Friday, July 26, 2013

Chicago Basin, Mt. Eolus, North Eolus (7/25-26/13)


Chicago Basin Ascent (7/25/13)

Needleton Start Time: 11:26am
Camp 2013 Time: 2:17pm
End Time: 2:27pm
Needleton Elevation: 8232 ft.
Camp 2013 Elevation: 10908 ft.
Basin End Elevation: 10980 ft.
Hike Elevation: 3254 ft.
Hike Mileage: 6.25 mi.

All aboard!
Wake-up call was 6am today. We got the car loaded and then grabbed some of the continental breakfast. This Econo Lodge wasn't quite as nice as the one in Montrose, but we at least were able to get cereal and a waffle. After breakfast we drove down to the train station as David wanted to be in place for a 7:30am conference call interview with a job he was looking to get with a small college in his area. So we made it to the train station around 7am and decided to just park in the D&SNGRR lots this time. There was some question about the security of the items in the rocket box as we didn't have lock and key for that, and it would save the longer walk on both ends of the trip from streets with free parking. We carried our big packs into the station and Dad and I grabbed a bench while David did his phone interview.

Always love these views

As we did in 2011 we found interesting people to talk to while we waited in the station. There was an 7:45am train that left first with several hikers on board headed for the Elk Park stop. Dad and I resolved to research that stop more for potential future hikes. After the early train left our train was sitting there and we noticed a few backpackers were starting to load bags early so we moved our bags over their for loading as well. Usually they ask backpackers to be ready half hour early with bags. After loading bags we stood around in the sun warming up before boarding the train. They wanted everyone aboard by 8:30a for our 8:45am departure. We had seats on the left side of the train and ended up getting crammed all three of us into a bench likely meant for two.

The day we came in the Animas had this chocolate milk
look to it because of hard rains the previous days

On the ride up to Needleton we enjoyed the usual sights fro the train and grabbed a few pictures. The highlight was grabbing one of their big hebrew national hot dogs on the wheat buns. Yum. I had one of those and a bag of cheetos and that hit the spot. I was travelling light on the train this year. I only brought a book (Annapurna by Maurice Herzog), my sunglasses, and a gatorade bottle of water. I went short sleeves which was a little chilly when we got started in Durango, but the sun was out the whole way and I was comfy pretty quick. We enjoyed our dogs about 10:30 or so. At about 11:05am one of the conductors started gathering up all the Needleton hikers and progressed us all toward the front of the train. We hit Needleton at promptly 11:15a and a procession of what I guessed 30 hikers hopped off the train.

The usual crowd of mutual help got all the packs off the train and it appeared there was a small crowd of hikers waiting to get back on the train as well. There were 2 fairly large groups of 7-10 people with some younger ones (like age 10-12) amongst the hikers, and several small groups like ours as well. I swapped out my sandles for my trail-runners and stashed my book in my pack and I was ready to go. We were probably in the middle of the pack as we crossed the bridge over the Animas River. We would soon pass most of the groups on the 0.7 mile stretch to the basin ascent. About a mile in we stopped for a snack and drink. As we did so 2 teenage boys started to pass us and we didn't think much of it. Suddenly though a crowd of another 15 or so hikers started processing by as well. We found ourselves logjammed behind quite a crowd and couldn't believe they had caught us. David and I joked it was like the Hillary Step bottlenock on Everest when we were caught behind a train of slow hikers. Thankfully within the next 15 minutes nearly all the hikers that had passed us dropped back and we soon had no one in front of us again. By the time we were half way to the basin we started passing some of the hikers heading out and they confirmed for us we were at the head of the pack now.

Off we go into the wilderness
We would have taken more small stops on the hike up into the basin but at every stop the flies were a major nuisance and it just wasn't fun to stand there. On the other hand it was also sunny and hot and so we really wanted drinks as much as possible. We found a balance of a few quick stops to get what drinks we could until we would reach the basin. It was about 2pm when we hit the lower part of the basin. After passing 10,900 we saw one good camp spot and passed, but upon hitting a 2nd good spot we dropped packs there to check it out. It was certainly a well-used site but David and I wanted to check out more. We headed further into the basin and ended up walking all the way to the first Columbine Pass junction but just didn't see anything but one site that stood out. We didn't go as far as the trees near the Twin Lakes junction. We found a site about 2 tenths up the trail from the initial spot we dropped packs and decided that would be it for us. It had lots of room, good logs to sit on, even had a climbing wall of sorts for us to play on, and it had good creek access.

