Chicago Basin - Eolus, North Eolus, Sunlight, & Windom (2 pages)

Distance in a car:
     Boulder - Loveland  - Boulder, twice, 160 miles
     Boulder - Silverton - Boulder - 750 miles
Distance on a train:
     Silverton - Needleteon - Silverton - 30 miles
Total Motorized Distance: ~950 miles
Cost of Transportation:
     $150 for gas, $130 for train  tickets
Total Cost Of Transportation: $280
Cost of Lodging Our Macaws: $100
Cost of Food & Misc Expenses: $120
Total Cost: $500

Hiking & Climbing
  July 2nd: Needleton to Chicago Basin Camp at 11,200: Needleton Trailhead, 6.5 miles, 2900 ft
      July 3rd: Camp to 
N Eoulus then to Eolus then back to camp,  Eolus, N Eolus Saddle and NE Ridge Direct, Class 4, 5 miles, ~3300 ft
      July 4th: Camp to Sunlight to Windom to camp then back to Needleton,South Slopes and West Ridge, class 4,11.5 miles, ~3800 ft
Total Mileage and Elevation:  23 miles, 10,000 feet (22 miles, 9200 feet for Jen, 19 miles, 6800 feet for Brian)

July 1st-3rd Heading to the basin and climbing North Eolus & Eolus
After a couple years where I put the 14ers on the back burner and focused on becoming a more technical  rock, snow, and ice climber I decided to return to them during the spring and summer of 2007 with the goal of finally finishing them. To be totally honest the main reason I became a technical mountaineer is because of the 14ers and  and the only way I feel I can be true to that heritage is to finish the goal that started me down this path.  I'd always felt that the Chicago Basin 14ers would prove the most troublesome for me because of how incredibly lazy I am when it comes to long drives and backpacks. I managed to hike up Columbia earlier in the season which completed all of the mountain ranges except for the San Juans.
Jen and I tackled Uncompahgre and Handies during the middle of June which brought my total count up to 53 of the 59 14ers -
 Description courtesy of Layne Bracy -Start with the 53 ranked 14ers (those with 300' prominence). This includes Challenger Point, which the CMC apparently disregards. Add the 5 named 14ers with under 300' prominence: North Eolus, Mt Cameron, El Diente, North Maroon and Conundrum Peak. Add "North Massive" (soft-ranked with estimated 280' prominence) and voila 59 14ers.

We decided to tackle the Chicago Basin from the 2nd to the 5th of July.  These dates were chosen because I had been planning on being away the prior week for an attempt at Mt. Rainier (didn't happen but I did do the Bell Cord and Notch Couloirs) and there was a great UFC event over the following weekend.  As it turned out these dates were perfect and we managed to avoid most of the crowds, traffic, and bad weather.

We drove out to Sally Blanchard's gallery/store on Sunday the 1st of July and dropped our birds off. If it wasn't for her kindness in boarding our macaws as well as our downstairs neighbor, Pat, who looked after our cats for us we would never be able to get away from home. We returned home and packed up and went to bed. We awoke around 5:30 Monday morning and headed over to my friend Brian Morsony's place by 6:15.  Brian wanted to come along but more for the back pack and camping than the peak bagging.  His plan was to join us if he felt like it and hike around on his own if he didn't.  

We all drove down to Silverton by way of Grand Junction to avoid the slow drive down 285 and over Monarch Pass and arrived in about six and a half hours.  None of us knew where the train station was but beta from suggested that the town is so small that we would have no problem locating the train.  This proved to be true and we quickly located the ticket office where we picked up our tickets and then drove over to an area next to the train where tourist buses were parked.  Apparently Silverton is very laid back about parking and, as long as it is not explicitly forbidden, you can park anywhere.  We parked right next to the buses and wandered into town to get a gift for Sally (A DVD of the area and train) and get a quick cup of coffee.  After our short journey through town we headed to the train where we handed our bags to a conductor.  He threw them in the freight car and told us he'd come for us as we neared Needleton.

We boarded the 2:45 train and it set off.  We had chosen to go in from Silverton because it was only an hours ride and it avoided us having to drive down to Durango the night before to catch the 9:00 AM train. For those interested, it costs 65 dollars for a round trip ticket and doesn't matter what stop you get off at. If you are going to Needleton you must tell a conductor because they don't stop there otherwise.  Here is the train's website.  Once on the train we enjoyed the scenery along the Animas River for 45 minutes.  We stopped briefly for the train to fill up with water right before the Needleton stop.  After this the conductor ushered the three of us towards the front of the train so we would be close to our packs when it stopped.  The rain arrived at Needleton around 3:45 and we got off and were handed our bags.  As we got off we noticed a horde of bedraggled backpackers boarding the train.  I was guessing we'd be looking equally miserable in a few days time.  The backpackers boarded the train and it left for Durango.  

