Peak(s):  Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,082 feet
Date Posted:  05/12/2009
Modified:  12/03/2009
Date Climbed:   05/08/2009
Author:  doumall
 A Gift from the Weminuche   

5-7-09 to 5-9-09
Durango-Silverton NGRR to Needleton at 8200'
Approach to 11000' in Chicago Basin
Friday: Ski Descents of Sunlight and Windom
Saturday: Ski Descents of Eolus and North Eolus

Crew: Fritz Sperry, Joe Brannan

I started skiing 14ers to get out in the mountains, make some fun turns and to escape the city. I never envisioned that this project would add stress to my life, but this year it has. I am driven to get it done and out of my system, and as a result have pushed it pretty hard lately trying to close it out. Working a full time job, juggling personal relationships and skiing 14ers has me going non-stop. Thankfully, my lovely Fiance and I will get a break very soon.

Facing another long overnight drive was not something I looked forward to during the week, but once I got the gear packed and hit the road after work, thoughts of climbing and skiing mountains put a smile back on my face. After seven hours of double yellow and a few hours of Wal-Mart parking lot sleeping, Fritz and I boarded the train from another era to Needleton. Fritz is a good friend of mine who accompanied me on some of my early trips of this project. It was good to get out on one of the last with him, felt like things were balancing out.

Durango to Silverton NGRR:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The 7 mile 3000' approach to Chicago Basin is a special outing by itself. It starts with an assisted crossing of the Animas:

Self Photo: Joe Brannan

Then amazing views to camp along Needle Creek:


Photo: Joe Brannan

Kennedy and Neighbors:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Apparently the forest service didn't have the funding/time to clear the deadfall from the trail from the 2007/2008 winter season. Expect some class 3 tree navigation if you're headed up here this spring. Skinning started around 10k, but everything is melting super fast so that has changed. Water was a theme of this trip, as it poured from every direction off the surrounding mountains. There must have been hundreds of waterfalls.

Chicago Basin:

Photo: Joe Brannan

After a 4 am wake up call, we booted up to treeline and then followed steep ground around Peak 18 to the base of Sunlight and Windom. Sunhit is late up in this west facing cul-de-sac, so we started to slow our pace to try and wait for some corn. Booting up the firm south face on Sunlight was quick.

Fritz Ascends Sunlight with Windom Behind:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Around 10 am, we crossed through the window to the upper east face.


Photo: Joe Brannan

The next bit of climbing on this route is a bit intimidating.

Sunlight Ramp:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

The snow was beginning to loose its hold on the mountain due to wind sheltering and direct east radiation. We climbed spaced out, ascending snow directly to the base of the pile of summit boulders Sunlight is known for. I took firsts to go hit the top. I feel this project is as much about climbing to the summits with skis, ski boots and associated gear as it is about the skiing.

Skis to the Top:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

Getting to the actual summit here requires two interesting rock climbing moves over big exposure. Viewing these moves from the comfort of the snow does not clue one into the nature of this endeavor. When Fritz got to the first move, he opted out... "I got kids man" he said.

Fritz Looked Down:

Photo: Joe Brannan

We clicked in at the highest point this mountain can be skied from...

Photo: Joe Brannan

...and made our way over to the "Sunlight Ramp". This east facing descending ledge is one of the top 10 most exposed sections of skiing on the 14ers. Fritz hit it up first.

Fritz scopes it out:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Spraying some slush:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

You have to click out to get back through the window, where some wide open ridge fin skiing on firm snow commenced.

Skiing Sunlight's Upper South Face, Eolus in Background:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

Undeniable Quality:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

Fritz and Eolus:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The skiing was fair. The wind was cutting into our corn feast.

Fritz heads to Windom:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Using a booter from two days earlier, we headed up the Widowmaker.

Fritz follows the staircase:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Ascending the Widowmaker with Ski Route On Sunlight Behind:

Photo: Joe Brannan

We found a bit of wintry snow in the choke.

Working for it:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The summit of Windom is now one of my favorites. I finished the 14ers my first time on this summit in the summer. It's kind of a dual summit in the snow season. One is rock, the other snow.