Almost into the Basin proper
We spent some time putting camp together and sorting through our packs. We then spent some more time at the creek filtering water. We found that the flies that were plague-like on the walk up were a little better at camp, thank the Lord. As we spent time in camp enjoying the peace and quiet we noticed some of the other groups that left the train with us were finally making it to the basin. The first hiker to arrive after us was a single hiker about 20 minutes after us. Other groups were arriving 1, 2, and even 4 hours later. We even saw a rather obese man heading up trail with no pack on and another man seemingly guiding in front of him with a large pack.

David and I had contemplated using some of our extra time to head to Columbine Pass, or if we were really crazy, Jupiter Mountain, but after filtering water decided we would rest in camp. We did take a nice walk up through the grand meadow and towards the upper basin. We took lots of amazing pictures and we checked out the beginnings of the Columbine Pass trail. For supper we ate more of David's MREs. Because we had these along we didn't even take a stove, fuel, pots, or any other eating utensils. That was pretty handy. Only downside was it creates more trash than normal, especially with the fire restrictions in Chicago Basin. After supper we had our first great wildlife sighting in Chicago Basin, a mule deer had wandered near our camp and we watched him/her for a bit until he/she wandered up the hill. Amazingly, we didn't see any of the numerous mountain goats on this first day. We chatted awhile longer and as it began to grow cool quickly we headed to the tent by 8:30 and were asleep not long after.

This is why Chicago Basin may be the most beautiful place on earth

Mt. Eolus / North Eolus (7/26/13)

Camp Start Time: 3:24am
Twin Lakes Stop: 4:44am (10mins)
Catwalk Start: 6:13am
Eolus Summit: 7:07am (39mins)
Catwalk End: 8:37am
Twin Lakes: 9:54am
Camp End Time: 10:54am
Camp 2013 Elevation: 10908 ft.
Mt. Eolus Elevation: 14,083 ft.
North Eolus Elevation: 14,039 ft.
Hike Elevation: 4245 ft.
Hike Mileage: 7.22 mi.

We were up at 3:00am today for our hike up Mt. Eolus. We had slept so well last night, which is a real treat at 11,000 feet, and it was cold out so it was not enticing to get out of the sleeping bags. I was going to be hiking with my Opsrey 18 today as well and I had already compress-sacked my Goretex and really didn't want to have to take it out. I wore my fleece around camp as we prepped to hike. We got our food bags down from the trees to get our snacks for the hike and ate some breakfast before hitting the trail around 3:25am. We made quick work of the trail through the basin and into the ascent out of the basin to Twin Lakes. We didn't see anybody else awake or any other headlamps the entire hike up to Twin Lakes. As we hiked we did warm up finally which was helpful. The near full moon we'd had all week was also a blessing as we could see the peaks around us in silhouette. We hit Twin Lakes in just over 90 minutes which really put us ahead of schedule, as we didn't want to hit the difficult terrain if things were still darker. So we took a 10 minute break to grab snacks and drink. We had been timing our wake-up and summit times based on our 2011 times when David and I moved pretty quickly. As we hit Twin Lakes I started to wonder why we were so early. It hit me that in 2011 we spent 30+ minutes at Twin Lakes on the ascent discussing plans and filtering water. This year we were moving right along.

I knew this would be a good day when the sunrise looked like this
Past the lakes we shortcutted to the trail heading for Eolus and started the grunt into the upper bowl below Eolus' east face. CFI had some of their trail gear in this section and we would later run into some of them on our hike out. There was no snow this year like there was in 2011, so the trail heading towards Eolus and its ramp was fairly easy to follow. It was 5:45am when we finally turned the headlamps off and it was about this time we hit the ramp. The ramp was easy going for us and we made good work of the easy-to-follow trail above the ramp leading toward the green notch. We enjoyed the climb up through the green notch again and remembered it pretty much as we did in 2011.

