Peak(s):  Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,082 feet
Date Posted:  08/06/2007
Modified:  01/15/2008
Date Climbed:   08/04/2007
Author:  lordhelmut
 Another Chicago Basin TR  

I realize there have been a lot of reports lately on the Needle Mtns, but I had such a good time there this past weekend, I feel obligated to post another one to the bunch and I'll try and pick out my best shots of the area, which will be tough. The text will be kept short, but to be perfectly honest, if you haven't been to this basin yet, get on it, its unreal, thats all I gotta say.

We took off from Golden @ 11pm and thats no type-o. We drove through the night and it was the crux of the trip, driving 6.5 hours from 285 to 50 to 550 into Durango. This may not have been the quickest route, on the way back we timed our route from 160 to 285 into Golden at around 6 1/4 hours so its really not all that much of a difference. The drive was made significantly tougher with a monsoon from Montrose all the way into Durango and it was at its worse it everytime I rounded all those endless amounts of 10mph corners over whatever those 2 passes are between Ouray and Durango. We arrived into town @ 5:30am and konked out in some Best Western motel parking lot for atleast 2 hours.

The alarm went off @ 7:30am and we hit up the McDonalds right next to the train station before we packed up and boarded. To be perfectly honest, the train sucks and is a ripoff, in my opinion. Everytime you round the slightest of a corner, every person on the train heads to the side and takes a picture of the curve of the train, and I mean everyone. With burning coal flying in their faces, you would've thought JC himself was rising from the Animas River, it was unreal, like a cult possesed, not to mention the first 30 minutes of the trip passes though the slums of Durango, reminiscent of a 3rd world country. Next time, I'm parking along 550 and hiking Purgatory.

When we finally reached Needleton, we were ready more than ever to get into that damn Basin and after they unloaded all the bags, we were off. Now this trail into Chicago Basin wasn't all that bad, but it was more tiring than we planned. Its pretty long and goes up the whole way, but its beautiful, goes along the river and there are a few waterfalls that really make it a memorable experience. It took us a little under 3 hours to get to our camp spot, we were located less 100 yards from the twin lake/columbine pass sign, a pretty ideal spot I may say. After filtering some water, we cooked some food and called it a night.

We woke up around 4am and was on the trail around 6am after eating some brekfast and getting out stuff ready. We made good time to the lake, and were off towards Sunlight soon after. Let me say though, we met a father Takao and his 11 year old son Anthony, from Momument, who had just got done finishing off the Elks the week before who might have been more efficient climbers than the mtn goats in the basin. For the record, they started 15 minutes after us and bagged all 3 peaks and were back to camp before us, unreal, they were absolute machines and Anthony has summited 51 of these. After marveling at Twin Lakes, we decided to take on the West Ridge of Sunlight. It was a good choice to say the least. After a quick upclimb to the saddle, we started a few exposed 4th class moves right away and eventually encountered some low 5th class moves, but nothing too difficult. Anyways, after the nice scrambling, we made quick time to the summit.

The summit block, in my opinion, was neither overrated or underrated. You make a quick 10 foot scramble to one rock, lean over and pull yourself up to another rock right below the summit and then pull yourself up again to the knife edged roof of Sunlight. After a few shots with me looking anxious, I began the short downclimb. Although short, the one move where you have to get back to the flat, inclined slab is kind of unnerving. I tried a number of different approaches and then finally said f**k it and did the short hop, a very nerve racking hop I might add (I went back up a 2nd and 3rd time, it was a lot easier these times, but the 1st time makes you think). After about 20 minutes on the summit, we made quick work of the descent to the Basin and gained the west ridge of Windom. Windom's West Ridge is a fun class 2+ scramble to the w/ a fun, mildly exposed summit. We spent even less time there, for the clouds were rolling in and we couldnt see much, so descended down to the lakes. After a cold dip in the lake, it began to pour, but we didnt care, I laid down on the floor of the lake and looked straight up and admired the surreal view of raindrops hitting the lake's surface. Then the freezing water finally hit me and we got out, dried off as best we could and made our way back to camp absolutely water logged. This was a really WET weekend, we weren't dry for 48 hours straight, but I wouldnt trade my view of Vestal and Arrow peak for all the whiskey in Ireland.

