Peak(s):  Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,087 feet
Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
Date Posted:  09/15/2010
Date Climbed:   09/10/2010
Author:  Dancesatmoonrise
 Chicago Basin: Overnight from Purgatory   

Chicago Basin:
Overnight from Purgatory Trailhead

Peaks: Eolus, North Eolus, Windom, Sunlight
Route: Purgatory Approach
Date: September 10, 2010
Length: 42 miles RT
Vertical: 12,000 feet
Total hiking/climbing time: 20 hours
Total time including camp: 33 hours
Ascent Party: Mountainmicah83, Baz Agastus, Dancesatmoonrise

Micah only had two days off, which was fine with me. I was enamored with the idea of doing the Chicago Basin 14ers as a dayhike. Micah was in, but since 12 hours of our two days would be needed for the drive, we decided to get started the first afternoon and bivy in the lower basin, completing the 14ers and round trip the next day. Baz particularly liked the idea of marking these four peaks since the other dogs couldn't ride the train.

Thursday, September 9, 2010:
Purgatory TH to Lower Chicago Basin - 4500 vertical, 16 miles.


The trailhead is signed, and the parking is spacious. After hiking a mile and losing 800 verts, the trail forks at Purgatory Flats. The fork is unsigned; stay right. After heading south through the flats, it drops into Cascade Creek and curves east toward the Animas River. The trail is up and down, losing 1100 verts after four miles when it reaches the river, but gains 1800 verts on the return. We hit the river at 3:20, where Micah needed to jump from the bridge - till he saw the water was running a little low.



After crossing the bridge and the train tracks, the Animas River Trail continues northeast to Needleton Junction, at Needle Creek. This leg is about five miles. It's very beautiful, and fairly flat. We didn't run, but it would make a great run on a daytrip. The forest is old and looks relatively undisturbed. We found trees with trunks as large as four to five feet in diameter.




After hiking for a total of three hours, we crossed the Needle Creek foot bridge at Needleton Junction. Those taking the train are dropped off about a mile north of here, and take a left at this junction. We continued up Needle Creek and wondered if we would catch any of the train crowd.





We arrived in the lower basin near treeline, where we camped, in another two hours and fifteen minutes. Our total time for the day was about 5:15. I woke up during the night to enjoy the incredible starscape.


Friday, September 10, 2010:
Lower Basin to Twin Lakes, Loop to Eolus, N Eolus, Windom, and Sunlight, back to Purgatory - 8600 vertical, 26 miles

What a great trip! Eolus' catwalk was spectacular. It's not difficult or all that scary; more like breath-taking. Eolus' east face looks a little surreal, standing at the end of the catwalk.





We made the summit by about 9:00 am, and knew we were behind for the day. Leaving camp at 7:00 am didn't help. But we had to spend some time enjoying the views. I particularly liked seeing Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre at distant skyline, behind and on either side of Vestal.


Eolus' catwalk looks a lot tougher from a distance in photos. Bottom center makes it look scary - but it was not a big deal.




Wetterhorn, dead center on the horizon.


North Eolus was short and delightful. We could not understand why anyone would not want to summit this peak even if it's not ranked. It's a quick, fun scramble to the summit.

Gazing into the sun to the east, the views of our next objective were unrivaled.

We talked about a recon of Sunlight Spire, but given our late start, it didn't look to be in the cards. However, we felt that if split times worked out and we could do the entire trip in 20 hours or less with our overnight packs, then a future dayhike to the Spire might be a possibility.



The upper sections of Windom were interesting. The higher you go, the better the rock gets. I took the ridge; Micah stayed just below to the left, as it was a bit easier for Baz. Baz actually made it onto the summit block of Windom. Sometimes he would put his front paws up on a ledge and look back at Micah, who would help him get his back legs up onto it. Unlike people, it seems easier for dogs to descend rock. They mostly just run down it.

Micah and Baz on Windom's Summit

The crossover to Sunlight Peak was a little tricky with the talus. We chose a line on Sunlight between the two largest slabs at the base of the loose gully, which worked well. From Windom's saddle, we aimed just left of the largest blocks below the right-most of these two big slabs at the base of Sunlight's south-facing gully. Once in the gully, the loose rock and scree begins, but is fortunately fairly short.

