Chicago Basin

Chicago Basin

05 September 2016

Day 1 :: Purgatory to Chicago Basin + Eolus and North Eolus :: 21 Miles / 7,000′ Gain
Day 2 :: Windom and Sunlight + Chicago Basin to Purgatory :: 22 Miles / 5,000′ Gain

Chicago Basin, my capstone 14er project.

I packed up and started to walk away from the car yesterday morning at 10a. Then it started raining, so I threw my pack in the car and went back to sleep. I figured there was no sense getting wet first thing when it was forecasted to clear up after 3p, which I hoped would allow for some late summits. I finally left at 9a.

The approach to Needleton from Purgatory – including the Animas River Trail – was nice, but I’ll take the train when I go back. Expensive, yes. But I think worth the money to save the miles. Including the approach, I packed in 16 miles to reach Chicago Basin. I beat most of the folks who had taken the train and managed to score a wicked campsite, a wonderful compromise between protection from the elements and an incredible view of the surrounding high country. Oh, how I love a site with a view! Contrary to my usual ultralight backpacking methodology, I brought my Hubba-Hubba tent and a hammock with me expecting that I’d have some down time. Instead, I got back to camp following the Eolus and North Eolus climbs, went straight to bed, and got up early to tag Windom and Sunlight before packing out today. Happy to have the tent, but the hammock was a bit much.

The climb up Windom this morning was freezing. My alarm went off at 235a, as I was originally planning an unnecessarily early alpine start. (I forgot how close I was. This is only the second time I’ve camped rather than climbing peaks from the lower trailheads.) The wind against my tent sounded like smatterings of rain, so I hit snooze for an hour. Good thing, too, since the only layer I brought with me on the climb was a light rain jacket. My hands were numb and I was shivering uncontrollably on the Windom summit for half an hour waiting for the warm sun to crest the distant ridge. Cursing myself for leaving my puffy behind, and at the same time feeling tremendous gratitude that I’d slept in. Coulda been worse.

That’s the thing about this, and many of the “fun” adventures I write about and post photos from, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, many times actually, I’m uncomfortable. But there is never anywhere else I’d rather be. That’s love. So glad I saved these four incredible climbs for last. Eolus and North Eolus were among my absolute favorite of the fourteeners. Class I approach all the way to the saddle, no loose gullies, just solid Class III climbing to the summit. So fun. And Windom and Sunlight were phenomenal as well.

The climb up Sunlight was relatively quick. Tougher than Windom and Eolus, I thought. The summit block is terrifying. In my opinion, the hype isn’t overstated at all. It seems to me that lots of climbers are unfazed by exposure. Not me. I feel loads of fear and anxiety; I just push myself beyond my comfort zone. I was grateful I’d had the foresight to bring my climbing shoes with me. Appreciated the extra grip and probably wouldn’t have topped out without them. Phew, stoked I went for it and glad I’m done.

The weather worked out perfectly for my overnight trip. It was stormy early yesterday, then cleared later in the evening, allowing for my 7p summit of Eolus and North Eolus last night. And today was gorgeous, if cold and a bit windy this morning. Actually, it was windy the whole time I was up there. The windy basin, if you will. The hike out this afternoon was tedious. Gah, shoulda taken the train. I was making great time and decided to stop at the Animas and soak my feet for the better part of half an hour before the last five-ish mile climb to the car. Again, contrary to my usual style. Clutch move, though. Sweet relief.

Four summits in two days, and I had each of them all to myself. Just the way I like it. Feels like a fitting way to end my fourteener project. Thirty two and a half hours, all told. Twenty-five and a half moving time. And much of that with a full pack. With the right weather system, coulda been a 24-hr challenge hike. Ah well, maybe another time. For now, there are other adventures I’d rather pursue.