Peak(s):  Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,082 feet
Date Posted: 
Date Climbed:   08/09/2005
Author:  SarahT
 8/9-8/13/05 All 4 peaks, std routes except Windom NW face  

Chicago Basin, August 9-13

Sunlight Pk 14,059
Windom Pk 14,082
Mt. Eolus 14,083
N. Eolus 14,039
Glacier Pt 13,704
Jupiter Mtn 13,830

I'd never really considered a trip to Chicago Basin for the near future (especially not this summer) but as my boyfriend's 6 week stay with me here in CO was quickly coming to an end we decided we needed to get in one last cool 14er trip. I mentioned the possibility of the Chicago Basin group with a train ride to the trailhead and he was immediately hooked on the idea so I quickly threw together a plan for a trip less than a week later. I had no problem buying train tickets from Silverton to Needleton over the phone on very short notice. I wanted to give us plenty of time to bag the 3 14ers and because I'd heard about how wet the weather in the area can be this time of year I decided to allot 3 full days for peak bagging. If things went well, this would also give us a chance to visit Jupiter Mtn., a centennial 13er.

DAY 1: Drive to Silverton, ride the train, hike up to Chicago Basin

We left boulder around 6am. We were quite discouraged upon reaching the San Juans as it was only mid morning and they were plagued by heavy rain storms. We arrived in Silverton around 12:30 and collected our train tickets from the depot before heading over to Handlebars to have our last warm meal. The food was extremely good and the atmosphere very friendly. We quickly agreed that we'd return to this place on Saturday. We boarded the train wearing our rain gear, prepared for the worst. The ride was uneventful except that I got a piece of soot in my eye because I couldn't keep myself from sticking my head out of the train to get a better view. After about an hour we reached Needleton and got off the train with two other groups of two. Luckily it was no longer raining so we removed out rain gear and started down the trail to Chicago Basin. It was a very pleasant hike, mostly on sand and dirt. I couldn't believe how wet and green everything was! We were quite surprised at the number of tents scattered around the basin and spent at least 45 minutes trying to locate a decent camping spot. We finally found one around 11,200 ft up a steep bank on the northwest side of the trail. It was not very protected but had a huge rock "porch". We quickly set up camp and went to sleep.

DAY 2: Sunlight & Windom

By 6am we were headed off up the basin on the steep trail towards Twin Lakes under overcast skies to give Sunlight and possibly Windom a try. About a dozen mountain goats passed very close by us single file on their way down into Chicago Basin. Our first views of the lakes and surrounding Needle Mtns. were breathtaking. From Twin Lakes we climbed east into the small basin between Sunlight and Windom. We crossed a small snowfield as we cut across the basin around 13,300 ft to reach the base of Sunlight. The climb up Sunlight's south slopes was fairly routine - some loose (but not horrible) pick-your-own-route-scree at the beginning turning into solid class 3 scrambling with less options towards the end. I reached the final summit block with much apprehension. Roach says that this is the hardest move on any 14er. We decided to summit one at a time and take the usual summit break off the summit when we finished. My boyfriend wanted to try first. He took one look down the gap near the summit's east end and retreated! We knew this was the standard route, but the smooth slab on the south side of the summit also looked doable and much less exposed so he gave this a try. Success! Next it was my turn. The slab had only one small but decent handhold so I basically ran up it, keeping my body as close as I could to the slab. This worked beautifully! My boyfriend said I looked like Spiderman. I stood up for a moment before crawling onto the summit block, where I lay hugging the summit. Coming back down this slab was of course a bit trickier. There were no good footholds so I layed myself flat on the slab using my whole body for friction and did a very controlled slide down. This is a bit scary because there is a large gap to climbers right under this slab. However, with one person on the ground directing your descent and reassuring you that you are not aiming for the gap you can easily slide down and drop off from the slab. I breathed a sigh of relief as my hands and belly were still stinging from being scraped against the rock (my shirt slid up during the ordeal). We were lucky that it hadn't started raining yet - this move would have not been feasible on wet rock. To anyone reading this: has anyone ever climbed this slab instead of hopping the gap? Roach mentions a 5th class alternative which may be what I am talking about. I'm just curious what others have done or thought. If this was 5th class, does anyone have an estimate of its rating more specifically? I've only done a few technical rock climbs. The sky was becoming even more gloomy at this point and we debated going over to Windom. Since the weather seemed to be rather stably crappy we decided to go for it as long as it hadn't started raining by the time we reached the Sunlight/Windom basin. We passed two groups of two on our descent from Sunlight who were headed up. Windom was disappearing in a cloud. We decided to climb its northwest face and initially began climbing a soft snow slope. After a couple hundred feet the snowfield died out and we found ourselves on some nasty dirt and scree. Traversing further east got us to more solid class 3 rock. The scrambling on this route was pure fun. It started to rain lightly as we neared the top. I really liked this summit and was thinking that the only reason it was easier to reach than Sunlight's summit is because the big blocks on top happen to be arranged more favorably. After some snacks we started down the west ridge but quickly abandoned it in favor of sliding down a nice looking snowfield back into the basin. It started to rain heavily on the way back to camp. We found ourselves back in the tent by early afternoon with nothing to do but wait to see what the next day would bring.