At the summit ridge, we made the mistake of passing through the first rock window. There are two, only about 50 yards apart. Unfortunately, both ways are marked with cairns. I laughed as I told Micah about Eric Sanguisa's quotable quote, to another climber asking about cairns while on Pyramid: "Yeah, well, this mountain has cairns all over it." It became the phrase of the day.

After passing though this first rock window, we found ourselves on the northeast side, below the summit ridge, and below the summit block - but couldn't see the summit block. We had to make some exposed moves in our search for the elusive summit block, as our hopes of being back to the car by nightfall were being dashed by the minute. We could have passed back through the window, but chose to ascend more difficult fourth class rock to gain the summit ridge proper, where a short distance to the north revealed the infamous summit blocks of Sunlight. At long last, we were here for the fireworks of the Grand Finale.

Baz "pawsed" long enough at the USGS marker to get a snapshot of paw and boot. He figured if the USGS guys didn't need to hit that summit block, he didn't need to either. We watched as Micah quickly jumped into the lead to demonstrate how it's done. He was so fast, I nearly missed the action, fumbling to grab the camera.

Next, it was my turn.


A Few Words for Those who Have Not Hiked Sunlight

If you've never done it, I'm not going to say it isn't exposed and isn't a bit spooky, but it is a little bit hyped. When I met a 14er finisher at a party last winter and asked him which 14er he thought was the toughest, I was sure he would say Capitol. When he said Sunlight, because of the summit block, this shook me a bit. So I've been waiting to see this beauty for myself. It's not tough. Naturally, you want good weather and dry conditions.

From the easy block below and in front, move right onto a low-angle slab. If you fell here, you would not go 1000 feet. You would only go to the ledge area which we had inadvertently explored by passing through the first window - about 20 feet below - but the rock is very low angle, and very well featured. Try to use the most featured knobs for foot holds. This slab is broken horizontally across its center. Use this broken area for feet, move to the center, then continue up to the top on good knobs. It is here that you encounter the much-hyped "leap" to the next block.

In reality, it is only about a three-foot gap. One thing I've never seen in print as people hype this leap, is the fact that there is a huge block that sits in the gap. I stood on it, right in the gap. True, if you fell into the gap, and missed the block, you might tumble a few feet. But the block is only about three to four feet below, and seems to never be talked about. I got a photo of me standing on the block in the middle of the gap. I also shot a photo, which didn't turn out as well as hoped, of my legs spanning the "leap," while actually sitting on the lower block. It can be done statically, as well as dynamically, and I don't feel it's terribly height-dependent, as reputed.

From the second block, I cannot recall the moves onto the summit block, but do recall that they are entirely static - no "leap" required, and not much of a gap. Be careful, though, as the far side (west side) of the summit perch drops off to near vertical. So just be aware of the exposure and try not to make any unnecessary dynamic moves onto the final summit block.

The descent is a little trickier. Here's my best tips. Getting to the block immediately below the summit block is no issue. It is here that one must make the leap to the block below. While I'm sure people jump from the top of it, note that there is a lower "dish" en-route back down to the other side of the leap. The dish is low-angle, but not flat, so you may not want to try standing there, but to "reverse" the leap, stand at the top of the second block, and visualize your moves. You are going to step onto this dish and push off to step across to the lower block. You can leap from the top, but I found the easiest and most secure way off was, from a standing position on the second block, to step with the right foot into this dish, while pushing off and reaching across with the left foot onto the block below, in one motion. It is dynamic, but not a leap or a jump. Much easier on the knees and back this way, and a slower, more controlled move. I'd heard so much about people "jumping" and worrying about landing wrong and tumbling 1000 feet. Just keep your head on, study the rock, and you won't have a problem. I hope that helps.


Bridging the gap.

Standing on the block in the gap below the "leap": hype demystified.

Well, being 2:00 pm, we knew it was going to be a long night home. We passed back through the correct window and down a shallow chimney onto the west side.

The Spire looks almost irresistible from just below the Peak's summit.

