Peak(s):  Mt. Eolus  -  14,087 feet
North Eolus  -  14,042 feet
Date Posted:  07/29/2010
Modified:  04/12/2021
Date Climbed:   07/21/2010
Author:  KeithK
Additional Members:   bergsteigen
 Into the Unknown   

Mt. Eolus (14,083'), North Eolus (14,039')

July 21, 2010
Route: Northeast Ridge (standard)
Elevation Gain: ~3000'
Mileage: ~5.7
Partner in the clouds... Otina (bergsteigen)

The idea of climbing all of Colorado's fourteen-thousand foot peaks was nothing but a novelty for me just three short years ago, a sort of lofty goal that I entertained more as a muse than a serious endeavor. As the momentum of accomplishment has burgeoned over time, my perspective has changed tremendously, and the reality of becoming a "14er Finisher" has taken focus this summer, manifesting into a challenge of its very own, the logistics and planning of the climbs being nearly as strenuous and stressful as the climbs themselves.
On the heels of a marathon weekend at Navajo Lake, feeling beaten and battered, a trip into Chicago Basin seemed intimidating at best, but the only logical way to proceed along the path of completion. Otina and I had set this plan in stone months ago, and as the day arrived, my body freed my mind for at least a few minutes to relish in what we were about to execute. I don't believe any of us had thought the Wilson Group would take so much, setting a solemn, almost gloomy mood for the days to follow. At least that's how I was feeling. A day of rest in Durango seemed all too short, and as we waited for our delayed steam-driven locomotive, I wanted nothing more than to be off of my feet. I felt good about my preparation, though, and my normally heavy backpack was about as light as I could possibly imagine, after a thorough and discriminating inventory eliminated at least a few pounds of unnecessary cargo. The extended wait for our train began to border on excruciating, when finally the announcement was made and we were unleashed to our coach to embark upon perhaps the most anticipated of all of my Fourteener trips.

The tourist in me...

A stop along the gorgeous Animas River, allowing people with inflatable boats to recreate...

This most unique mode of transport chugs and churns its way through the town of Durango and into the Animas River valley, as various staff regale the rider with stories of the history of the area, the geology of the surroundings, and most importantly, the significance of the train itself. I enjoyed the opportunity to simply relax and listen, playing tourist for a couple of brief hours. So much of climbing the Fourteeners involves wind sprints to trailheads far and wide, the stress of driving unfamiliar roads and meticulous direction following, always fraught with the potential of forgetting this, that or the other. On this trip, it was all in. We had stowed our packs on the cargo car, and that was that. There was no more control, we were committed to the trek ahead and all that was left was to ride on the train until they would tell us to get off. I found it refreshing.

The hike in to Chicago Basin is long... but pretty amazing. Maybe the nicest approach hike I've ever experienced...

For over six miles we would hike along one of the best trails I've had the pleasure of treading upon. The elevation gain is mostly gradual, and the hike is so pleasant that the miles go by very quickly. Views of Needle Creek along the lower half of the drainage are astounding, where inviting deep pools of green pour over huge slabs and boulders into the next potential swimming hole. We shared the trail with several other groups, including a large group of Texas Boy Scouts, decked out in custom made synthetic shirts commemorating their annual adventure outing. Another large group, comprised of what appeared to be urban kids with a few adult chaperones, announced Louisiana as their home state, and took frequent breaks along the way. Halfway in, we were more than amused as all of the adults were carrying two packs each, as some of the kids had decided that enough was enough. I thought it was cool that these groups were committing to this backcountry experience.

We followed the trail all the way to the east end of the basin, looking for a campsite in close proximity to the Twin Lakes Trail junction. Not seeing what we thought we might, we eventually settled onto a reasonably convenient site a hundred yards or so south of Needle Creek, with decent shelter from the impending thunderstorms. On the heels of a hot dinner, we made our plan for an early morning, and retired to the confines of our respective sleeping arrangements. The rain would soon follow...

