Sunlight Peak

 South Face
Difficulty Class 4 
Risk FactorsExposure: Extreme!
Rockfall Potential: Considerable  
Route-Finding: Considerable  
Commitment: Considerable  
Start11,100 feet
Summit14,061 feet
Total Gain3,000 feet starting at Chicago Basin
6,000 feet starting at Needleton
RT Length6 miles starting at Chicago Basin
17 miles starting at Needleton
Last UpdatedOct 2022
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Drive to Durango and follow signs to the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It's near McDonald's and has a large parking area nearby. Buy a ticket for the train that stops at Needleton and ride the train 2.5 hours (~30 miles) to the Needleton stop. From here, it's a 6 mile hike to reach Chicago Basin.


To reach Chicago Basin, use the Approach Page. From your camp in Chicago Basin, hike northeast toward the end of the basin on the great trail - 1. Near 11,200', turn left toward Twin Lakes at a signed junction - 2. This trail is used to reach Windom, Sunlight, and Eolus. Continue up through the forest ( 3) to an area where the trail is a bit difficult to follow over and around some rock slabs - 4. Near 11,400', leave the trees where you have a great view of two streams on the slope below Twin Lakes - 5. Walk to 11,700' and cross the first stream before swinging right and switchbacking up steeper terrain - 6. Continue to the second stream crossing, near 12,300' - 7. Haul a bit higher to reach Twin Lakes, near 12,500' - 8.

Stay right and follow the trail east around the first lake - 9. After a short distance, turn right and switchback up a slope - 10. After the trail swings back toward the center of the basin and reaches flatter ground, continue up to a large cairn, above 13,000' - 11. Continue a bit further east to another cairn - 12. This is where cairns start to go off to the left for Sunlight Peak. Following cairns, continue east for a bit and then turn left across the basin and continue on a trail which ascends right toward the gully separating Sunlight and "Sunlight Spire" - 13. When you reach the gully , climb toward the saddle at the top - 14. Near the saddle, turn left and climb into a notch - 15.

The remaining route includes Class 3 climbing and a bit of route finding - 16. Climb from the notch, traverse under some cliffs ( 17 and 18) and continue up ( 19) to a location where you may find a hole in the ridge - 20. You can pass through this hole to reach the summit but it involves more difficult ledge climbing on the east side of the ridge. Instead, stay left and drop slightly to another section of steep rock - 21. Look for cairns and/or the easiest way up and climb these rocks. After this short pitch, swing left to locate a small chimney with a hole at the top - 22 and 23. Climb through the hole, turn left, and continue to the summit block - 24 and 25. The final summit pitch is very exposed but the rock is "grippy" when dry. Pick your line and gain the summit - 26, 27 and 28.

To climb Windom after Sunlight: Descend the gully to reach the center of the basin near 13,200' and pick a line to traverse south to reach Windom's west ridge - 29. Then follow the Windom route description. Combining Sunlight and Windom via a crossover in the basin makes your round-trip mileage from Chicago Basin nearly 7 miles and your elevation gain nearly 4,000 feet.


IMPORTANT: This route enters the Weminuche Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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Caution: The information contained in this route description may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this route description provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the route description author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

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