Chicago Basin - Eolus, North Eolus, Sunlight, & Windom
July 4th-6th - Sunlight, Windom, & Home
Wednesday morning did not come easily.  I mean it really did not come easily.  I think Jen slept well enough but for me it was an unending night of tossing and turning.  I was too hot or too cold, I was sore from a rock under me, I was bitten all to hell by the legions of mosquitoes that proffered me to any of my camp mates, I was sweaty and smelly and wanted nothing more than to pack out and take a shower.  I'm not sure how I used to be a backpacker because I find more than a day or two away from the shower and my own bed to be pretty unpleasant.  I guess it wasn't so bad in Peru when I slept out for seven days straight because I never got quite as as sweaty, the bugs weren't bad, and the water in town sucked enough that even a shower there wouldn't help too much. I spent a lot of the night trying to decide if I wanted to leave in the morning.  I knew Jen was tired and was happy with our peaks from the prior day and figured I could talk her into going quite easily.  Brian was self sufficient and could always meet us in Silverton in a day or two if he wanted to stay, Jen doesn't much care which 14ers she gets, why not go?  In the end all of this rationalization was going to be ignored because I planed on finishing all the 14ers in this basin and once I plan on something I am so stubborn that it would take an act of God to change my mind. I figured that the weather was supposed to be pretty good and that the best chance Jen would have of finishing all of the peaks would be a slow leisurely wake up so, even though we planned to leave around 5:00, I woke her up at 3:45.  It was a relief to be out of that miserable half awake state I'd lingered in since 7:00 the night before.

I got Jen up and she made a half hearted attempt to go back to bed but I convinced her to get moving.  We spent a leisurely hour and a half having a breakfast of Mountain House macaroni and cheese and both drank down a liter or two of water.  I checked to see if Brian was going to be coming with us but he was not interested.  He was however kind enough to lend us his magic UV water filter wand.  This was good because my camel back had sprung a leak and could not be filled past the half point without leaking into my bag.  I could have brought my own pump filter but his was much smaller and more convenient.

After a very mellow wake up we headed up the trail.  Jen made a quick check on Tom and Rebecca and, as promised, they were asleep.  Rebecca had been pretty badly sunburned and I think had not eaten enough which resulted in a nasty build up of lactic acid during her descent the previous day.  I think the number one mistake newer hiker/climbers make is not getting the proper nutrition in the morning before moving.  I'm a firm believer in taking in at least a liter of water and 500 calories before setting off.  It generally means a slower (and therefore earlier) start time but it has kept me from repeats of AMS, fatigue, and lactic acid build up.  I also half think that she may have fatigued herself following us in which case I am pretty sorry, we were trying to move moderately but I don't think she took in enough nutrition to maintain the pace.
On the way up to Twin Lakes I broached the topic of hiking out this evening.  I reasoned that it would be better to go back to camp, relax an couple of hours, have a meal, then hike out in the evening.  This way we could get down and not have to wake up early again the next morning and rush back to the train.  Jen thought it was a good idea.

We made it up to Twin Lakes in about an hour on the very clearly marked CFI trail and met up with another pair of people named Brian and Honor.  They were moving pretty quickly and after Jen loaned them a bit of sun screen they set off.  Jen said she was feeling pretty weak but she was maintaining more than 1200 feet vertical an hour so I told her to keep on  going and take all the time she needed.  We stopped briefly to filter some water and each drank a liter before going on.  The trail up to the basin between Windom and Sunlight was well cairned and eventually gave way to a snowfield.  This snow field was a bit steep but was well trodden and we plodded across it with just poles.  I'm not sure why but I always hate crossing snowfield more than I do ascending them. On the far side of the field we met back up with Brian and Honor and I noticed they were in shorts so I offered to go ahead and posthole for them so they wouldn't get a ton of snow in their shoes.  They were happy with this suggestion and we traveled as a foursome over to the base of the snowfield we would use to ascend Sunlight.

