Saturday, August 10, 2013
Chicago Basin - 5 Peaks in 5 Days
Mt. Eolus (14,083)
North Eolus (14,038)
Sunlight Peak (14,059)
Windom Peak (14,082)
Jupiter Mountain (13,830)
Dates: July 28 - August 1, 2013
RT Distance: about 23.5 Miles
Elevation Gain: about 12,700 ft.
Group: Aaron (spon0949) and Brad (mountain ninja)
Half of these photos are from Brad.
Brad and I drove 7 hrs. down to the neat little town of Silverton to catch the afternoon Silverton/Durango train. Taking this old coal train is the most practical way to access these remote peaks. Apparently the train has been in operation since 1881 and is now used primarily for tourism except for one stop they make along the way to drop off and pick up backpackers and hikers. The forecast for the day was 90% chance heavy rain. Brad and I were the only ones getting off the train in Needleton that afternoon. On the ride there, one of the tourists stopped to ask us what we were planning to do.
"Are you the guys that are getting off at the Needleton stop?"
"How long are you guys going to be out there?"
"about 5 days, 4 nights."
"So...are there cabins or something you guys are staying in each night?"
"Oh...well are there stops along the way were you can get food and resupply or whatever?"
"Not really...that would be nice though!"
Then he looked at us like we were crazy.
"Well good luck to you, be safe out there!"
It was raining as we got off the train and put on our rain gear. The couple hundred passengers on the train waived goodbye to us as Brad and I crossed the bridge into the wilderness. We covered the 6 miles as quickly as we could as we wanted to set up camp in daylight. We found a great spot for base camp high in the Chicago Basin right about at treeline.
We woke early and were ready to start our trip up to Mt. Eolus at around 4am. Just before we left it started pouring again. We got back into our sleeping bags and slept till the rain stopped about 3 hours later. It was not looking like the sky was going to clear up, but we decided to just go for it being prepared to turn back if bad weather picked up again. We really didn't want to waste a day as it takes a lot of time, energy, and some $ to get to this area. We made it to twin lakes and could see that we'd be hiking into the clouds. We stopped, talked it over, then decide to keep going until God gave us a reason to turn back. We did this several times and the weather never really got better or worse all day.
into the clouds!
Mountain goats hung around us on the mountain. Actually there were mountain goats everywhere! They were kind of a nuisance back at camp. They would follow us around, wait till we pee, then lick up the spot where we peed. Apparently this is quite common for mountain goats to do this as they are deficient on sodium or something like that.
Pretty soon we were on the saddle between Eolus and North Eolus. There were no views. Only once the clouds gave a quick break to show us a shadow of the peak, and then it disappeared again. The entire rest of the time we spent in poor visibility.
Had to be quick with this shot!
Eolus was the peak I was a little nervous about. It was a little loose with some exposure and route finding (made more difficult in the fog). Before you start climbing the face toward the summit, there is this cool feature called "the catwalk". It's basically a long ledge that you walk across with a drop off on either side.
We were trying to be extra cautious as we made our way up on the ledges, keeping in mind that we were >8 miles and a train ride away from civilization. No summit views on Eolus or North Eolus. Brad had climbed Eolus before in identical conditions (without summit views) two years ago and was understandably disappointed, but it didn't ruin our fun!
Brad is working on his Which Wich summit shots. If you take a picture with a Which Wich bag on top of a 14er, they give you a free sandwich. As far as we can tell, Brad is about to be the first person to climb them all with a Which Wich! He's even been contacted by the owner of the company about sponsoring him! He's got 3 or 4 to go.
After these two peaks, Brad ran over to tag unranked 13er Glacier Point while I sat down and ate some food. When we returned we were happy to be back at camp and thankful for a safe trip, we talked with some other hikers who said they sumitted Eolus later in the day than we did and the skies cleared for them. Bummer! Oh well.