Dueling Summits:

Photo: Joe Brannan

To the north is a huge cornice which overhands a SE trending cliff. Here is Fritz toping out on the Widowmaker. North Cornice Summit is obvious with Jagged behind.

Catch that Wave:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Working my way through this list, it has occurred to me how amazing it is that all of these peaks are ski-able from the summit except Sunlight. It's almost like Colorado was made for this. California has far fewer 14ers and only a few of them are ski able from the summit. They are however, better rock climbing mountains.

For Windom, a snow sidewalk wraps around the west side of the summit ridgeline, right to the summit block. We headed up there, admired the amazing San Juan sea of peaks and geared up for the descent. Fritz took firsts again.

From Da-Top-Mon:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Number 51 Skied:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

Photo: Fritz Sperry

The upper snowfield before committing to the Widowmaker is steep. We found it in firm conditions.

Making Way Down the Route:

Photo: Joe Brannan

A Bit of the East Coast at 14k:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

Some steep powdery snow through the choke was fun to play in...

Technical Turns:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

...then we got out on the lower face.

Fritz and Eolus II:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Nice Shot Fritz!

Photo: Fritz Sperry

I wanted to go after Jupiter next, a centennial peak to the South, but we were already late in the day and the basin I would have had to cross was really dirty from the dust storms. Heading out solo into that junk would have probably worked out, but 'probably' wasn't worth a potential 'maybe'.

Time for Big Corn Turns Down Chicago Basin:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

Slush for Supper:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The snow remained really fun until near treeline where the dirt was too much. At least we got a free base grind. Remember the trip theme?


Photo: Joe Brannan

After fueling up, pounding various liquids and hitting the pillow before the infants on the East Coast, we woke up at 2 am Saturday morning and got moving again. We had to catch the train at 3 pm and the hike out to the tracks from camp was going to take at least 4 hours.

Pre-dawn temperatures are so welcoming to hike in during the spring. A full moon guided our efficient route to the base of South Eolus. Venus, the morning star, shines over a familiar silhouette.

Here Comes the Sun:

Photo: Joe Brannan

A Tri-Color Contrast:

Photo: Joe Brannan

A Perk for those Who Climb High:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The east couloir on Eolus is narrow and maybe 45 degrees. It was in really poor condition for us. The previous group of skiers from two days before skied late in the day in sloppy conditions and tore it up pretty bad. They also triggered wet slabs on two different aspects on the Eolus Massif. That combined with ample frozen wet debris made me think of a super sized cheese grader.

Fritz Cuts the Cheese:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Up in the notch, a west wind pushed us on up the west face to the summit.

Fine Viewing:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

Straight off the top, we had to do a bit of billy goating.

Rock Kick Turns:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Then picked our way down tight snowfields back to the notch.

Tight Jump Turns:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

Fritz traverses over to the notch:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The snow was continuous from the summit, so to keep the sticks on throughout the route, I sidestepped up this slope to the couloir.

Back to the Notch:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Back in the cheese grader, we encountered some interesting skiing, hoping with each turn we would encounter softer conditions.

Looking Down the East Couloir:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Dropping In:

Photo: Fritz Sperry

Fortunately the snow did soften a bit about a quarter of the way down. I headed out across the upper basin to get some head on shots of Fritz negotiating the slot.

Fritz Gets Another:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Fun Turns in the Exit, Summit Visible Upper Right:

Photo: Joe Brannan

At this point, Fritz headed back to camp to pack his gear for the hike out. I continued on to North Eolus as my goal includes skiing the unofficial peaks as well, a list of 59 which does not include Sunlight Spire. Here is why:

Sunlight Spire:

Photo: Joe Brannan

Climb to N Eolus:

Photo: Joe Brannan

A Nice View Along the Way:

Photo: Joe Brannan

In 25 minutes, I was gazing upon what I think is the best view in the San Juans, maybe the best view on any 14er. North Eolus may not be worth visiting for some people due to its lack of power, but this view is worth the extra bit of climbing. Check it out!