Climbing up into the green notch

Beautiful alpenglow to help us start the catwalk

We maneuvered carefully along the catwalk and even Dad enjoyed it for his first time. There were just 2 or 3 spots that needed a class 3 move to manage the rock and 2 or 3 spots where it really thinned out for a bit. As we maneuvered the catwalk we started scouting the east face for what seemed like the best route. At the east face we saw our exit point from 2011 but decided to find the "standard" ascent further south on the face. We ended up pretty much finding the spot David and I started at in 2011. I scouted further south along the bottom edge of the face but found nothing better. I then moved all the way back to the catwalk as David started working this section to see where on the face we were starting and it looked good enough. It was still difficult as we remembered it.

Looking up the steep east face
After the initial 20 feet of ascent we got into the ledge system and it was easy going from there. As we worked the ledges up the face we were gradually finding ourselves further and further north on the face. At one point we could see a rib across a gully that we were sure had easier terrain on its south side but just couldn't find a great place to cross the gully. So we ended up traversing further north towards the ridge. This was about 2/3 of the way up the face. One observation we've made is the ledges all slant downwards from north to south and so as you ascend it is naturally and visually easier to tend towards the right/north, even if that may not be the overall easier way. David started climbing the ridge and he liked the climbing though it started to gain some exposure. He opted to follow the ridge to the summit and did while Dad and I sought another route. We ended up finding it pretty quickly. We found some easier scrambling at a diagonal upwards towards the summit and worked this all the way to the summit ridge where we popped out to find David waiting on top for us.

Nearing the summit of Mt. Eolus
We summited at 7:15am and the views were breath-taking. We found ourselves thinking we could just spend all day up there it was such an amazing display of light, clouds, peaks, and everything wonderful. We took ample pictures and when we were about ready to leave we decided to take a few more. We ended up spending almost 40 minutes up there. I led us on the way down and we found the cairned gully just south of the summit that David and I had ascended and descended in 2011. This had a few difficult moves to get started into but then the route down opens up pretty well.

Countless amazing summit views
We worked the ledges and found easy spots to descend down through the middle of the east face, gradually working a little northward. As we neared the bottom we spotted the steep opening that we had used as our entry point. It was also here I spotted a clear and easy ledge running northward. I was certain this was the ledge David and I used to exit in 2011 and so I followed it. Sure enough it ran almost to the ridge and I found the exit point we wanted. It had 2 or 3 difficult moves but was a good exit point and soon we found ourselves off the face. This would really be a great starting point as well if you could get onto the green ledge and head south to the center of the face.

Descending the steep east face

Right After Cat Walk Beginning Ledges (video credit: David)
Cat Walk (video credit: David)
Cat Walk Exposure (video credit: David)

We worked back to the catwalk and ran into a single climber with a mountain rescue patch. We gave him some beta and he moved on. We saw him ascending quite well on the face and onto the ridge much as David had done. We then ran into another group of 4 and gave them some tips. They indeed used our exit point near the ridge to get started and later we saw them on the summit as well. We worked the return on the catwalk well and soon found ourselves back at the green notch. We were doing well on time so we all decided to go for North Eolus. Its a somewhat narrow but very solid rock scramble up the ridge and within about 15 minutes we topped out. The rock up North Eolus is actually quite fun, though without gloves it has moments of feeling razor sharp on the hands. It had a few steep sections but we worked our way through without trouble. On North Eolus we grabbed a few pictures again and started down.

Ascending the short and sharp ridge to North Eolus
The descent down the ridge was no trouble and then we had a decision. Do we descend the green notch or do we work down the obvious slabs below North Eolus as David and I did in 2011. We opted for the slabs. We saw another group of 6 or 7 heading up towards the green notch so part of our decision was to stay out of their way. The descent through the slabs goes carefully and we made it back down to the simpler terrain. Its at this point you almost feel home free. The only difficult terrain remaining is the ramp. We took a quick snack and drink before descending the ramp and then I went first to grab video of the other two as they came down. The ramp this year was mostly dry and it was fairly easy, though careful, work to go through.