We noticed one bag was left and thought it was curious but could do nothing about it so packed up and headed out.  We immediately ran across the owner of the bag.  Apparently his partner had sprained an ankle and the train wouldn't wait for them so he had gone back to carry her pack the rest of the way.  He seemed pissed off about the situation but had enough food to spend another night and catch the next day's train.  I offered his companion medicine but they had enough so we waved goodbye and headed out.  While I sympathize with their situation, I understand that the train is carrying hundreds of people on a tight schedule and is unlikely to stop unless there is a real medical emergency.  When you are hiking out to catch the train plan on several extra hours to account for any eventuality.  It won't wait for you.

Starting Out On The Train

Water Stop

Getting Off At Needleteon

Left Behind

Packing Up For The Grueling Hike In

Needleton itself consists of a bridge across the Animas River (the river along which the train runs) and four houses.  Apparently the owners of these houses are allowed to ride the train for free.  The property west of the tracks (across the river) is private for one quarter mile in either direction.  Please respect this and do not camp on the land there.  

I hadn't bothered reading up on any of the information about the hike in so found myself in for a bit of a shock.  I'd been thinking that we had about 1500 feet and five miles.  In reality it was about six or seven miles and 3000 feet.  The hike itself was pretty relentlessly uphill.  It was never that steep but simply maintained a decent grade the whole way.  With heavy packs and little sleep it was very tiring.  Jen and I quickly separated from Brian.  I know some people think you should never separate but I tend to think that you shouldn't hike with people that can't find their own way up a completely obvious trail.  I knew Brian had been getting out a lot and figured he'd be fine.  Jen and I made it up the trail in four hours with about 30 minutes of rest breaks.  I was crossing my fingers the whole time because I had JUST picked up a new pair of La Sportiva Glacier boots from Neptune Mountaineering a couple days before.  True to his word Neptune's Resident boot God, Chuck Bird, had molded them to my feet.  I did end up with minor blisters but that was because of the distance and weight and the boots worked perfectly for the whole trip.  I generally would not suggest people start out a long trip in new winter weight boots.  I just wanted them in case we encountered enough snow to warrant harder boots and because my lightweight boots lacked a rear bail point for my crampons.

The hike in followed Needle Creek and passed several beautiful waterfalls.  We also noticed long strands of gossamer spider webs being spun in all the trees. After several miserable hours Jen and I found ourselves at about 11,200 feet in Chicago Basin.

A Beautiful Waterfall On The Approach

Spiderwebs In The Trees

A Columbine

Chicago Basin -Pt 18, Windom, unnamed, Jupiter

We immediately chanced upon a decent camp site (around 8:00) with great access to the stream and fresh water. As Jen and I were setting up two other hikers passed by us to go to the stream.  Their names were Tom and Rebecca and they were a married couple up for the same period we were but they had come in from Durango.  We made sure we weren't blocking their path with our campsite and they assured us it was fine so we said our goodbyes and set up our camp.

On the hike in we had encountered a ranger and his friend who grilled us like we were rank amateurs.  I'm guessing they've been getting a lot of newer hikers coming through and were checking to make sure we weren't going to kill ourselves but it was a bit over the top in my opinion.  If I hadn't been so miserably tired I would have told them we were going goat hunting when he asked us if we knew the rules but the response didn't come to me until later.  The one thing the ranger did that was very useful was to warn us to hang everything but our tents and to even leave them open during the day because the marmots were apparently on a warpath.  This was good advice because we met a fellow later on who lost a good deal of gear to these critters.

I had heard that the marmots were bad and brought along a bottle of coyote urine as a precaution.  I sprayed it around the camp a couple times and unfortunately got some of the noxious stuff on my hands.  I was a bit upset to see the warning about getting attacked by coyotes if you got it on yourself and headed down to the stream to wash off.  I wasn't overly worried because I tend to carry a 45 along on these types of trips and assume a coyote would not be too keen on going up against that but I'd prefer to never shoot an animal if it can be avoided and made a point to wash off thoroughly.

Jen and I made our dinner and enjoyed the scenery.  After awhile Brian had still not arrived and I was starting to worry that I'd need to go looking for him.  At this point it was dark and I kept seeing glaring animals eyes when I swept the trail with my headlight.  Every time I saw this I hoped it was actually Brian's headlamp farther away. At one point a couple of goats passed by and I caught them with the camera's flash.  A deer wandered around for a bit but was more elusive. Finally, around 9:30, I noticed a lone headlamp coming up from the distance.  I signaled it with my own and it turned out to be Brian. Brian made it into camp, setup his own tent, had a quick bite, and went to bed.  Jen and I followed but not before I found a dead tree that I could use to hang my entire backpacking pack on.  I had brought a spare day pack to use for the climbs and my big pack served as storage for our food and (during the day) our sleeping bags.