North Eolus Summit, with South Eolus Behind:

Photo: Joe Brannan

The common way to ski this peak is back down the south ridge and then out onto the east face. I scoped out other options and decided heading down the north ridge to the northwest face and then around to the east side would provide a more continuous ski. After clicking in, I made a silly jump turn up top on the summit snowfield then skied down the north ridge maybe 30 feet to a 20 foot 4th class down climb.

Downclimb to the NW Face:

Photo: Joe Brannan

I took my time here, respecting the consequences of a fall while solo in the middle of no where. The ski traverse along the upper face was icy but edge able even though I don't have edges anymore.

North Eolus, NW Face Ski Traverse with Turret Needles Behind:

Photo: Joe Brannan

As I wrapped around a saddle to the east side, a wave of happiness hit me. I now had solo corn turns to cash in on in a stunning setting.

The Way Back to Camp:

Photo: Joe Brannan

It was just me and these amazing peaks. Morning lighting, perfect snow, towering mountain walls and serotonin all contributed to some of my best turns ever heading back to camp. We made the train and made Mothers Day. Success!

 Comments or Questions

Excellent report!
02/05/2011 00:22
Your reports continue to amaze at the extend of the pictures and angles. Incredible journey you have been accomplishing. Your almost done!!




05/13/2009 00:03
Great getting out with man. Don‘t hang em up just yet. I have a few spring projects I think you‘ll be interested in


05/13/2009 00:54
So many amazing pics for one trip. 51!!! keep it up.

Easy Rider

05/13/2009 01:02
& North Eolus too! That looks like a great mountain. Once again, surprised by the reliable coverage on those routes. Way to hang it out there on Sunlight! Those initial moves just can‘t be captured.

Ridge runner

amazing pictures!
02/01/2011 00:24
Wow, those are some really nice pictures! The sunrise one is especially beautiful. I hate getting up and starting hikes when it‘s still so dark and cold, but views like these are more than enough to make it worth it. Great job to both of you!


Sweet Trip!
05/13/2009 02:30
Nice photos, hell of a ski, congrats. Too bad there‘s all that dust up there, hopefully the snow sticks around for another week or two.


Getting it done again
05/13/2009 05:48
Excellent work fellas. Looks like the weather cooperated. I know that was a much longer slog than the pics portray. Fine form though. A few more Joe, keep the Jetboil pumping.


Nice job guys
05/13/2009 10:36
Joe - the photo of Fritz climbing Eolus in the morning light and the ”wave” are pretty cool! Looks like similar conditions we found on Handies. Congrats!

Chicago Transplant

Nice trip
05/13/2009 14:52
Looks like it was a great trip Joe! Its been quite an amazing journey so far, its been fun following your trip reports. Only a few more peaks to go!


Awesome photos!
05/13/2009 15:11
The photos from you all are top notch! Thanks so much for sharing. The Sunlight summit block shot is classic. And the view on North Eolus is definitely worth the effort.

Way to go. Keep on keepin‘ on!


I was waiting...
05/13/2009 15:30
For the summit block pic on sunlight with your skis on the back. Hmmm, is there anything in your project about standing on the summit?

No really man, awesome work! It‘s been great skiing with you on so many of the steps along the way to the end, or the top, or whatever you want to call it. Much luck this weekend!


11/30/2010 17:28 all of your thoughtful comments. It's been quite a trip, thanks for coming along for the ride. Good luck to those of you headed up there in the next few weeks, its a unique place.


Nice Work!
05/14/2009 15:31
It was nice meeting you. I‘m glad we ran into you and Fritz up there! Thanks for all the beta. We ended up bailing on Eolus cause my friends were just too sick to climb that day, but we did get both Sunlight and Windom. I guess we will just have to go back next year! I hope to ski with you some day!


05/14/2009 16:28
Another stunning report. Really loved the sunrise photo! Glad you had a great time!


Well done
05/14/2009 20:08
It‘s gotta feel good to be so close. I would like to request a few of those photos to hang over my fireplace.


05/14/2009 20:14
WOW- that place is magical all year round! Your photos make me wanna go again- excellent!

So will you change your screenname to ”Skiumall” after you finish?! ...
And after that will your next challenge and screenname be LUGEumall!

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