The gully is loose on the descent to Twin Lakes. We made the Lakes by 3:15, about 7.5 hours for the Lake-to-Lake leg, 1.5 hours longer than anticipated. Part of this was due to helping Baz through some of the third class rock, particularly on Sunlight's southwest face. Here's that proud and noble canine alpinist, posing for a shot as we packed up camp.

We spent about an hour packing up camp, probably longer than we should have, but it turned out to be a spectacular afternoon. We left camp about 4:45 pm. We were just hoping to be home in Colorado Springs before first light, so figured a good long break at the Needleton Juncton was in order, where we celebrated with oysters and crackers. Baz got a half-round of crackers soaked in oyster juice, courtesy of Chez Mor'gan. We made the car by headlamp, at 11:00 pm.

All told, the round trip came out to about 20 hours: 5:15 to the lower basin camp, 0:45 to the Lakes, 7:30 Lake-to-Lake 14er loop, 0:30 back to camp, and about 6:00 back to the car. We feel this could have been shortened a bit as a dayhike, without overnight packs and without the dog. But camping in the Chicago Basin was sweet, and it was so cool to see Baz get these peaks. The actual split times did open up the possibility of getting Sunlight Spire in a day. But Micah is working two jobs just to feed his family right now, so we made the best use of the brief window of opportunity he had to get into the mountains. I have to say thanks to Anna, Micah's wife, for allowing me so much time with Micah and Baz. I'm privileged to have done this route with them.

While it seemed a bit exhausting at the time, this route is so rewarding. I want to thank Eric Lee, as well, for his help and information. Eric pulled this off in 14:42 as a dayhike two years ago. I love the first line of his trip report. It remained the inspiration for our journey:

"The one thing I've learned since I began ultra running back in 2006 is that physically any route is possible, nothing is too long or too arduous, once the training is there it's all a mental game." - Eric Lee

I'm so glad we seized it today, refusing to return with anything less than a full handful of Chicago Basin 14ers.

For those of you interested in a little more sight-seeing, the section between the Animas bridge and the Needleton Junction affords many idyllic camping opportunities. If you enjoy quiet, undisturbed beauty, or want to enjoy these peaks with your canine companion, this is the route. While acknowledging the axiom that one should take the train at least once for the experience, I'd have to say that the rewards for the road less traveled remain unparalleled.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Comments or Questions

GREAT report!
09/15/2010 22:19
Props to you guys for doing this ”alpine style”! I had been thinking a lot this summer about doing this as a dayhike, but didn't even dare suggesting that idea to my girlfriend! Doing the 4 peaks in a day and not having to pack out made the pace a lot more relaxed, but I definitely appreciate the challenge of what you guys did in 33 hours!

Micah - isn't it a good feeling to have intentional long days (unlike Culebra)?


Sold on that route!
09/15/2010 22:19
Your description of old growth forest with large diameter trunks has me sold on that approach whenever I do it. Of course I think I will plan on a little longer time than 33 hours.

Are you coming to the Fall gathering?


Without a train
09/16/2010 01:16


09/16/2010 02:41
One of my most favorite areas in CO!


Kick ass route
09/16/2010 03:31
Yeah, it was good for sure. Whether you do it in 33 or 168.
Jake, I think before last week, that was Micah's second longest day. But it sounds like you guys had an epic time.
Randy - dang right - the place is one of the few unspoiled areas left. It was neat to see. Debated on even doing a TR, to be honest. No, probably not doing the Fall gathering - did Wetterhorn in June and I'm down for an Unca/Wetterhorn winter trip already - so probably not.
Baumgara - this route has your name all over it. I know you'd love it.
Eric - we felt bad that we chickened out on the ”dayhike” so wanted to see if the times we turned in made a future daytrip feasible. Long day, but it goes. Hey, let's get out rock climbing this fall. I need my dose of the Mafia Boss.
Sen - thanks! Hope we can get out again this winter!!
JA_son27 - I agree. We'll probably bump into each other down there one of these days. I want to go back and get Sunlight Spire, and so does Matt and Micah - only trouble is lining up schedules. I also plan to get the Wilson group - maybe not this Fall - perhaps this winter or next summer. I'm sure we'll see you out on the peaks this year.

