Peak(s):  Leviathan Peak  -  13,528 feet
Vallecito Mountain  -  13,428 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,089 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,061 feet
Knife Point  -  13,265 feet
Date Posted:  08/20/2016
Date Climbed:   07/20/2016
Author:  wombat
 Sunlight Basin Escapade   

For this trip we heavily relied on the three part "Lost in the Weminuche" trip reports from Floyd, Chicago Transplant, and Papillon- Thank you.

Initially we planned on starting our trip from offroad access to Hunchback. However, while driving up from El Paso a cursory weather check revealed rainy conditions IVO Silverton. Silverton to Kite Lake takes 1.5 hours in dry weather, and we had little interest in exposed, sleepless four wheeling in wet weather on muddy switchbacks. Tired of driving through the night, and in need of a prehike nap, we opted to take the closest locomotive free option"Vallecito Campground.

Day 1- Hike in

We awoke from our nap and worked our way up the Vallecito trail, talking along part of the way with another climber working his way up to Sunlight Lake. 12.2 miles later we approached the Sunlight Creek drainage. A costly mistake of starting on the S side of Sunlight Creek cost us at least an hour and a myriad of scratches from 8' high brush. My mistake was due to relying on Rosebrough's 30-year-old trail description and a false assumption that the trail would be minimal. Finally running out of options and getting choked out by the first waterfall, we struggled to gain the North side of the creek and the small aspen trees. We found a well-defined and cairned trail where even fallen trees were cut. Later we slogged up the wrong side of the big headwall then losing the trail again we attempted and failed to climb directly to Sunlight Lake over the waterfall that meets the lake. With heavy thunderstorms forming over the Oso group we made the saddening decision to set up camp 500 meters shy of the lake.

Slightly North of the correct trail in a meadow to the Southeast of Jagged

Correct Route"About 12.2 miles along Vallecito trail cut left at meadow and find a nice parallel trail between the creek and the main trail. Ford Vallecito south of confluence with Sunlight. Turn North and cross Sunlight Creek- Cut west on well defined trail. Climb through slightly constricting aspen groves into pine forests. About two miles in, ford a calm part of the creek to South. Continue West. At confluence with tributary fed from southern lake, fight through the overgrowth. The trail was overgrown here, but patiently look for minimal pink trail tape (present as of this writing). Past the overgrowth and tributary stream, work up switchbacks on headwall. West of headwall, the trail crosses the creek again to the north. The trail goes directly north of Sunlight Lake (a couple small camping spots in route) before cutting south to the lake. Alternatively a trail also cuts North in this area to the Jagged-12890 Saddle.

Day 2- Move camp 500m, Hike Leviathan and Vallecito

The next morning we moved our camp to Sunlight Lake"surprisingly there was another tent. The lake is large and vegetated enough that its southern side could support five campsites completely out of view of each other. We quickly set our tent and embarked for the Jagged-12890 saddle.

Campsite photo taken later that afternoon.

Taking the advice from aforementioned trip report we stayed to the right, employed easy grass ledges, and topped out at the low point placing us directly across Vallecito Mountain.

Nearing Jagged-12890 saddle and looking back at Sunlight Lake area

We worked our way towards Leviathan's SW ridge. No need for Leviathan beta ad nauseam"just stay slightly to the left (North) of ridge until after false summit before gaining the ridgeline.

Leviathan lake from Leviathan Mountain

Descending Leviathan we attempted a traverse towards Vallecito saddle on the South of the ridgeline. Hopping between exposed thin grass ledges back to the ridgeline and to the Vallecito Saddle took forever"we should have just taken the notch gully down.

Ridge line to Vallecito, We opted to drop slightly lower and traverse grass ledges to saddle.

Vallecito was unfortunately furnished with looser rock than its western counterpart. Again, we stayed just left (North) or on the ridgeline and slogged our way up to the summit. On the way down, we took the ridge for ~200m, but seeking to avoid the lower loose part of the ridgeline we bee lined it straight SW to the lower of Jagged's lakes. I am confident that it would be a completely feasible and time saving endeavor to approach the Vallecito summit straight up the SW slope from the lake, connecting with the ridge line ~100m West of the summit.

After taking a straight shot off of Vallecito ridgeline due South, we are at Jagged's lower (Eastern lake)

We returned to camp with ample time for some fishing. I got my peaks, my brother got his fish, and the fish was returned to the lake"we were all excited to be alive. We also reconnected with our newfound friend from the Vallecito trail. Now there were five people and three tents at the lake. We attempted to bed down early for the heart of our trip the next day.

