Peak(s):  Mt. Eolus  -  14,087 feet
North Eolus  -  14,042 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,061 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,089 feet
Date Posted:  02/05/2018
Modified:  03/09/2022
Date Climbed:   02/05/2018
Author:  SnowAlien
 Chicago Basin 14ers in winter 2018   

Chicago Basin 14ers (Eolus, N. Eolus, Sunlight & Windom)

February 2th-6th, 2018


As my list of remaining peaks in winter had dwindled to just 7 peaks, I was pretty excited for winter'18. But as it turned out to be a very low snow year, my excitement quickly subsided. With multiple training hikes and a hut trip to Janet's hut in December I was ready, but the winter hasn't arrived. I ended up hiking some 13ers in San Juans over New Years and wasn't stoked on so-called "green" snow conditions either - there was a lot of whoomphing and cracking. There was a couple of small storms providing coverage for resort skiing, so that's what I did.

Besides, making an attempt at Chicago Basin 14ers in winter was a logistical nightmare. My workload significantly increased in winter, and while I could take 2, even 3 days for a 14er, I didn't even know how to bring up the matter of taking an entire week off in the middle of winter. So when I got an email from the boss that our office will be closed on February 5&6 for maintenance, I interpreted it as nudge that I needed to consider the trip. I frantically started doing the math - could I do it in 5 days? how's the weather? how's the avy conditions? any partner availability? Weather and avy conditions actually looked pretty good, there was more snow in San Juans than in late December, but no partners were to be found at the last minute notice (many people had already hiked the peaks earlier that winter, in drier conditions). Somehow I couldn't think of anything else to do with my time and bought a one-way train ticket to Cascade. I wouldn't have time to wait for the train on the way out, but with the tame avy conditions, the Purgatory exit should still be a viable option (typically, not an option on a big snow year).

I had to work on Thursday until 9pm, but needed to catch the 9am train in Durango the next day. I left right after work and drove through the night, taking a couple of naps on the way, arriving just in time to throw a bunch of last-minute stuff on my huge overnight pack, grab the skis and catch the train. Tried, but failed to take a nap on the train. Other passengers looked at me in bewilderment as I staggered under my heavy load at Cascade - where are you going with your skis, they asked. There was not a speck of snow to be found nearby. The snow actually started pretty soon, as I took the Animas river trail to Needleton, but it was ankle deep, so I just kept hiking in my ski boots and carrying skis. Finally by Needleton there was enough snow to start skinning. I was getting pretty tired and snow was heavy and gloppy. After a couple hours on the trail, I called it a day at dusk.

Animas river trail
Bridge near Needleton
7 miles in

I woke up early next morning and was on the trail before 7am. I was about 3-4 miles away from Chicago Basin and I was hoping that maybe I could get one of the peaks done. I got to camp around 11am, and decided to keep going. Alas, in less than a mile, the long approach and lack of sleep caught up to me. I went back to tent and ended up taking it easy for the remainder of the day. I was a little stressed, because I didn't have any buffer days left. The approach took me 2 days!

Arriving in Chicago Basin

Eolus & North Eolus - 02.04.18

By next morning, I was mostly recovered and started out towards Twin lakes by 6 am. I heard that Eolus was more challenging in winter, so I decided to start with it. Snowpack was thin, but I ended up skinning to about 13k where ice fields stopped my progress. I stashed the skis and switched to crampons. Booting was a bit laborious, so finally around 11.30 am I got to North Eolus. This was a huge boost for my morale. Eolus looked incredibly intimidating. With low snowpack, I thought that maybe the summer route was an option - but nope. Snow was very unconsolidated and even deep in spots, so I had to stick to the ridge. Slow and steady I made the summit by 1.30 pm. The wind really picked up on the descent, so I had to be very careful on the ridge. Ski down back to camp was the worst skiing I've ever had, however I made it in one piece. Back in the tent by 5pm.

Approach to Eolus
Sunlight & Windom
North Eolus
Eolus from catwalk
On the ridge
the ridge
On the descent

Sunlight & Wyndom - 02.05.18

Even earlier start the next day and I was skinning back up to Twin Lakes by 4.30 am. My legs were definitely feeling it. The approach to the snow gully on Sunlight looked pretty rocky, so I decided to stash the skis. Not sure it was good decision, because it immediately became a posthole fest. Snow was unconsolidated and I kept punching between rocks. The snow gully actually wasn't bad. The dry summit block was a challenge - I wasn't sure I could do it in my TLT5s, but they delivered. I jammed the crack in ski boots, and tagged the summit at 10.30 am. Getting low on energy, but definitely motivated, I retraced my steps down Sunlight and made my way up Windom. The ridge seemed endless, but less difficult than the other peaks. Made Windom @2pm, and lingered on the summit for an hour to take it all in and also to make good use of the cell service. Back to camp by 6pm, but nervous about the deproach, decided to start the ski out in the dark. I also tried to get ahead of the storm (checked the forecast on the summit), but skiing when it's snowing and very tired was disorienting, so I stopped after a few miles.

Sunlight & Windom
Look back at Eoluses
Jamming the crack in Dynafit TLT5s
Look down from the summit block
Heading up Windom
Windom summit
On the descent

Woke up to several inches of new snow, and started the long ski/hike out. I was able to ski down to Needleton (way better in daylight), but then had to shoulder the skis for the hike back to Cascade. As it was dry, I switched to the hiking boots, but found them slippery. Back to the ski boots. The last few miles were snowy and uphill, had to start skinning again and it felt endless. A couple miles away from Purgatory TH (minutes before the battery died), I managed to send a Delorme message to Shawn, and he was kind enough to meet me there and give me a ride back to my car parked in Durango. I made it to Pagosa springs before falling asleep and finished the drive the next morning, before heading to work in the afternoon. This was one beast of a trip!

On the ski out
Heavy load
Animas crossing near Cascade
Snowy & exposed Purgatory trail at dusk

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

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