Glad you guys had as much fun reading the report as much as I had writing writing it and thinking back on a great trip.


09/16/2010 05:35
Jim, Fantastic Photos as always. I just point and push the camera button and get a few good ones but not nearly that many. I will have to give you my half of all of the pics of you. I couldn't have picked a better partner for this trip. Thanks for inviting me.

Jake- I'm always up for a challenge and you are right. It is much nicer when you plan for it. At least we got our full money's worth on our tour de culebra this past spring though.

Baz Agastus

Ruff Ruff
09/16/2010 05:41
Thanks for bringing me along uncle Jim. I am proud that you post so many pictures of me, but I hope I didn't leave too much hair in your car!


09/16/2010 14:31
Excellent Job... I have to say that is one of the coolest pictures from a camera of stars I have ever seen


09/17/2010 02:53
Wow, I was in the basin on the 10th (and the 9th, 11th and 12th) and I can't believe I didn't run into you, especially with Baz (I'm disappointed as well). I think we must have been up on Eolus while you were doing Sunlight/Windom and booking it out of there. You must have been too fast for my eyes to process. Nice work.

Great Photos!
09/17/2010 04:13
Awesome photos, I love that area. Couldn't agree more on the summit block. Overhyped, but still fun. I got rained off Eolus when I was there, pictures of that mountain still make me angry for not getting to experience the ridge (made it to N. Eolus before we had to bail). At least I have an excuse to go back. Makes me excited for next summer. Thanks for the report!


Nice alternate route
09/18/2010 21:28
Looks like you had much different conditions than I did there. Wouldn't have wanted to go through that first hole! About all I saw was clouds on all my summits there.


09/18/2010 21:49
Micah, ditto, you kicked ass with the technical aspects as well as the endurance demanded from a route like this. I never doubted the significance of that tatoo on your forearm: USMC! So...has Baz recovered yet? I felt a little bad about putting him through that.
Emfortin, thanks, I brought it up in Photoshop - though most folks have the tools and may not know it. For example, MS Word has lighten/darken, contrast, etc - paste into Word, and right-click on the photo - you can make adjustments that way. Lightening brings out the sky and stars, contrast enhances the difference so you can see them on the monitor with the lights on.
Dubsho - we might have passed each other - we wanted Eolus in the morning sun, and leave Sunlight for the Grand Finale.
K-berger, thanks for the complements. Yeah, Sunlight was great. Eolus was fun, too, but the catwalk and ridge are really no different from stuff you find on most peaks, and not a big deal. But the exposure is kind of fun and the mountain is beautiful.
Gary - we probably should have gone back through, which was a very reasonable option, but we also like to climb around on summit blocks. Glad the photos allowed you to have some surrogate views - though the clouds gave you some nice shots! We lucked out with decent weather cooperating for Micah's only days off this month. PS - Congrats on finishing!!


09/22/2010 02:38
You guys are absolute freaks for that long day. Awesome job. Love the commentary on Sunlight. The views from Sunlight look stunning. Love the view of Vestal and Arrow from there!


01/05/2011 17:27
Great report Jim!


Beer and Biking
06/02/2011 14:57
Jim, Thanks to your ”Beer and Biking” routine I should be able to knock this out by June!

As usual, great report and pictures. You know what they say in Hollywood right? Never work with animals... you'll get upstaged! Baz rocks! The picture of Baz and Micah is sweet.

Congrats on this accomplishment to all three of you.

From help with chicago basin
07/07/2011 20:27
Sweet report. Thanks. That really helps. Hopefully we are half as awesome as Baz!


You guys are animals!
01/10/2012 01:58
There might have been only one dog, but there were three animals and I mean that in the best possible way! We have been aiming to do this in 2012 since last year, and I was thinking two, possibly three, days in the Basin to summit the peaks. Might have to reconsider that timeline since I know what is possible, but I would never attempt what you did. What an awesome, epic trip, and great pictures and wonderful trip report to boot. Great job!


03/04/2012 18:31
Wow that's quite the pace...

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