DAY 3: Eolus, N. Eolus, Glacier Point

When the alarm sounded at 5:30 I awoke to the sound of rain and was almost happy to stay in bed and wait it out for a while. It must have stopped shortly afterwards and we started hiking around 8:30. The sky had cleared in some parts of the basin but it looked unstable and Eolus was still shrouded in a cloud. Soon, the entire basin was covered again in clouds. This was the same stably crappy weather we had had the day before. I never heard any thunder but it rained off and on all day. I found these kind of rainy days to actually be rather pleasant. We were in no hurry, no thunderstorms were racing in. We were just out playing in the clouds. Our goal for the day was Eolus. We followed the steep trail once again to Twin Lakes where we picked up a trail heading over to the basin under Eolus' east face. As we climbed the ledge structure at the head of this basin to reach the Eolus/N. Elous saddle we disappeared into the clouds. There were several possible routes to this saddle and we reached it by class 2 and easy class 3 moves. From the saddle we could see clouds dancing around the infamous catwalk. I was 100% comfortable with this obstacle but was extra conscious with my movements. After that the real fun began as we started to traverse south on the ridge's east side. The scrambling was fun but seemed much more exposed than Windom's northwest face. The rock was also very wet and this complicated things a bit. We reached the summit without incident after some minor route finding. We stayed for only a few minutes since the rain was picking up. Descending the wet rocks back to the catwalk requires great concentration - it was pretty slick but OK if you took your time. We returned to the saddle and scrambled up to N. Eolus in a matter of minutes. It was an easy scramble - no reason not to take a walk over to this peak since it is so quick. It began to hail so we returned to the saddle and began our decent. We reached the flat part below the saddle and could catch glimpses of the small lake to the east through the rapidly moving clouds. The hail let up and we weren't done playing yet so we went to investigate the lake - it was beautiful. We found ourselves at the base of Glacier Point and so we climbed it too (straight up from the lake). At first we fought our way up some nasty dirt and scree but near the top we found ourselves on solid rock. We waited around for a while hoping for some kind of view of the surrounding mountains but the clouds would not relent. Finally we retraced our steps back to camp.

DAY 4: Jupiter Mountain, begin trek back to Needleton

For the first time during the trip we awoke to sunny skies and started out for Jupiter around 7:30 armed with Roach's instructions. We found a nice trail and followed it south from about 11,200 ft in Chicago Basin until we came to the stream crossing and trail intersection Roach mentions. We left the trail and started climbing northeast up Jupiter's steep grassy slopes. I found this to be less than enjoyable. There was no trail, but there seemed to be many goat paths that were useful. The hike finally became more interesting as we neared the summit. The grassy slopes turned into rocks and the last little bit required some rather easy scrambling up to the summit. The views of Windom, Sunlight, and Eolus from the top made the hike well worth the effort. Since it had been so overcast when we had climbed the 14ers it was really great to finally get a nice view of them all. I had considered going for Grizzly from Jupiter but the clouds were building and I'd had enough. We returned to camp and rested for a short while before packing up and hiking out of the basin back toward Needleton. We found a great camping spot around 9,100 ft about 2 miles from the train stop. We washed up in the creek and went to bed (I am pretty sure that this is the longest I have EVER gone without properly bathing! But it wasn't bad).

DAY 5: Return to Needleton, ride train, drive back to Boulder

We slept in until about 8:30 and then packed up and hiked the remainder of the trail back to Needleton. We waited for the train and were joined by 4 guys from Denver who had spent a week backpacking around Ruby Lake and Noname Drainage. The train arrived promptly at 11:30. I couldn't believe how many people were getting off!!! I thought Chicago Basin had been crowed during the week, but apparently the weekend is just crazy! Are they going to have to start issuing permits soon? Again on the ride back, despite having my sunglasses on for protection, I got more soot in my eye. We arrived in Silverton around 12:30, threw our packs in the car, and walked over to Handlebars where we had an outstanding meal of beer, burgers, onion rings, and peach cobbler, all of which I highly recommend! Unfortunately it was time for the long drive back to Boulder. My rental car got a really nasty flat tire after a short time (in Ridgeway). Enterprise's 24 hour roadside assistance was closed when I called?! So I put the spare tire on and drove slower than I would have liked the remaining 300 miles back to Boulder. When I returned the car they apologized profusely and gave me a 30% discount! That made me happy.

I will remember Chicago Basin as a magical place. The wet weather actually just added to its charm. I was very sad to have to leave and I'm sure I'll be back some day.

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