Peak(s):  Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,082 feet
Culebra Peak  -  14,047 feet
Date Posted:  07/15/2008
Modified:  06/22/2010
Date Climbed:   07/11/2008
Author:  Ridge runner
 A Quest for Punishment, Debauchery, and #58  

A Quest for Punishment, Debauchery, and #58

Day 1: Purgatory Trailhead to Chicago Basin, Eolus and North Eolus, ~21 miles, 7000' gain.

Day 2: Sunlight and Windom, Hike back out to Purgatory Trailhead, ~22 miles, 5000' gain.

Day 3: Culebra, 5 miles, 2350' gain.

Day 1: Eolus and North Eolus

It's hard to say no to stupid ideas. Not that this was guaranteed to be one, but the thought of climbing five remote 14ers in three days comprised of 48 miles and 14,000' elevation gain seemed just crazy enough that I couldn't pass it up. Colin needed to get these five mountains in so that he can finish the 14ers with his dad in two weeks. Craig didn't have North Eolus crossed off his list, so he was in as well.

I picked Colin up soon after work on Thursday and we drove straight down to the Purgatory Trailhead just north of Durango. We got there around 1am and found Craig sneaking in a nap before the hike into the basin. Our plan was to go light and fast... which is why Craig only brought one six-pack of beer.

Signing in at Purgatory. Are we sure about this?

The first section of the trail was mostly downhill to Cascade Creek. We followed the somewhat braided trail along the creek through Purgatory Flats for a while. We would gain elevation then lose it right back again. Eventually we made it down to the Animas River and took a quick break soon after crossing the bridge and railroad tracks.

Craig dealing with the ridiculousness of this hike.

It was hard telling how good of progress we were making in the darkness, but I decided not to think about it and just put one foot in front of the other. Most of the trail along the river was flat which made it easier to travel, but we knew that meant we'd be gaining a lot of elevation in the last few miles. Finally we made it to the Needle Creek Trail Junction. After taking another break, we hiked our way up the Needle Creek Trail to Chicago Basin.

Early morning light.

A cascading waterfall along the trail.

I had been awake for over 24 hours now and was starting to feel a bit tired. Thankfully daylight was making its presence and the mountains were starting to appear in front of us... just the motivation I needed. We arrived into Chicago Basin a little after 7am and found a nice place to set our camp and heavy packs. At this point we considered our options. It was fairly late for a mountaineering start, and we were tired from lack of sleep and the 16 mile approach. But the skies were clear and after getting a little food we all felt good enough to get two of the four mountains in that day. Eolus and North Eolus it was.

The beautiful Chicago Basin.

A couple stream crossings and a few switchbacks later we were above treeline.

The trail up Eolus with flowers in bloom.

View of Eolus from the saddle.

The Fat Catwalk.

We took the climber's trail along Eolus' east side for a while, then Craig and I decided to climb to the ridge and take that the rest of the way up. It had a few class 4 moves and the exposure was definitely there.

Craig making a move along the ridge.

We stayed a few minutes on the summit then climbed our way back down the standard class 3 route. Clouds were starting to build off in the distance, but North Eolus was a quick jaunt from the saddle and it was to be Craig's finisher. Colin and I surprised Craig with a small bottle of tequila and a couple Budweisers on top of North Eolus.

Congrats on #58 Craig! He's all about the glamour. He even wore his t-shirt.

Thunder could be heard off in the distance, so our stay on top was short. The descent back down took no time, though the snowfield was a pain. I'm just going to go ahead and admit it, but glissading is a guilty displeasure of mine!

Enjoying a cold beverage above treeline as a storm is brewing. Is this wrong???? (picture by Craig)

We made it back down to camp quite exhausted and ready to be off our feet. We stumbled around camp for a while, filtered water, and had some dinner. It was fun listening to Colin and Craig reminisce of their time up Rainier as well as their plans for Ecuador later this year. Later they sent me off to go find other campers who had some hot water to spare. I met an interesting guy from Michigan, and in exchange for some hot water I gave him some beta on the route up Eolus. By 6pm we called it a night.

Day 2: Sunlight and Windom

The alarm went off at 4am and we were going by 4:30. Colin took off like he stole something while Craig and I chased after him. As slow as it felt we were moving, we still managed to pass a few groups who were also headed for Sunlight and Windom.

Sunlight at first light.

My legs actually started to feel better as we climbed up the gulley to the saddle between Sunlight Peak and Sunlight Spire.

Views of Eolus and North Eolus from Sunlight.

Sunlight Spire. (picture by Craig)

Sunlight on Sunlight!

Once we reached the saddle the class 3 and 4 climbing began. The trail appeared to split at the notch and we couldn't remember if one way was considered better than the other. We decided to go through the notch and climb up the east side of Sunlight. There were actually a couple difficult sections of both downclimbing and upclimbing that we came to, perhaps low class 5 moves. The downclimb was that of a ledge, and this was the most difficult section of the whole trip for me. I wasn't tall enough to reach any of the footholds below me, and lowering myself down with my arms and then dropping would have resulted in a pretty serious injury and the possibility of continuing to tumble down the side of the mountain. I wasn't sure what to do, and I hesitated here long enough that Craig and Colin were out of sight. I decided to risk staying high on the ledge and traverse over to another section that I thought I could make. Long story short I made it and soon caught back up to the other two. One more difficult, class 5 move was required to gain the main summit area. This probably wasn't the best way to go, but we all made it and quickly turned our attention to the final pitch up the summit block.

Craig going first, taking the "Leap of Faith" approach.

Craig on the true summit.

I didn't feel comfortable enough with the jump, so I looked into climbing the more grippy rock slab.