"Ta tat, ta tat, ta tat." Raindrops hitting the tent at 2:15 a.m., not a sound I wanted to hear. They were inconsistent, though, and I soon realized that I was hearing droplets falling from the tree above, and roused myself to take a closer look. Sure enough, it was not raining any longer, but the pitch black of the morning sky would not indicate just exactly what might be in store. I alerted Otina to the charade of the tree effect, and we were soon up and moving, backtracking to the Twin Lakes Trail and beginning the initial challenge of the day, over a thousand feet of fairly steep trail, crossing over confusing rock slabs and winding along the sometimes roaring, sometimes purring streams that form Needle Creek below the Twin Lakes headwall. Good steps provide efficient progress, though, and we were nearly upon the lower lake before I realized that we'd breached the crest, as Otina scanned for the Eolus trail on the other side of the outlet. I was fairly disoriented at this point, as the spires of ridgeline that frame the entire area soared above in nearly all directions. What I thought was Eolus was actually something else, and the scope of the place nearly made me dizzy. Otina looked at me quizzically as I remarked that I didn't know where I was. It was true; I was taken completely off guard by these surroundings.

It looks like it's going to be a great day!

Otina approaches the ramp that leads to the bench below North Eolus...

Running out of steam and more than a few minutes behind, I was awarded this view of the same area...

I was feeling weak. Not sick, not exhausted, just lacking energy in general. I attributed my lethargy to a lack of protein with dinner the night before, and began to munch on a Honey Stinger Bar out of desperation, not with any real hunger or enthusiasm. Still, the snack began to work its magic, and I finally began to hike with some sort of purpose, as a concerned Otina was well ahead of me by now. She was clearly feeling the weather, and worried about our prospects once upon the infamous Catwalk, and even worse, the slanted, dirt covered ledges on the face of Mt. Eolus. Sudden cloud had erased any hope of a sun-drenched peak, and it became an eerie, quiet climb, as the mountains disappeared, only a few yards of the closest terrain to be seen. I met Otina at the base of the ridge, and we administered helmets in preparation of the fun ahead. Staring straight up the slope, the narrow crack that leads to the saddle between Mt. Eolus and North Eolus looked easy enough, and I began to follow Otina up. She had no problem negotiating the obstacle, but advised me to stay lower and find my way up on the slabs to the right. Do you think I listened? With my pack stuck in the crack, I nearly lost my footing, but somehow managed to muscle my way up, through and out, panting and gasping as I joined Otina on the ridge. I think she was really wondering about my mental state this morning, and so was I. Things just seemed odd, even confusing, but I was somehow completely in control, and now staring at the feature I'd been thinking about for months, the Catwalk.

Careful, deliberate movements required here...

The Catwalk was surreal, and fun! To the north was a yawning abyss of nothing, and there wasn't much more to be found to the south, but directly ahead lay solid rock, fairly wide in most places, with only a spot or two of indecision. A slanted slab caught our attention first, and a three foot tall block required a bit of rock hugging towards the end. I found no shame in crawling onto this rock on my belly, as there was little in the way of alternative. It was invigorating. Attaining the base of Eolus, we began down the obvious ledge that leads to the route of the face, taking little time to find the only logical entry point. Cairns began to beckon, and the climbing commenced. I found the initial twenty or thirty vertical feet to be the most challenging, and steepest, on the entire route. Otherwise, we weaved along the ledges, always looking for the easiest passage to the next. Otina went right, I went left, and we somehow managed to still meet right in the middle. I thought it was the most fun I'd had on a Fourteener, kind of a Wetterhorn Peak on steroids, with good, sustained ledge climbing, and only occasional, and mostly avoidable, exposure. Otina found the best way up, and disappeared over the horizon, while I continued to find lines that were probably more challenging than they needed to be, but I didn't mind. I was having a blast playing in the clouds!

A happy summit!

Unfortunately, the collateral damage of the clouds would not be realized at the time, but a distinct lack of photo taking is now apparent. The ledges were just muddy enough to demand full concentration, and my camera stayed tucked away, missing much of the adventure. Still, sitting on that summit was purely satisfying to me, and I relished it. These last few mountains had made me work hard, and I felt that I was earning each and every summit. After sufficient time to allow Otina's SPOT to announce our safety, we began to descend, dropping from rock to rock, and ledge to ledge. I was still having fun.

Dropping off of the summit...

That kinda looks steep...

Back across the Catwalk...

The traverse along the Catwalk was just as easy as the first time, and we wasted no time in dropping our packs and heading for North Eolus. It's remarkably different than Eolus, with broad, coarse slabs replacing the blockier, more talus like rock of the ranked peak. Gaining the south ridge was the crux of the effort, and then it was an easy stroll up the slabs onto the summit. Views finally beginning to emerge, we spent twenty minutes relaxing before working our way back down. Reaching the saddle, Murphy's door opened wide, and the clouds began to lift, revealing spectacular peaks in every direction. We finally got a taste of the heart of the San Juans.

Climbing North Eolus...

Otina greets me at the summit...

Sunlight and Windom really ARE over there! (image by Otina)

We took our time descending, enjoying sporadic sunshine and the vistas afforded by the clearing skies. The wildflowers along the Eolus trail formed a carpet of red, yellow and green, and marmots were witnessed playing and even fighting. It was a nice day to be hiking high above the rest of the world, as most were in their cubicles or toiling at their jobs. We were on vacation.

A look at the convoluted glory of my new favorite 14er... (image by Otina)

Walking through the garden... (image by Otina)

None shall pass!

A slight route finding mishap marred an otherwise exceptional descent, and I arrived back at our camp a few (45?) minutes later than Otina. It seems that some social trails can lure the unsuspecting hiker astray around the slabby areas of the lower Twin Lakes Trail, leading to comical misadventure. And goat encounters. I found that to be an acceptable reward for my confusion. There was still time to spare before the expected afternoon thunderstorms, time to soak feet in the creek, cook and eat, and enjoy the incredible Chicago Basin. At least for a few hours, before it would be time to set out again, seeking what might turn out to be even more thrilling summits...

Sunlight Peak, waiting for us... (image by Otina)

He's looking at me like I'm lost!

I love this place...

Comments or Questions
Awesome Photos!!
07/30/2010 04:30
Wow Keith that is an amazing trip report. I always enjoy reading your TR's since you share your experience so honestly. I have always heard just how beautiful that basin is but your pictures really drive that point home.

Great TR
07/30/2010 05:00
Those are some of the best quality photos I've seen. We're heading there a week from tomorrow so thanks for the TR.

07/30/2010 13:20
Sweet pics Keith. What an awesome experience!

Exiled Michigander
What a blast!
07/30/2010 16:55
This looks like so much fun! Thanks for the great report and photos. The fog of the clouds actually produced some really neat pictures, and it also gives you a reason to do this again on a clear day. I'm pumped to do this now, but I think it will have to wait until next summer.

07/30/2010 17:04
What an amazing experience. Exceptional photos! I am going there next week and hope to have an awesome experience. What a godly place!

Great Photos
07/30/2010 17:14
Awesome TR - what kind of camera are you using? I am looking at upgrading and right now slagbottom's Canon Rebel Si is the leader in the clubhouse!

Thanks for a good trip!
07/30/2010 19:06
Your write-up is a lot more interesting than what I would have come up with, miffed at all the clouds! I rather dislike cloudy summits So many views that I wanted to see of the neighboring 13ers.

The camera used for ~half the photos is a canon S90. A powerful P&S with fully manual capabilities.

know where you're coming from
07/30/2010 22:15
Our first attempt at Eolus was also made in cloaking clouds; congrats on finding the Catwalk anyway. Interesting that we also made the same route-finding mistake on the way down; there's an amazingly confusing trail junction!

Great account
07/31/2010 02:31
The clouds may have been frustrating in some ways, but those pics of the misty catwalk are awesome. And the most glorious approach photos I have ever seen.
Great writeup, as always. I especially like ”convoluted glory.” Nice phrase, wish I'd thought of it. Maybe I can plagiarize it somewhere else.

Great pics
07/31/2010 05:00
That goat is looking pretty scraggly. Never seen one patched quite like that.

Very nice report
08/02/2010 23:23
I will be there late this week. Your report is very well done to make me feel like it's still possible even with all the rain.

08/09/2010 03:17
Excellent TR Keith - heading there next weekend with a group of 6. Your BETA will help quite a bit.

Thanks everyone!
08/09/2010 03:21
Eolus is now my favorite 14er, I just loved the Catwalk and climbing those ledges.
Rob, be sure to check out my report on Sunlight/Windom as well, and best of luck. I hope the weather cooperates, that place is amazing!

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