More Beautiful Waterfalls

Twin Lakes



Sunlight, Sunlight Spire Saddle

At the base of the snowfield Jen and I stopped to get out our axes and helmets.  Brian and Honor went right on up with only poles.  I figured this was a bit hard/steep for that but to each their own.  Since this field was a similar aspect to the one I had been on the day before, I expected it to be quite hard and difficult to kick steps into but not so steep as to require crampons.  In hindsight I should have made Jen put hers on.  We began up the snow which was very hard and I could only manage to kick the barest of ledges for Jen to use.  It became clear that Jen was uncomfortable so I showed her how to ascend by holding the shaft up near the pick and plunging the pick into the snow much like one would if they were ice climbing.  With this technique Jen seemed to become much more confident and we made it to a rock outcropping in good time.  Now I am super comfortable on snow and Jen is gaining and it was clear that Brian knew what he was doing but Honor looked unhappy.  Brian also seemed a bit surprised at how hard the snow was and worked his way over to us with his poles and asked if he could borrow an axe for Honor.  Jen said sure and gave it to him.  

I wanted to scout out ahead and cut some steps into the snow above the rocks using my axe and then headed up until I could kick good steps to another rock band.  Using my solid boots and the axe I made a stairway for Jen to ascend then wandered to the right and back to the left on rocky ledges until I found myself back on snow directly under the Sunlight / Sunlight Spire Saddle.  I realized that there were effectively four people with two axes and wandered around until I found the best slope to cross.  I started kicking in traverse steps until I met up with previous footprints whereupon I started kicking in huge new steps whenever the previous ones were insufficient.  I worked my way up about 100 vertical feet and noticed Jen had come to the start of the traverse.  She asked if she should go up but Honor and Brian hadn't come up yet and I wanted Jen to have her axe back so we waited.  It took awhile before they moved on and I'm guessing Brian was convincing Honor to keep going.  Eventually they returned and Jen got her axe back and we all headed up.  I loved my new boots and kicked good steps wherever any were missing.  We all worked up to the saddle and hung out to chat a bit.  It turned out that it was Honor's first time on snow and Brian was showing her the ropes.

Here is where I segue into one of those comments that invariably gets an irritated person emailing me.  If you are teaching a novice, no matter how great you are, you must cover all your bases insofar as protecting that person goes.  Brian had brought rope gear for rock but no snow gear.  A lightweight axe is an easy thing to pack in.  I packed in 4 pounds of rope gear and slings in case Jen or Brian needed them and never used them.  I've seen enough people freeze up in the mountains and doing it on an icy snow slope with no way to glissade down and no option other than to stand around for hours is not the responsible thing to do.  I'm glad it turned out great and she kept her head.  All in all, she was pretty impressive as it was one heck of a snow intro with no gear.  Segue finished.

Once we were on the saddle, we still had several hundred feet of third class scrambling to get to the summit block.  There are many ways to do this but make sure not to take the low fifth class chimney, it doesn't go anywhere useful.  The scrambling was much easier than on Eolus but we were all a bit tired.  After a time we reached the summit block.  This is one super easy thing to surmount.  I ran up it, looked over the edge, decided I didn't need to hang out and ran back down it.  We all hung out for a time and Brian also ran up to the top.  Honor wasn't interested and Jen was unfortunately feeling pretty sick so she skipped it as well.  I would not let this thing's reputation scare you. It is a very easy thing to get on top of.  Just get on all fours and monkey up the slab then take a couple high steps and you are there.

Coming Up The South Slopes, Jen In The Front, Brian & Honor Behind

Scrambling Up The Ridge

The Summit Block

Sunlight Spire & Windom

An Alcove We Scrambled Through

After twenty or so minutes we headed back to the saddle.  I figured it would be best if I went first and scouted an easy route down with Jen following.  I headed down the now melting snow and plunged a new set of steps because the old ones were icy.  I worked my way down to a rock outcropping, scrambled down it, and regained the snow.  This section was glissadable but I really didn't feel like having a wet ass for the rest of the day so stayed on my feet.  Jen had been getting nauseous and a bit stumbly but got better as she dropped elevation. Once she joined me below the last bit of rocks we boot skied and plunge stepped back to the basin.  Brian and Honor followed right behind.  Now I was going up Windom but Jen was pretty unsure.  I told her to give it a shot and if she felt badly when we got up the remaining snow to the base of Windom's West Ridge that she could go back.  Honor and Brian offered to take her down if she felt bad but she agreed to give it a try.  

I started up the snow and kicked in monster steps for Jen to use up the 30-45 degree slopes.  She informed me that she was getting scared which immediately made me know she was sick and would be turning around.  Jen simply doesn't get scared on snow of that angle when she has monster steps and an axe unless she is getting a bit sick.  I told her to finish the ascent so she could go down an easier way.  We got to the base of the ridge and she kindly took my crampons and some other gear to lighten the load off of my back. Yes, we carried crampons both days but never used them.  I gave her my gear then headed up.  I stopped occasionally to make sure she was OK and watched her safely glissade back to the snowfield we had crossed in the morning.