This day was much clearer and we were able to start pre-dawn. We made it pretty high up the basin before the sun came out to give us our first views of the Eolus group.
So that's what that mountain looks like.
At this point Brad realized that the 13er he thought he climbed the day before was actually just a sub point below the actual summit of Glacier Point. He was pretty bummed about that. Our first mountain of the day, Sunlight Peak, is probably my new favorite. The climbing was fun and challenging with minimal exposure until the final summit move.
Toward the top there's this cool chimney chute where you have to climb up through a hole in the rock just before the summit ridge.
Then came the infamous Sunlight summit block. It's a massive boulder that sticks way up and has some pretty intense exposure on the back side. Climbing up it requires a 4th class airy move. To get back down, most people jump from the top boulder to a lower one calling it "the leap of faith". I wasn't planning on going up the summit block, but as I started climbing up to check it out, all the sudden I was up at the top! It is nerve racking for sure, but I felt that the whole thing was just a little bit overrated. I really think it depends on one's comfort level with exposure. Definitely more mental than physical. I was up on the summit block for all of 2 seconds then I made the jump back down before I let myself think about it. What a rush!
Leap of faith.
Brad even stood up at the top! I told him if he was a man he'd do a handstand up there like he did on Uncompahgre peak last year:
He didn't bite.
After that the hike up to neighboring Windom Peak was pretty straight forward. This peak was a little harder than expected, but really fun with equally awesome views!
Again, Brad hopped over to unranked 13er Peak 18 next to Windom while I took a nap on the saddle.
We hiked back to camp after a long day. Back at camp worst tragedy of the trip happened. I spilled my cup of noodles! Most would be like, "who cares! It's just a cup of noodles!" But when you have been in the mountains for days and you are very hungry and you get one hot meal a day and have been day dreaming about that hot meal and it spills on the ground it's like the worst thing you can imagine at the time! I shouted "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" as I scramble to salvage some of the noodles off the ground before they get contaminated, Brad runs over to help...oh wait...no...he just wants to take a picture of my misery. Thanks Brad!
Now it's time to rest. But, get this, Brad decides he's going to go back up to twin lakes because it's a nice day and he wants to get some sunset shots of Sunlight. I'm like, "I can't even feel my legs right now and Brad hasn't had enough hiking?" Good photographers will do what it takes to get those "WOW" shots you know. Well, not me. I stayed in my sleeping bag that evening and lived vicariously through Brad's pictures.
He did get some cool shots though:
The next morning we slept in till 5am or so. I remember waking up and thinking, "there's no way I'm leaving this tent!" Gotta love the energy of my hiking partner! I don't know how but we were on the trail and feeling good in no time. Jupiter climbs around 2,700 ft. in two miles. Its relentlessly steep grassy slopes were wearing on our tired legs. I definitely underestimated this peak. I was thinking easy class 2 walk up. I'm pretty sure we did a couple at least class 3 moves. In my opinion this one was more dangerous than any of the 14ers in the area because of the looseness of the rock toward the summit. I'm probably just remembering it being worse than it really was because it was just harder than I thought, but I don't think I would repeat it if I ever return.
We reach the summit and shout "URANUS!" Views of all the 14ers were fantastic up there and Brad gave me a free karate lesson on the summit.
We got back to the tent around 1. Guess who decides to go climb some 14ers again???? Brad heads up around 2 to re-climb Eolus and North Eolus for the views and re-attempt Glacier Point that he missed the first day. All in all, he pretty much summited 10 peaks to my 5. It's not a competition right? That's what I say;) You, my friend, are a machine.
He finally got some great shots of Eolus.
That night we celebrated our summit victories by dancing around our tents with our headlamps to techno music in our heads!
We hiked back without stopping the next morning. It only took us about 2 hours. We were missing our families and wanted to make sure we had enough time to catch the train. With a couple hours to spare, I did a little fishing in the river and we swapped stories with some other hikers. A very memorable trip I highly recommend!
Thanks for reading!