"Don't worry just a quick pose and we will put you back"

Day 3- Hike Windom, Sunlight, and Knife Point

From Sunlight Lake an optimal route to the Windom-Sunlight Spire saddle saves a lot of up and down. Gain shelf E of Sunlight Lake. Follow ridgeline (some cairns) up to higher lake. We traversed lake counterclockwise using high grass ledges when needed. After climbing the right of the cliff band above lake, we were able to kick steps in the soft snow almost all the way up to the Windom-Sunlight Spire saddle. The snow probably saved us at least 45 minutes of talus hopping and scree slippage.

Path to Windom-Sunlight Spire Saddle from SW side of large lake above Sunlight Lake.

Kind snow.

Looking back down at lake from which we came.

After saddle we traversed left (South) attempting to find a suitable gully up to Windom. We chose the third or fourth gully over from the saddle but shy of the main trail. After some Class 3+ with loose scree, we found the summit ridgeline and achieved the high point.

Windom's main trail back was fun and solid. Dead reckoners as we are, we opted to take the loose gully off Windom's ridge notch and kicked straight for the grass ledges that intersect Sunlight's main trail. This saved maybe ten minutes but on hindsight, I would have just stayed on the ridge till the saddle, because it would have been far more enjoyable. After reaching the main Sunlight trail we busted out our hiking poles under advisement of a returning climber and made it up to the Sunlight-Spire saddle (hiking poles=great call). We summited Sunlight and I climbed the summit block.


On our way down we encountered an interesting time saving proposition. The gully NE of Sunlight-Sunlight Spire is loose and steep, yet short, and would plant us right in snow and talus after ~300 ft. of quick altitude loss. Not to mention, it would put us on the top shelf SW of Sunlight Lake, preclude a 45-minute slog back to the Windom saddle, eliminate sliding down steep snow terminating in talus fields, and form a nice loop. The only con was the uncertainty beyond line of site. Confident we could make our way back up if needed, we donned our helmets and started leapfrogging each other down the gully.

Steep way down, Sunlight-Sunlight Spire Saddle

Half way to the talus slopes.

During this endeavor, auditory cues revealed that a climber summited Sunlight, because he bellowed about six deafening screams. (Perhaps some may feel the need for an obligatory yell- but seriously.... six? About eight people had already achieved Sunlight that morning with no fanfare.) We made our way down the gully, past the talus, and to a small tarn. We turned NW and followed grass ledges down, sufficiently prodded by the pelting of light hail. Once we reached the bottom of this shelf, the weather cleared. Still one shelf above Sunlight Lake and blue skies appearing, we decided to make our way North to Knife Point.

From the tarn E of Knife Point it is too easy to bust out the hiking poles and slog the way up the grassy slopes. I don't think there is anywhere faster to gain 800 feet of altitude, build your calf muscles, and boost your cardio. It would be easier to traverse diagonally up the hill from the S point of the tarn rather than straight up.

Peak 10 from Tarn East of Knife Point.

From Left side of lake could side slope to right side rocks and then up to summit.

We intersected the ridge trail from pk 10 saddle, and made our way up the summit. I used my hands twice. From Knife Point we returned to camp. A snagged lure quickly ruled out any chance of catching fish that night.

Goats, Jagged in Background

Day 4- Hike Out

That morning we bid our fellow campers adieu and made our way out of Sunlight Basin.

Nothing interesting to report during the return except for constant kicking our past selves for losing the trail in obvious spots on the way up.

On hike back stopped by apparent mining probe/ cave looking back to 12890.

After hiking for a couple days, the utility of taking off boots for Vallecito Creek ford was deemed minimal. We powered through the ~17 miles and returned to the truck. Aided by two Monsters, Steve was kind enough to drive the lion's share back to El Paso.

Thanks for reading!


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Cool report!
08/20/2016 17:18
Nice work. I bet quite a few people are going to be quite interested in your route up Sunlight drainage! It seems people have had some pretty miserable experiences.

nice pics
08/20/2016 17:43
thanks for sharing

Thanks for the beta on Sunlight Creek
08/20/2016 17:54
I plan to try that approach next summer, starting at Hunchback Pass instead of Vallecito Campground.

Very nice
08/21/2016 23:36
I want to keep this one handy as I prepare some trips to that part of the basin. Good work!

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