Devil Goats

Camp at 11,200, Brian Looks Invigorated

Jen and I awoke around 5:00 in the morning.  The weather forecast for the week was perfect Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with a 20 percent chance of showers Thursday so we weren't worried about getting a later start.  I also have come to the realization that successful days are made or broken on the basis of your initial hydration and breakfast.  I woke Brian up and he said forget it, he'd hike around on his own and Jen and I could go.  Jen and I spent an hour or so eating breakfast and drinking water.  As usual we split up the duties and Jen took care of filtering the water while I cooked breakfast and hung the gear. After breakfast we stowed everything on top of the tent or in my treed backpack except for the sleeping pads and left the tent open.  I made one last pass with the coyote urine and we headed off.  

As a quick segue, this would mark the beginning of the great coyote urine caper.  After the morning dosing we never saw it again.  We checked all of our bags and the surrounding area several times and. even when we returned home and unpacked, it remained missing.  I have no idea where it is now but nothing ate our gear so it either worked, had nothing to do with the safety of our gear, or was carried off by an animal during the day.  I'd like to think it worked because animals circled our campground but never walked right through it like they did other campers.  In any event, we headed off at 6:15.  My GPS indicated we were camped at 11,165 feet.

Almost immediately Jen and I came to a junction which turned left for Twin Lakes and went straight for Columbine Pass.  We headed left and immediately started climbing upwards.  We passed a few camp grounds and then found ourselves on the new CFI trail.  The trail was quite steep and rocky but passed by enough goats and waterfalls to make it a fun experience.  According to Roach's guide we were supposed to bear left and head up to the Eolus-North Eolus saddle on a climbers trail but we never found one.  While we were musing about which way to go, we caught up with Tom and Rebecca.  After walking close to each other for a time we decided to go up as a group.  It's always nice to have extra company and these two were quite nice people. I never caught what Tom did but know he was ex-army and that his wife was a school teacher.  We decided to just scramble up and left towards the saddle and crossed over several boulders and a stream on the way.  As it turns out the old climbers trail no longer exists and the proper way is to climb to Twin Lakes then head left along a VERY clear trail.  We realized this when, in our off trail meanderings, we found ourselves back on a clearly established trail.  While I appreciate the CFI's labor I question a lot of their trails.  They are either redundantly obnoxious switchbacks or way out of the way detours. Why not just build up the old climbers trail which lead directly to the saddle rather than through a seriously longer right angle into a trail for other peaks?  I'll try to use established trails whenever possible but sometimes they are just a bit too silly.

Starting Out Towards Eolus

Waterfalls Along The Trail

Looking Back 

Heading To The Eolus, North Eolus Saddle


Once we were at the area below the saddle we were presented with two snowfield options.  I remarked that the farther left one was probably the easiest and correct one but that the one directly in front of us looked fine as well. I started up the snow using only my poles but soon found it hardening and steepening.  I quickly swapped out the poles for my axe and headed up.  Jen asked what I thought and I said crampons would probably be a great idea, too bad I wasn't wearing them but I'm pretty comfy on snow.  This stuff was a bit scary though and I found myself using the pick to climb (much like you would climb with one ice tool).  The snow was too hard to kick into and I was slowly working myself up with the pick and the edge of my boots.  Apparently everyone else didn't like what they were watching and decided on a different route. Good for them, it was a bit sketchy and I ended up on some low fifth class wet slabs at the top. This route was definetly the spicy point of the trip for me.

Jen and Tom decided to follow a route farther to the left up some easier but still probably 4th class slabs and Rebbecca intelligently took the path I'd originally suggested and it turned out to be the right one with only 30 or so feet of snow travel.  As it turned out she had never been on snow before.  Good job Rebecca and thank god you didn't follow my stupid beta-ignoring self.  I topped out on the ridge and scouted over the top of the line that Jen and Tom were on and informed them it was a good one.  They worked their way up the wet rock and quickly joined me.  We were also soon joined by Rebecca.  After we worked our way up to the top of the saddle at around 13,800
feet or so we stopped and had a bit to eat.  North Eolus looked like a very tame first peak to grab so we headed up through some fun 3rd class slab to its summit.  Eolus itself looked very cool but I think Rebecca was a bit intimidated by it so Jen and I assured her it would be fun and easier than it looked.  We also said we could all summit out together then headed a few feet away to let Tom and her discuss the prospect.  In hindsight I'm hoping Jen and I didn't overly wear her out.  We were trying to move slowly but have been getting out a good bit and we might have inadvertently pushed the pace.  We really weren't in any rush though since the weather was perfect up to that point.

