For the final leg of our vacation in the San Jauns, we made our way over to Chicago Basin. We took the 4×4 Ophir Pass route over to the small mining town of Silverton in the morning and checked in at the railroad station to get our tickets.
The plan was to take the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to our drop-off at Needleton bridge. I should mention that it didn’t take long for the brakemen to point out that all the wait was in my backpack when he was loading our gear.
The ride in was beautiful and it was pretty fun considering the railroad still uses authentic steam engines.
After about an hour ride, we came to our destination and the conductor signaled to us that we were there. It was a little eerie being the only two dropped off at a deserted bridge, but I was excited to get going. It was clear that weather was going to be an issue.
We made it about 3 miles in before the sky opened up and it stormed pretty hard. Luckily, it passed fairly quick and we waited it out under some thick trees. Another 3 miles, and we made it up to the basin. There were lots of other backpackers, including a troop of boy-scouts and a very wet camp. We took a while to find a site and decided on one across a creek in the trees.
Sunlight (14,059′) and Windom (14,082′) Peaks
The next morning, we were up bright and early around 5. We knew we had to get off early since afternoon thunderstorms were inevitable. From our campsite, we had to hike up to Twin Lakes, and then further up to Sunlight, our first 14er. I was anxious to get this one done, as it has the infamous leap of faith at the summit. We got our first sight on the famous mountain goats, which were all coming down as we went up. Something told me that those goats had the whole system figure out.
On our approach, the sun came out and shined through the rock spires of Sunlight and adjacent Sunlight Spire, making it obvious where the two peaks got their names.
Near the top, we had fun scrambling across rocks and came across a couple fun holes in the ridge.
Finally, we made it up and the summit block was visible. Linnea was anxious to get it done and ran right up, while I shot some video.
I think the extremely small summit and exposure caught her by surprise and on the way down was a little nervous. Next it was my turn. To make it to the very top, two hops are required. On the way up, you can almost pull yourself up, but on the way down, you have to make “a leap of faith.”
You can also climb up a steep rock on the side and avoid this, if you have sticky shoes.
It turned out not to be as bad as I thought and quite fun. Altogether I did it probably 5 times, with each time Linnea rolling her eyes.
After an usually long time up top, we made our descent.
From here, we traversed across to an adjoining saddle on Windom peak, another 14er. We saw a few other climbers and before we knew it we made it to the summit. The top had a lot of fun rocks to climb and since the weather was holding, we ate lunch and basked in the sun.
On our way down, I was surprised to see the boy scouts had roughed it out and were making their way up Windom. I had fun giving them a hard time and got many very wide eyes when I told them the summit was still a couple miles away.
We made it back at camp around 2, just in time to nap out the afternoon storms. Luckily, I woke up just in time to save our camp from some lazy Texans who wanted to overtake our nice camp. I would have nothing to do with it and told them to go find their own spot. Later that night, we explored a little and chatted with other climbers up the trail. We slept pretty well too, except every once in a while the crazy mountain goats would trip over our tent cord. They were in our camp for a good part of the night messing around and making lots of noise.
Mt. Eolus (14,083′) and North Eolus (14,039′)
The next morning, we were up at 5 again and made the trek back up to Twin Lakes. This time we took the other split up toward Mt. Eolus, out 3rd 14er of the trip. This mountain is known for “the catwalk” and narrow ridge line.
It turned out not to be all that bad although we did have to cross a number a exposed ledges leading to the summit. We took it slow and careful and were rewarded more amazing views.
After some quick snacks, we descended and traversed over to North Eolus, an “unofficial” 14er since it is not separated by 300 vertical feet from adjoining mountain. Nonetheless, its on the list so we did it.
More amazing views and more snacks at the top. It felt pretty good to completed all the Chicago Basin 14ers with the dicey weather and this marked my last San Jaun 14er too. Back down at Twin Lakes, I took a dip and cleaned up a little.
It didn’t take long for the goats to find us and we spent a good portion of the afternoon watching them play. There were a lot of small goats who kept on calling out to their moms, making a lot of noise.
On our way back down, we decided to explore a couple old mines. The first one went way back and was pitch black. Luckily we had our head lamps. Too bad, I did not find any gold. Next time I will bring my ice ax so I can continue digging.
Back at camp, we took another nap, ate some supper and explored some more mines, before hitting the sack. The next day we decided to hike out. We had another day built in for weather but I had burgers on my mind, plus it we had a good 7 hour drive back to Golden. There were no times for breaks and we just made it to the bridge by 11 to catch the 11:15 train.
There were plenty of seats and it was nice to relax and enjoy the scenery. We even saw a bear running up the hillside.
In Silverton, we quickly found some burgers and I was so hungry I had to go back and get a second. We also enjoyed some ice=cream, thanks to Grandma’s birthday money. Wow, what a trip and all the San Jaun 14ers done!. On the way home, I enjoyed some fishing on the Gunnison and we camped up by Taylor’s reservoir. A nice relaxing finish to a pretty packed trip.