The last day we did a quick climb up to Columbine Pass, packed our stuff up and made our descent back to the train stop. To conclude, do yourself a favor the check this place out. We camped in a spot surrounded by a basin filled with about 7 or 8 amazing waterfalls, endless number of passes, twin lakes, 3 fun 14ers, etc, etc, etc. Some pics :

View along the trail

Our view from our camp looking West towards Needleton

Shot over Twin Lakes into the Basin in the early morning from just below the base of Sunlight

Our route up to the saddle and the West Ridge of Sunlight

Shot of the Grenadiers to the North

View of Sunlight from the north side of the saddle before we started the class 4 scrambling.

View to the East through a notch about 40-50 feet below the summit

Upclimbing to the summit block

Leap of Faith

My buddies leap of faith onto a snowfield. Downclimbing the standard route around this time, you'll find a lot of opportunities to make 10-15 foot jumps onto relatively soft snowfields, cheap thrills.

View of Sunlight from Windom's summit

These Mango's are the s**t (roommate with a dumbass lookin face)

This is where we took a dip in the lake

Waterfall along the trail near our camp.

We terrorized (and were terrorized by) these bastards all saturday and sunday. Just don't piss near your camp, they love it

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Notch shot
02/05/2011 00:22
Wow, what an amazing pic! I never get tired of these reports! I can't wait to go there, it will be a real treat


Very nice...
08/07/2007 14:40
Pics! The shot through the notch and of the two peaks in the distance are great!


Way to go!
11/30/2010 17:28
The ”leap of faith” shot was what I was trying to describe a few weeks ago. Sometimes it's just easier to jump over a gap! Those rocks are pretty grippy.


08/07/2007 15:08
Yeah, I sat there contemplating how to get back over for a good 10 minutes, tried stretching my legs over, but in the end, the only move I felt comfortable with was jumping. Although an easy jump and yes grippy rock (with a nice flat platform to land on) it could end up in disaster if you were to land wrong.

Mark and Freeheeler - thanks for the comment on the notch shot, it was a lucky sequence of events given that was one of the few times the clouds in that basin cleared that day. If this place is on your list, get on it, its amazing.


Great report ...
11/30/2010 17:28
and I love the shot of your ”leap of faith.” Looks like that is definitely a gut check. Can't wait for that summit Great pictures as always..



Leap of faith
11/30/2010 17:28
Yeah, I remember that same feeling you describe with that was the same feeling I had when I tried home bikini waxing for the first time. ”Okay, just pull it off on one, two...two and a half...two and three-quarters...”

Congrats on your summits! I'm most impressed with your dip in the lake, however. Yikes...


11/30/2010 17:28
I'd be even more impressed if you started swimming these high elevation lakes in the buff.

Thanks for that Snowmass TR, I'll be up there saturday, was wondering about that creek crossing, my questions have all been answered, this hobby needs more naked women shots though.

KirkT - I bet you can't do a handstand on sunlight's summit block.


Shrinkage to a whole new level!
11/30/2010 17:28
Dam, boy! Lying in the lake like that? That's what I call tolerance. That shot of the mangos is hysterical!
Nice, concise write-up! easy to read and follow. Got some killer views of the Needles too!
I'll take your advice and check out the Purgatory TH for my Chi. Basin expenditure in September.


11/30/2010 17:28
Thanks for the good pics and helpful details. This one's been on my radar for some time, and I share your feelings on the train: If another opoortunity comes along to storm in from Purgatory, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, I, too, am impressed with the dip in that lake! (How come no pic from the bottom? :lol


01/19/2011 03:38
For a good write up. I really like the pic you took, out the notch near Sunlight's summit. I jumped in the lake, too, on Wednesday, just long enough for a pic. Damn cold! I found a waterslide in the creek below Twin Lakes this morning, too.
You're right about that jump off the summit block--I haven't been that sketched out since I was a little kid. I stared at it, walked back and forth contemplating going down the slab instead, and finally just went for it.


11/30/2010 17:28
on getting up there and getting some peaks! Chicago Basin is such a sweet place (although I do echo your sentiments about the train). And nice job with the lake, I have had so many insane urges to jump in these high altitude lakes but I can never bring myself to do it! Anyway I'm glad you had fun, thanks for the TR and for your hilarious writing style.

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