Jen & Tom On Their Route

My Stupid Choice Of Routes

Jen & Tom, Farther Up The Rocks, Rebecca On The Right Route


The Eolus, North Eolus Saddle

Eolus's NE Ridge

Jen and Tom, Heading Up North Eolus

Tom and Rebecca Coming Down From North Eolus

After a little bit it appeared Tom had convinced Rebecca to go and the four of us set off towards it.  The initial catwalk was pretty neat and had the occasional 3rd classs stretches before culminating in a two foot section with a very cool drop off on either side.  After this we headed up a series of steps and dirt ledges which followed cairns on the left side of the direct ridge.  After we came to a stretch that looked completely straightforward Tom and Rebecca headed up it and Jen and I moved onto the 4th class ridge direct route.  This was a lot of fun and pretty solid and straightforward.  I wouldn't shy away from the direct route as it seemed a lot more solid than the "easier" ledge alternative.  Jen and I made short work of the exposed ridge and found ourselves a top Eolus.  According to my GPS the summit was about 100 yards away over thin air but I assumed this was a topo map coordinate error and didn't try for a jump.  After a bit Tom and Rebecca joined us and we took a nice pleasant break for lunch.

While on top of Eolus, we noticed a pair of guys hauling over from North Eolus.  They made short work of the ridge and joined us.  It turned out it was marmotman and benners from and they had blown through all four summits (Windom and Sunlight before the pair of Eolus summits)  in about 7.5 hours.  To be in your early twenties again, these guys were fast.  As it turns out Benner's has a father who was so supportive of his hiking/climbing that he was funding everything for him towards the goal of finishing all of the 14ers this summer.  Apparently his Dad was even considering finishing up with them on top of Lindsey and having a helicopter pick them all up.  I thought that was very cool.  His Dad was even paying for all the lodging, gear, and food for his son's friend so his son would have company.  Both of these young men were polite and friendly and it's good to see parents who support their kids that much and still raise good ones.  Two thumbs up to your mission guys, I'm jealous.

The Catwalk To Eolus

Starting The NE Ridge

Some Grassy Slopes

A Bit Of A Drop Off

Heading To The Direct Ridge

Some Scrambling On The Direct Ridge

Jen Coming Up A Steeper Section

Jen Again

Looking Back At North Eolus, Vestal & Trinity Peak Are in View

Sunlight & Windom

After a while on the summit we decided to head back to camp.  Tom and I had been tossing back the idea of doing the other two summits that day but the ladies weren't interested so we agreed to meet up in the morning and give it a go.  I quickly checked with Tom if they were cool getting down and he said sure. Jen and I tend to blaze downhill and headed off.  We took the path of least resistance down the easier variation and moved back to the 4th class ridge at the end to avoid a whole lot of scrambling around.  There was a bit of tricky down climbing but we got through it and headed on.  

We headed back over to the snow Rebecca had come up and headed down it.  It had warmed up enough that it was soft enough to glissade and plunge step. I tried to avoid most of the glissading because I didn't feel like having a wet ass for the rest of the trip.  The hike down was pretty miserable due to a blazing sun and steep, loose trail.  The views were great and we took pictures of the many flowers and goats along the way but we were sweating and quite parched.   We arrived back at camp around 2:30 and found it to be miserably hot and mosquito infested.  Brian was asleep in his tent but woke up quickly.  He had hiked up to Twin Lakes then headed down.  

Scrambling Down

Benners & Marmotman From

Peak 18 with Windom Behind and Jupiter Far To The Right


Cute Goats

Back at camp we hung out and filtered water.  Brian had one of the UV filters that was super easy to use, all you did was fill up a Nalgene 1 liter bottle and stick the bulb in and swirl it for 90 seconds and the UV killed everything.  It wouldn't filter particulates but since we were pulling from a fast running stream it didn't matter. We withstood the barrage of mosquitoes as best we could but even bugspray with 95% DEET barely phased them. I was still stung repeatedly,  even biting through our clothes.  During the day we noticed marmots circling the camp but never coming in.  Fortunately all of our gear remained OK.  About 5:00 we made dinner. At one point Tom wandered in our camp and said Rebecca was feeling pretty badly and not to count them in for tomorrow.  We said we'd stop by and double check in the morning and said goodnight.  After a bit longer we tried to sleep.  Jen was somewhat successful but I was miserable and got less than two or three hours.  I woke up a bunch of times and wandered around to read and look at the stars.  The one big winning peace of gear I had was my Montbell Stretch Burrow Bag.  That thing was so super malleable that I was able to roll around and get dressed and undressed in it.  At the least my bag was great.  I'd strongly reccomend people buy them for summer stuff.  For the winter I still say Western Mountaineering.

At some point, after tossing and turning all night I noticed it was 3:45 and time to get up again.

A Marmot Kept At Bay (By Coyote Urine?), I Know It Wants My Leki Poles

Sleep Time

Page 2: July 4th - July 6th

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