Eolus Group - Durango Trip
- San Juan Range
- "We started out the hike from the train following a guy whom we nicknamed Mr. Flatulence, we soon passed him, but we passed him again on Saturday when he was going to Mount Eolus and we were headed to sunlight....I guess Mr. Flatulence was saving Eolus for last. (Eolus -the "god of wind")"
- High School graduates from Texas going to backpack into Chicago Basin and climb the peaks wearing tennis shoes...hmm I do not remember anything in the reports that I read that said that the Eolus group was a beginners climb.
Mount Eolus, Sunlight Peak, and Windom Peak Elevation Eolus 14,088ft., Sunlight 14,064ft., and Windom 14,087ft. (July 4, 2003) "Northeast Ridge" trail on Eolus, "South Slopes" on Sunlight, and "Northwest face and East Ridge variation" on Windom, all climbed from the Chicago Basin. The whole combination included class 1, 2, 3, and 4 climbing. It would be my guess that the route we took to complete all three peaks in one day was (8.6 miles rt. with 5,125ft. gain). In order to expedite the trip we took the Durango-Silverton Train, the other option is to hike in from Purgatory Ski Resort but that adds an additional day in and out.
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Trip Schedule break down
|Wednesday||5:30PM||-leave work (drove to Durango via I-25 to Walsenburg and then 160 to Durango).|
|Thursday||12:30AM||-arrive in Durango at the Train Station.|
|8:15AM||-leave Durango on the train for Needleton Trailhead.|
|11:00PM||-arrive at Needleton TH (15 minutes late).|
|3:15PM||-arrive in Chicago Basin and search for the best campsite.|
|Friday||4:50AM||-leave camp to climb Mount Eolus.|
|7:10AM||-summit Eolus via Northeast Ridge.|
|10:20AM||-summit Sunlight via South Slopes.|
|12:15PM||-summit Windom via Northwest Face.|
|2:35PM||-back at camp via West Ridge variation.|
|Saturday||9:50AM||-get up around 7:00AM and leave for the train.|
|12:20PM||-arrive at Needleton TH.|
|3:30PM||-leave Needleton TH (35 minutes late).|
|8:00PM||-arrive back in Durango after 2 extra hours of train delays.|
|9:30PM||-leave Durango to drive back to Denver.|
|Sunday||5:00AM||-back at Home.|
Having not made arrangements for staying in Durango, we spent the rather warn night in the back of Tim's truck in the train station parking lot. I am not sure that this is a suggested plan. I ran into a couple hikers on the train in morning that had stayed at a KOA campground just outside of town.
I called about the train reservations on Wednesday and found out that the first train that we were booked on was cancelled and everyone was pushed to the second train. In the morning we fixed the ticket situation, put our backpacks in the luggage compartment, and found our seats on an open gondola car. If you want to avoid the soot you may want to get an open car further to the back of the train, or just go for the closed cars.
The off loading process at Needleton is a very fast but organized process, basically get all the bags off the train as quickly as possible so the train can get going again. The TH starts with a walk across a bridge and down a trail to the south where you will find a wilderness access register. From the register the trail goes along Needle Creek in the upstream direction all the way into Chicago Basin. Besides the initial bridge there is another bridge that you cross fairly quickly after the Wilderness Access Trailhead. The trail was pretty straight forward, however there was one section where some erosion damage had force the trail to be re-routed. The hike is comparable to the Snowmass Creek TH to Snowmass Lake trail and much easier then the Capitol Creek TH to Capitol Lake trail.
Once in the upper basin there are a number of signs, some of which indicate where not to camp. We ended up camping right at tree line on a plateau after you pass the "Columbine Pass" turn off. From our campsite there was a great view of both Windom and Eolus, sunlight was hidden from view. Although our campsite had some good views we were invaded by the Mtn Goats and marmots a couple times (remember to hang all of your gear).
Friday morning, we got an early start and once we got in to the Eolus basin we had little problems finding the trail. The trail had a little bit of snow left on it but the upper ridgeline was clear. The so-called "Cat Walk" was more like a "Cake Walk" the only issue would be exposer, if you have a problem with that. We ended up doing a couple short class 4 maneuvers, but they could have been avoided if you don't mind a little down climbing. The summit of Eolus was great and we had good views all the way to the Uncompahgre Group. The only advice that I have about the climb is to traverse onto the SE face during that last 600ft. and then climb up the better trail on that side. We tried to stay on the ridgeline to the top but ended up making the climb harder then it needed to be. This climb is a solid class 3 climb.
During the hike off of Eolus we finally ran into some other people climbing. The hike over to twin lakes and on to sunlight was easy and the lakes were beautiful. At the lakes we climbed up into the valley between Sunlight and Peak 18, we crossed a rather wet area where a large snowfield must have been, and then did a traversing climb to the notch in the ridgeline between Sunlight Peak and Spire. I think that there is a route straight up the face, but the route from the reddish notch to the summit was well cairned. There was on section where the route goes around and down under a rock but the cairns marked the way. The summit of Sunlight is very unique, I was expecting a different type of rock-block configuration, but either way the blocks were cool. The picture at the top of this report is of the summit blocks. I was the first onto the blocks and then Tim had a go. The only excitement on the blocks was that I lost a film container to a rock crevasse, but that is about as much excitement that anyone would want on the blocks (its the 800ft. fall off the block that would take the cake for excitement, but then I would not be writing this report right now). This was a class three climb up to the notch and then a combination of class 3 scrambling and class four short pitches. The main reason this is labeled a class 4 climb is because of the finishing move, "the summit block".
From Sunlight to Windom we took an unorthodox approach and traverse all the way over to the saddle or notch in the ridgeline between Sunlight Spire and Windom, traversed on to the face of Window and over a couple of snow chutes until we found a route that we like and headed to the top. During the traverse on to the face of Windom we encountered loose rock, but we did finally find a route up. I prefer a steeper route if the rock is solid a posed to a less vertical route and more traversing route, which Tim took up. To each there own, when you tackle the Eolus group it helps to have a little experience under your belt and know your self and what you are comfortable with. The Summit of Windom has blocks as well but these are more of the prefect cube style. I am not sure that Tim would like to climb up Windom again the way we did, but I could name numerous other climbs that where far worse (I would say El Diente chutes). The route that we took definitely had some class 4 climbing but the standard route is a class 2 climb with bad rock. Because of the route that we took, I would have to rate Windom as a more difficult climb then Eolus because of the rock. We made a B-Line to the tent from Windom, a variation route in the Roach book. The route took us down the Windom ridgeline to the saddle with Peak 18 and then down the grassy slopes of Windom's Southwest face.
Back at the tent I found my half-eaten sandals that a marmot had taken some a liking to (hmm.. didn't I mention something about hanging your gear). My flip-flops were in the tent vestibule, I had meant to put them up on the rope line that was also holding our backpacks off the ground, but in the morning and darkness I must have forgot.
We made for the train on Saturday morning, a day early, and made it out that afternoon. Our train engine kept over heating and we eventually had the rain behind us re hook all the train cars together and pull the whole lot of us back to Durango. The worst part of it was that the train ran out of beer and alcohol and we sat in our seats dry for two extra hours, we made up for lost time though once we got to Durango. A couple margaritas some food and we were well on our way to recovery. The strangest thing was that I have never eaten so much food and still been so hungry as I was that night.