Dad descending the Eolus ramp
Below the ramp we worked quickly through the steep terrain to get out of the bowl. We ran into a handful of other groups still going up, some with hikers who we weren't too sure knew where they were going up there. It was 9:30am when we ran into the last group heading up and we were concerned about their ability to summit in a good time. We were back to Twin Lakes by 9:55am and on our way down to camp. There was some concern as to whether we would reach camp in time to have ample time to tear down, filter water, and hike out. We discussed having David or I move more quickly ahead to start camp tear down but opted to stick together.

On the trail back down to Twin Lakes
As the descent down from Twin Lakes progressed we found ourselves making great time. We were doing so well we let David hop off the trail down by the first creek crossing to check out some mine tailings and a supposed mine. He ended up finding the opening and walked back in there 150 feet exploring it. Meanwhile Dad and I progressed further down the descent. We were at the far end of the 2nd set of slabs when we finally saw David coming down from the mine. As we made it back into the grand meadow in Chicago Basin we couldn't help again but stop and take pictures every few minutes. We ended up hitting camp at 10:54am which would be a sub hour descent from Twin Lakes.

Beautiful Chicago Basin views

Chicago Basin Descent (7/26/13)

Camp 2013 Start Time: 11:54am
Needleton End Time: 3:03pm (+2 10min rain delays)
Camp 2013 Elevation: 10908 ft.
Needleton Elevation: 8232 ft.
Hike Elevation: -3049 ft.
Hike Mileage: 5.77 mi.

At camp we rested and snack for a bit since we were running early on time. We then split up duties with me taking in-tent duty of rolling everything up while Dad and David took water filter duty. During this time the mountain goats made their first appearance at camp to check things out. For the most part they left us alone, they were mostly interested in finding any place we had relieved ourselves to lick up the salts. When round 1 of duties was complete we noticed darker clouds rolling in so we rushed to get the tent down before any rain could get started. We got our packs done up and snacks and water situated for the long hike out and were able to hit the trail out of Chicago Basin about 10 minutes til noon.

Chicago Basin resident
It wasn't long after we got started that we got some drizzle on us and even heard thunder. The drizzle got stronger and we ended up halting under some trees to get out of the shower for about 10 minutes. As it stopped we proceeded on. That storm seemed to pass and we had sun for awhile until another shower moved in and we got more drizzle. As we descended we kept expecting to run into the 11:15 Durango train hikers but it wasn't until almost 1:30pm when we finally did. No speed demons on that train apparently. Once we did meet the first hikers they came in bunches and in all we counted 23 hikers coming up, 1 from Purgatory.

/Almost there!
When we finally neared the bottom of the basin we got one more shower that started to come down hard. It hit us as we passed the sign boards for the Weminuche Wilderness and Chicago Basin. So we took cover for another 10 minutes to attempt to stay dry. When that final shower passed we made our final hiking out to the bridge over the Animas and Needleton. Even with the stopping for rain we still made Needleton just before 3pm. We dropped packs and found some rocks to sit on in the shade as the sun had returned. I took trail runners off and went to sandles again for comfort and grabbed my book for the train. We kept our gear ready with hopes of potentially hopping on the early 3:35pm train. Sure enough, when that train arrived they unloaded a handful of hikers, including our friend Paco who we hiked Kilpacker Basin with on Wednesday. We asked a conductor if they had open seats, even though we were reserved for the 4:05pm, and he said they had plenty. We tossed our backpacks in the luggage car and hopped on the train. We found a number of open seats in a gondola car and actually had more room now than we did on the ride up from Durango. We hit the concessions car for the first round of beers and grabbed a Durango Dark Lager which was quite tasty.

When we went for round 2 we were anxious for more of their excellent hebrew national hot dogs, but much to our dismay were told the hikers who were dropped at Needleton had already eaten them all. Drats. So we enjoyed a 2nd round of Durango beer and a big bag of popcorn and relaxed for the rest of the train ride out.


The entire track of the Chicago Basin/Mt. Eolus/North Eolus hike is available here as well as several waypoints from the hike.

My Track


All of the photos from this hike are in the Picasa slideshow embedded here. If you click through you can see them in full-size and browse them easier on the Picasa side:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts