A few weekends ago Dan and I headed to the Chicago Basin area of Colorado for a four-day fun-filled trip that included hiking three 14ers, 4 AM starts under a blue moon, and dodging mountain goats. What more is there in life?
We had been looking forward to this trip since we heard about it last summer.
We drove the 6 hours to Durango, fueled with wide-eyed excitement and Pringles (all healthy eating seems to go out the window on these trips..). In the morning we hopped on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge train to journey to Needleton, only accessible by train. A coal-fired train like in old times!
We were treated to 2.5 hours of spectacular views of the Animas River, the same one that was a devastating orange a few weeks prior thanks to the accidental release of mine waste. Any who, the river was its natural shade and it was worth sitting in the open car to take it all in. And by take it all in I mean face/lung-fulls of ash from the coal puffs.
The train dropped us off in Needleton with about 15 other backpackers. Here we are at the start
We backpacked 6 miles in and gained 2,800 ft of elevation to arrive in Chicago Basin. It was humid and started to rain by the end. I thought I would just push through and not put on any additional clothing like the rain jacket I schlepped up, and experienced a Raynaud’s-like episode of white/numb/tingly hands for an hour.
We found an awesome campsite, cooked dinner at about 4 PM and fell asleep at 7 PM. I’m a fountain of energy.
The next morning we woke up at 5 AM, ate a quick breakfast and downed some coffee. We started the hike up Sunlight Peak in the dark and were shortly treated to a beautiful sunrise.
About an hour or so into the hike we arrived at Twin Lakes. After passing the gigantic cairns and picking our way slowly over the loose section of the hike, we gained the ridge just as the sun started to shine and warm things up. Then it was a fun scramble to the top with some Class 4 moves.
And at the top awaited the infamous summit block. The 14ers we’ve done so far haven’t really had a summit block, i.e. a high point that makes you dizzy to stand on because of the exposure. It was pretty windy too.
Dan sat on top of it, I did a beached whale sort of thing.
We talked with two other guys that came up right behind us. The one that took this picture also took a very close up picture of his smiling face. Well played.
We made our way down to the ridge then started our ascent of Windom Peak, the second mountain of the day. This was a fun, blocky ascent that provided awesome views off of the back.
Then it was a hungry descent back to camp for lunch. The rest of the day was spent eating, rehydrating, and reading. I’m re-reading the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb, my favorite series IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.
The next morning we woke up even earlier, the first number of the time started with a 4. We wanted to hike Mt. Eolus and North Eolus, then backpack all the way back to the train that was to come at 3:30 PM. We got to hike under the blue moon, which lit up the entire valley and put a smile on my face. As we hiked in the dark we saw the bobbing headlamps of fellow hikers in front and in back of us.
At last, we made the turn to start the approach up Mt. Eolus. We noticed that low-lying clouds were starting to roll in through the valley. We had been a bit worried about the weather forecast leading up to this day because the ascent of Mt. Eolus involves a somewhat exposed catwalk that could range from unpleasant to terrifying in weather. Maybe it was a good thing that I couldn’t see down on either side of the catwalk, I didn’t feel as nervous as I thought I would.
The catwalk proved to be pretty thrilling, as was the scrambling to the top. Zero views, but still happy.
Then it was back across the catwalk. The clouds were starting to clear.
And up North Eolus, not technically on the 14er list because it’s prominence is less than 300 feet. But well worth the jaunt because the clouds parted and the views were the best of the trip.
Then it was back down for some lake staring
And mountain goats
A long trip back down awaited us. The train ride wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the first one, we were so hungry and sick of sugary bars and gels. Boohoo. Somewhat fixed with a trip to Steamworks Brewing Company in Durango. The Conductor IPA was excellent.