At this point the clouds were starting to build in the west and I figured I had a couple hours before anything serious arrived.  To be safe though I just motored up the ridge and ignore every cairn and path.  I took the most direct way which turned out to be a lot of fun 2nd and 3rd class boulder hopping.  I gained the summit in about 25 minutes but spent another five minutes locating the actual USGS marker.  The summit was pretty cool and consisted of a bunch of mini towers that I mantled on and hopped about, from one to the other.  The back side of Windom had some serious air and. although the climbing was the easiest, it might have been my favorite peak from a fun factor and a view factor.  

Sunlight & Sunlight Spire

Windom's West Ridge

A Marmot Just Below The Summit

Arrow, Vestal, & Two Of The Trinities on Trinity Peak

Trinity Peak


A Cool Lake Of The Back Of Windom

Windom's Entire Ridge And Twin Lakes

Since the clouds were still building I hauled back down to the low point of the saddle in under fifteen minutes then post hoed down the snow until I came to a good glissade track.  I sat down and proceeded to glissade, right into a buried rock.  Fortunately I had been slowing my speed as I hit the rock or I would have broken something.  As it was I sat there for five or ten minutes and waited for the pain to subside before heading on.  The traverse out was irritating because of the soft snow and repeated post-holes.  On my way out I met Brian who had gotten a late start.  He asked me how the weather was and I said pretty bad.  He shrugged and decide to turn around. One thing I like about Brian is that he is super laid back, he got out and done some hiking and wasn't bothered by turning back. He also mentioned that Jen had told him we were planning on heading back down to Needleton and liked the idea.  I wandered back to Twin Lakes where Jen was waiting and hanging out with a couple guys who were backpacking through the area.  We all hung out until Brian came back then lounged around a bit more.  One of the guys had the unfortunate luck to have a marmot destroy much of his gear.  I think those suckers are little forces of nature.  

After a bit more time eating, drinking water, and relaxing we continued down.  The weather was  really building but didn't seem to be immediately ominous. To be honest, the presence of clouds was keeping the temperature low enough that it wasn't anywhere near as miserable as the descent and camp had been the day before and there was even a slight breeze. The weather was really building over Columbine Pass and we were treated to a bit of a lightning show.  It was across the basin and not coming our way so we enjoyed the pyrotechnics and slight drizzel and continued down.  So much for a zero percent chance of storms.  We continued back to camp and on the way back to camp I made a point to really soak up the surroundings, the goats, mountains, streams, waterfalls, trees, and flowers were absolutely a beautiful blend and I knew I wouldn't be coming back anytime soon.  There were goats everywhere which was pretty cool because they usually run from you but here you could see what cool animals they really are.  Brian even mentioned seeing one vault a 10 foot stream crossing like it was a couple inches.


This Is What You Get When There Is a Zero Percent Chance Of Storms

Chicago Basin From Above


When we got back at camp we took our time packing up and eating dinner.  I was still getting bitten but nowhere near as badly as the day before and the clouds were keeping the temperature down.  Our only concern was whether it might start pouring on us or not.  After an hour or so we deemed it safe and completed our packing.  During this time Tom came down a couple times and mentioned he wanted to pack out but Rebecca didn't want to leave.  I gave him a few Aleve to give to her and gave him some points he might use on her to get her moving.  The second to last time he came by he had a huge smile on his face so I assumed he was successful in convincing her to leave.  The next time he came by it was with her to say goodbye, apparently the Aleve had done it's thing and they said they'd see us down below.  It's been my experience that Naproxin (Aleve) is the best medicine for altitude related illness/headaches just like Ibuprofren (Advil) is the best for muscle pain.  I aways carry both of medicines along with Tylenol.  Right before we left we were treated to a visit from the most handsome goat I have seen.  This guy wandered around a bit then left.  He was completely devoid of his winter coat and it's pretty clear they shed their fur by rubbing against things as every branch in the basin was covered in goat hair.

Marmot Insurance

A Muscular Goat

That's One Damn Big Goat

Goat Hair Everywhere

Jen, Brian, and myself packed up and headed down. At first Jen and I made great time but my feet were starting to kill me and I needed more frequent breaks.  We eventually made it down in about three hours but I'm guessing Jen could have cut that time considerably on her own.  We were quickly joined by Tom and Rebecca and then by Brian shortly thereafter.  One of the Needleton homeowners came by and informed us that a special train was coming by at 11:00 to pick up an injured kid.  This train was heading to Durango so of no use to us but was plenty useful to Tom and Rebecca who were headed that way.

