?
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Windom-Sunlight massif taken from East Windom
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Tarn with Grizzly in frame taken during return to South Windom Peak

It was necessary to re-summit South Windom and when I did I tagged every bump on the ridge just to make sure I really summited because I never want to go up or down that gully again. I got a good shot of Pigeon and Turret and waved at James and Deb for they were standing on Pigeon for James's centennial finisher. CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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This view made the gully worth it
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James is finishing the centennials just over yonder
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Centennial finisher, Sunlight Spire leader mountain fashionista .... Mr. James Scully

I took a slightly improved variation on the descent down the gully and at the base stumbled upon a severely mangled deer body. It looked like death by avalanche trauma or it took a pretty bad tumble down the gully. I could see the scream on its face. I am likely the only person who has seen this torn apart deer carcass. I wish I could have taken the head with me but I don't think the train people who have enjoyed the smell.

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Oh the places you'll see!!

Instead of going back the way I came I went up a gully to the Peak 18 - Windom saddle and down the other side and connected with the Sunlight/Windom trail back to Twin Lakes. From my 2014 climb of Peak 18 I knew the gully from the Sunlight/Windom side went. The gully I took to get out of Windom Basin was steep, short, and not nearly as horrible as the gully I took to attain the Windom/Jupiter ridgeline. I immediately heard primal screams coming from Sunlight Spire and saw the four Vail valley guys having fun on it. I was jealous of the weather they had but glad we did it the day before as seven people in that tiny space would not have worked. With no information, I decided to try and climb Peak 11. It was a really steep climb up to the base from Twin Lakes. The slope was covered in ball bearing rocks and I was not having fun. I found a grass ramp with some intermittent class 3 scrambling until I got to a downward sloping chock stone with water flowing down it about 250 vertical feet shy of the summit. I tried to pull the moves to get up and over it but I hesitated three times. As well, I would have had to drop my large awkward pack. I have two rules: 1) If you cannot summit with your pack on, you don't summit and 2) If you hesitate three times, today is not the day. Good decisions should always be made but extra vigilance must be paid when rolling solo. My nerves were kind of shot and I was very satisfied with the day I had. I would like to climb the Twin Thumbs and Needle Ridge and Peak 11 sits in the middle of the two, so maybe a rock climbing traverse of all four peaks is in my future, any takers?

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Twin Lakes from the slope above


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Goats of course
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Summer hanging on

I returned to camp via the Twin Lakes trail and talked to chipmunks for the rest of the day. A butterfly died outside my tent and I held a funeral for it. The Vail valley guys came by my tent around 6 p.m. after climbing the spire all day and we chatted. I made it through my last night of wet sleep and Deb and James were back by 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. We hiked out and Deb took the most important photo of the trip, me flagging down the train.

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Someone has to do it

The train was rowdy. Lots of beer drinking and waving at on lookers as we slid into Durango. What is the obsession with waving at the train? And filming the train? One guy was riding his bike along side taking video. What happens to that footage? Deb and I googled Durango-Silverton train and thousands of YouTube videos came up. Deb decided the guy on the bike puts a train compilation to metal music together at the end of the summer. I like that theory. We went to Steamworks for food and beer. Deb and James got a hotel room and hung in Durango until late morning on Monday. Like a total fool I drove 4.5 hours through the night deer dodging all the way to the Sheep Gulch trailhead outside of Buena Vista. I arrived at 1 a.m. and passed out in the back of my 4runner. I woke up at 8 a.m. on Monday and ran/climbed Mount Hope and Quail Mountain. I could not pass up the beautiful weather.

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Register on Quail Mountain

The drive home from Buena Vista on Labor Day was not as terrible as I thought it would be. I mean I-70 was not great but you put the jams on and get through it. I was home by 6 p.m. What a fantastic weekend! Here's to many more!!!!!




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
d_baker
User
needs more tattoo
09/08/2021 21:31
Great photos for sure! The carcass skull is wild!
I like the Griz & Greylock frame...all good stuff. Congrats on your 59, and winning your battle with the Spire. ;)

Your fan,

d_baker


goingup
User
@d_baker
09/09/2021 10:30
The deer was soooo high up but I did follow game trails to get to that basin, they are very good at off trail nav, maybe not so good at death gullies. Are you around? We could get out together? South Elbert?


Jay521
User
Another winner!
09/10/2021 01:35
You rock, girl! So freakin' glad you're back in the state!

Also your fan,

Jay


goingup
User
@Jay521
09/10/2021 11:31
I get all your trip reports in my email. They kept me going while I was in Canada.
Your fan,
K


jesse
User
Awesome!
09/10/2021 11:35
Sunlight Spire is one of the crown jewels of Colorado Mountaineering. Well done getting the hardest rock in Colorado at 14,000 ft!


-wren-
User
sick!
09/10/2021 13:09
PSA: the reason that we include N. Maroon and the other four is that they have official names given by the USGS, while the other unranked summits are named in guidebooks and maps. A rather arbitrary distinction, but the reason nonetheless.


BostonBD
User
Awesome work!
09/11/2021 08:48
I met you in Boulder at Neptune maybe 5 years ago? I see you're still killin' it! Fantastic trip report!


Hoot
User
Inspiring!
09/12/2021 13:25
Those are some of the best Spire pix I've seen. Congrats on summiting that beast and thanks for the detailed report. Unfortunately, your report pretty much convinces me that I have no business attempting to climb that sucker. :-(


Slawson405
User
Epic
09/13/2021 08:41
Trip and trip report. Thanks for sharing!


goingup
User
~~~~~
09/13/2021 12:57
@Inspiring! Hey thanks and if you have someone who can lead it you can aid climb it, and I bet you could do that ( :

@jesse I agree! I have wanted to climb it for so long and now I want to go back and do a better job climbing it lol

@BostonBD Nice meeting you five years ago


daway8
User
Congrats!
09/14/2021 23:28
Great job and great report! That Spire is one reason I'm not in any hurry to chase any more lists. Maybe someday though... I'll keep this TR in mind if that day ever comes for me...


Boggy B
User
Way to go, but
09/15/2021 09:11
South and East Windom? What kind of obscure peak snobbery are you playing at here?
Sorry my beta was crap (or too late?)


goingup
User
---------
09/16/2021 15:20
@Boggy B

It felt pretty good knowing you and I might be amongst the few dumb enough to go up that gully
I made a decision - all the unranked 13ers finisher or bust


skyrme17
Story within a story
10/16/2021 20:41
The intro is rather unique, very well crafted. May well be better than the climb itself; of course that's up to reader to judge. But for a trip report, it is very well written.


Eli Boardman
User
Awesome work
11/01/2021 18:01
Nice climbing! The spire will always be a 14er in our hearts haha.

For South Wilson, one option is to reverse my descent route, which IIRC would be class 2 up some insanely loose (but doable) shingle-like scree from Kilpacker to meet the ridge a bit south of the summit. This report has the best beta: https://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=12017



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