Mt Eolus and North Eolus
There are four 14ers that many people never climb, those in the Chicago Basin in Southwest Colorado. To get there you either backpack in for 32 miles, one way via the Purgatory trailhead, or take a hour or two and half hours on the Durango & Silverton steam train to a wilderness drop-off point and backpack 6 miles to the basin. Either way, it is a multi day commitment in an area notorious for extreme weather thus making the chances of summiting all chancy at best.
On August 14-17, 2010 I took that chance with a few friends to grab my final four 14ers. Our goal was to summit Eolus, North Eolus, Windom Peak and Sunlight Peak. This report is for the hike in and both Eolus. Click on the others for their reports. All of the reports start with the same summary of the hike into Chicago Basin.
Click on any picture to enlarge it.
The trip started for most of us in Durango, a college town but also filled with tourists enjoying the Colorado summer. I met Anne and Kevin Martin from Colorado along with John Little who drove in from Houston at the Durango Hometown Hostel. My regular 14er partners Patrick Vall joined us later and Robert LeClair met us at camp the next day since he came in from Silverton via the train.
The Durango & Silverton Railroad steam train is quite the experience with it's billowing engine puffing madly to haul the 12 car train along the narrow gauge rails. I had known about the train for years and it was fun to finally take a ride. We left Durango around 9:00 AM and slowly but steadily made our way towards Neddleton, the stop where we got off the train and grabbed our packs from the storage car. We were on the trail by noon.
The hike to Chicago Basin follows Needle Creek in a heavily forested area. The trail starts at 8220' and gains about 2,800' on an excellent trail. Near the basin it opens up quite a bit revealing a beautiful cirque and, of course, our objectives. We hiked to the sign marking the junction to the Twin Lakes and Columbine Pass.
The basin was filled with camps but in such a large area, never felt crowded. Our site selection took us across the stream to a relatively flat area in the trees large enough for five tents. Our plan was to climb Eolus and N. Eolus on Sunday and then Windom and Sunlight on Monday thus catching the 3:45 PM train out on Tuesday. However, the San Juan weather had other ideas.
Patrick and John left around 4:00 AM for Eolus while the rest of us left two hours later. The hike to Twin Lakes gains 1300' on an excellent trail. Route finding was a non-issue. We were kept company by the resident goat population pus a young deer with velvet on his new antlers. Once at the Lakes we made a short turn towards Eolus. Keeping in radio contact, our early team was high on the slabs near the ramp.
The trail became a bit thin as the terrain became more slab, rock and scree but we knew the general direction and found the ramp leading to the upper levels and soon to the saddle between Eolus and North Eolus. Patrick had made the summit by this time and we had caught up with John.
A word on John. He took up climbing only a few years ago and I have climbed with him twice; summiting Mt. Belford in 2009. He lives in Houston and trains by running stairs in 100 degree heat. Climbing is quite personal for John in that he has been seduced by the sport and is using it as motivation to drastically improve his fitness. His performance on this climb was an inspiration to everyone. Visit his site to read more.
From the saddle, Robert, Anne, Kevin and I made the quick climb to North Eolus at 14039', where we had incredible views of the entire area but also the infamous Catwalk to Eolus. The picture to the right is of John on the Catwalk.
However not all was perfect. Patrick radioed us with a tension in his voice that he had pulled out a chair sized rock that almost took him down Eolus's East Face. We had heard a rock fall down the gulley but thought it was a natural event. The recent monsoon rains had loosened many rocks more than normal in the San Juans. This incident shook my friend up quite a bit. A good reminder that the mountains always have the last word.
Meanwhile John was working his way across the Catwalk. Kevin and Anne took off to join him and soon were climbing Eolus's face together. Robert and I left North Eolus and navigated the Catwalk. This section provided the most exposure on the climb with one very narrow section of maybe 2 feet and drop-offs of several hundred on either side. The difficulty was about class 2 with one 3 level move over a rather large boulder. I used my new Contour HD helmet cam to record part of the crossing.
We soon joined the rest on the face. The box sized broken boulders made the climbing straight forward albeit with some interesting route finding. All in all it was solid class 3 climbing with reasonable exposure. The final climb to the summit ridge involved a short gulley but again was relatively straightforward with good handholds. The climb to the summit was fun and challenging and an excellent example of high class 2, low class 3 exposure.
The views from the summit were outstanding revealing the Chicago Basin and nearby Windom and Sunlight Peaks.
The down climb was equally fun with more route finding across and over the box-sized rocks. Once at the saddle we made our way down the slabs, ramp and into the Twin Lakes area and then back to camp.
Eolus is a fun climb. It offers a nice challenge for those looking for an introduction to class 3 exposure or to anyone looking for a beautiful climb in a stunning environment.