We set up a quick camp on the grass east of the tracks and then the five of us sat around talking and having dinner.  At one point a bunch of guys wandered by in the dark and informed us they were recovering caches of whiskey.  I found this a bit odd but it turned out (the next day) that they were river guides and bringing alcohol for their clients.  By 10:00 we were all very tired and said goodbye to Tom and Rebecca who then headed over to the bridge to await the train.  Jen, Brian and I went to sleep.  We passed out immediately only to be rudely awakened by the train.  I jumped up at the sound of the whistle until Jen told me to go back to sleep which I did quickly.  

I awoke with the sun and, as tired as I was, could not go back to sleep so I got up and went for a walk down the train tracks.  It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed the solitude. I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I got a little depressed on this walk when I realized how close I was to finishing the 14ers.  It was also on this walk that I noticed a couple of rafting camps and realized who the guys from the night before were.  I wandered around a bit more and headed back to camp. I spent a bit of time hanging out on the bridge and met a fellow from North Carolina who had his kid at camp in Colorado and came out just to do a raft trip with him.  I thought that was also pretty cool.  There's nothing I get more of a kick out of than seeing good parents, there are too many shitty ones out there.

After awhile Jen and Brian woke up and we packed up our stuff and went to wait for the train.. We met an interesting German lady who lived in Telluride and had been out for a twelve day llama tour.  Apparently she had gotten infected blisters and needed to come out early.  She didn't have the money for the train but was very lucky to find another backpacker who had a spare ticket due to a no-show friend.  The German lady easily convinced me that I in fact have been missing the use of llamas for too long.  I will make a point to rent those things for any other long treks.

The Animas River At Needleton

Our Last Camp On The East Side Of The Tracks

The Bridge Over The Animas

Views On My Thursday Morning Walk

More Views

Thank God The Train Is Coming

The train finally came and we boarded it where I promptly proceeded to double fist some wheat beer.  When we got back to Silverton I was extremely happy to see the truck was still where I left it.  We did a very quick bit of shopping then headed home. Jen drove all the way to the Copper Mountain exit.  The ride home was too much of an adventure for any of us.  It stormed a great deal of the way, we passed an area with a fire crew where a lightning bolt had struck not ten feet from the road and set everything ablaze. We also somehow managed to be stupid about gas and our low fuel light came on at the bottom of the Vail side (west) of Vail Pass. We stayed in the left lane the whole time so as not to have to break and accelerate and use more gas and once we were at the top we coasted, in neutral, down to a gas station at the bottom of the road.  All in all it was pretty tense but it turned out we had a two or three  gallon reserve and hadn't needed to worry.  We got home, unpacked, and went to sleep.  The next day I drove to Loveland to get the birds.  I was exhausted from poor sleep the four nights before and managed to have the 600 dollar bird cage slide out of the truck bed and get run over.  Fortunately it was fixable but it is banged up. On the way home I realized I had left the screws to reassemble the cage in Loveland and had to go to a hardware store with both macaws to get replacements.  The final straw was when the cage door fell open on me as I was carrying it up the stairs and gave me a heck of a hit.  

I'd say it was really Saturday when the trip ended and I felt refreshed.  It was a beautiful trip and leaves me with only two 14ers to go.  I probably won't go back to the area any time soon because my next trip  in the area will be to hit Vestal, Arrow, and Trinity a basin or two over.  It's feels odd coming so close to finishing a goal I set for myself years ago but it also feels good to be back on track with it.  The 14ers are fantastic peaks and, while they are generally technically easy, they are still very worthwhile.  Anyone who finishes them almost has to go through some personal evolution in the process.  I may have remembered why I hate backpacking so much but I also think I remembered the guy who used to hike in jeans and think fourth class was the toughest thing out there. This trip definetly reminded me of the joy I used to take in just hiking through the woods by a pretty stream.  I'd gotten too intense with the need to do continuously tougher routes and I think this trip reminded me of my roots.  I feel silly I ever went through the stage where I was dismissive of hiking and climbing these peaks.

Only one mystery remained at the end of the trip and that was, "What happened to the coyote urine?"  It wasn't in our packs or the trash so I can only guess something ran away with it.

MMMMM, Jared Like Beer

 July 1st - July 3rd

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