Craig and I planning my hand and foot placements. (picture by Colin)

Craig spotting me as I climb up. (picture by Colin)

The guys decided I needed a Fat Tire for this. (picture by Craig)

I came down the other way, relieved to have made the true summit. Colin went next and made the step look very easy. Being tall has its benefits on this mountain.

Colin reaching the summit.

The views up here were some of the best I've seen on a 14er. I love the rugged peaks in this area.

We spent a few more minutes on the summit absorbing our surroundings before starting down. We opted for going down the west side of Sunlight and by-passing the notch. This way proved much easier, and the occasional cairn insured a proper descent.

Downclimbing a small chimney.

We reached the base of Sunlight and started on up Windom. From a distance the route looked loose and tedious, but it was a surprisingly fun scramble. We didn't stick directly to the route and found a few fun class 3 moves.

This goat wanted his hero shot.

The downclimb was straightforward and interesting conversation was made along the way. Back down towards Twin Lakes, the goats decided to stalk us.

Even the little ones were curious...

A few minutes of celebrating and relaxing at camp before our long hike back out.

The trek back to Purgatory was not something we were looking forward to, but it went much quicker than we anticipated, and the views along the trail were amazing.

Animas River.

Railroad crossing.

We took a break at the river crossing and soaked our feet in the water while refilling our water containers. From here on out we knew there was a lot of uphill to go.

Bridge crossing.

We made it back to our cars in 5 hours and 45 minutes, 15 minutes faster than our way in! How did that happen?! We enjoyed a few beers and some watermelon before splitting up. Colin and I still had to drive to Culebra for a climb on Sunday, while Craig opted for a hot springs soak.

We got a quick dinner in Durango and finally arrived at the gate for Culebra at 1am. This drive sucked. I crashed in the Jeep while Colin spent the night outside with the coyotes.

Day 3: Culebra

I honestly wasn't too thrilled to spend $100 to climb a mountain, but it was a beautiful area and pretty easy going.

Colin along the mellow ridge.

Wildflowers along the route.

We shared the summit with several interesting folks and another 14er finisher, then made our way down. We were back to the car and on our way home by lunch. What an awesome weekend... great company, great mountains, successful summits... what more can you ask for? Congratulations to Craig on officially finishing, and good luck to Colin on his attempt to finish in a couple weeks!

 Comments or Questions

Well Done
02/05/2011 00:22
Steph - great write up and pics.
Craig - congrats on your finisher.
Colin - see you back down there in a couple of weeks.

Nice job you guys - glad this worked out for you.


Awesome Trip
07/15/2008 23:46
Great pics on all the climbs. I really like the one with the climber stretching out over the gap to the summit block. Plan on going to Chicago Basin in August, appreciate the TR.

Congrats to Craig on finishing! What now?


Classic Picture...
07/16/2008 00:08
The second one of Craig with a Budweiser at 4am on the Purgatory trail. Only with cheeseburglar would I share a beer at such a time and place. Now there‘s a mountain man. Steph, you‘re sure letting us corrupt you on these climbs. I don‘t remember you drinking like that in the hills last summer. What‘s next? Nice legs are still sore.


cool trip report
07/16/2008 00:10
and nice photos! I love the last wildflower shot from Culebra... that sounds like an intense couple of days congrats on a very cool trip


Nice Job!
07/16/2008 04:10
I admit I thought you guys were a little crazy when I heard the plans for this one but it looks like you guys had an awesome time! And another great TR!


Good work
07/16/2008 04:56
Maybe ill start carrying more beer with me... seems like alot of fun


Popeye has spinach; you guys have beer
07/16/2008 04:57
Awesome write-up ... great photos ... great climbs ... You guys are hardcore punk rock!

I‘d have no problem slamming a beer at 4 a.m., but I‘m not sure about a Budweiser.

I can‘t believe you guys hauled all that beer up there, via Purgatory, no less! That is one helluva feat on its own. I‘m in awe.

Craig, congrats on your finisher!

Ridge runner

02/01/2011 00:24
Floyd - Your trip down there later this summer sounds sweet. I love the whole Chicago Basin area and can't wait to see how the trip goes for you guys.
Kzar - You'll have a great time down there, bring plenty of film. I'd go back in a heartbeat!
Astrobassman - You guys do nothing but corrupt me. I used to be such an innocent girl with midwestern values. Now look at me.
Centrifuge - It was a tough couple days, but surprisingly we all felt pretty good those last few miles uphill to Purgatory.
Heather - You were missed on this trip. It's pretty much guaranteed to be crazy when you're with those two! Hopefully see you in a couple weeks!
Jesse - The key is to make the others carry most of the beer! It does taste pretty good at the end of the day.
Aubrey - I'm reminded of a quote by my 1st grade teacher (or was it George McFly?), "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything." Oh, and happy anniversary!


not really my finisher....
07/16/2008 14:54
Turns out I had climbed N. Eolus before, but that was before it was on any lists and I forgot about it! And now I‘ve added N. Massive so I‘ve got that left.
That go light stuff is for the dogs. I should have carried a sleeping bag instead of all that beer!


07/16/2008 19:12
Only 14k elevation and 48 miles? You could have easily thrown in another peak or three!


and corrupt is the word...
07/16/2008 23:46
is that really you slammin a budweiser coming off of Eolus? Weren‘t you complaining about budweiser‘s poor quality like a month ago? You corrupt easily young lady . Nice report.


07/16/2008 23:01
I cant imagine Craig and Collin corrupting anyone, not from the stories I have heard Nice job guys!

Ridge runner

damage control
02/01/2011 00:24
Nah, I haven't been totally corrupted. I'm a lightweight and don't care for beer that much, so most of what I had was actually shares of their beer. Just so happens everytime one was in my hand it was documented.
Scott, next time we‘re breaking 50 miles and doing it with skis on our backs!

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