Chicago Basin 14ers

"I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Phillipians 3:14"
Press on (v): continue moving forward; to push on, advance, progress.
Pressing (adj): 1-demanding urgent attention, 2-very persistent
               (n):   1-Applying pressure, 2-urgent insistence
Climbing a mountain is hard. If you ever have had the privilege to summit a mountain, you know how difficult it is to obtain. Of course, some mountains are more difficult than others. Then there are those who are more capable, stronger, and wiser that labor less up a mountain...and many of us who struggle in the valley for each breath, each step, each thought wondering if there is enough fight in us left.
It's interesting the range of emotions I experience climbing these mountains. There's the good times...when I feel in control, in the zone, rythmically making my way up, tuning out all distractions, gaining ground, summit in sight...yet still taking the time to look around and enjoy the wonder around me. It's's a high...and this motivates me to accomplish what I set out to do. This drives me to press on...
But equally, my experience in the high country comes with dark moments- doubt and distrust. At times I'm aware of imminent dangers. "Is that Boulder going to crush me?...Are those clouds turning into thunderheads...what's the weather doing on the other side of this mountain?...Is my splitting headache from fatigue, dehydration, alititude sickness? What the hell is that sound off in the distance...rockslide?" And of course there are those thoughts of giving up, turning around, and justifying what you have already accomplished. Settling with what you have obtained, but falling short of your goal. It's really easy to take what you can get up there.
Furthermore, I am always hungry and thirsty. I am always hot or cold. I am tired, and good rest is impossible. Because I'm tired...everything is difficult. Waking up, making food, cleaning's all that much harder in the mountains. I am in constant battle with this place...and even in a tougher battle with myself. Each step is an exercise of commitment and concentration. One lapse, one mistep, one distraction could result in pain or worse. I'll admit it...there are times when I wonder why I'm doing this at all. In the end, it's not "no pain, no gain" its more like "more pain than gain." When doubts creep in, I just do my best and keep pressing on. I recently read, "What saves a man is to take a step, then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it." -Antoine de Saint Exupery- A truism I adhere to in the mountains.
I needed this trip. I needed to experience the difficulties of climbing peaks again. I needed them because it puts things into perspective for me. I needed to be reminded that the most important things in my life are also the hardest. Truth is, walking with Christ is the hardest thing I do.
Again with the range of emotions...sure there's all the good, but man...there are days when I am done. I mean it. I am just done with Jesus. I'm am tired of having faith...or even wanting to have faith. There are days when walking with Christ is to feel like you are stuck in the valley, breathless, struggling, and in pain. You no longer want to walk because it is easier to stop.
Giving up and settling seems easier than continuing an uphill battle with the forces of this world. Marriage, fatherhood, family, friendships, all seems easier to do without the responsibility of the Gospel. To not feel the weight of spiritual accountability in my life...what would that feel like? I know it's not victory, but surely it's not defeat. Why press on toward the goal to win the prize when it's not so bad to live complacently.
To constantly battle spiritually,'s tiring and many times I want to give it up. I feel like I am often hungry and thirsty. I am often hot or cold. I am tired, and good rest is hard to come by. Because I'm spiritually tired...everything is difficult. Waking up, eating spiritual food, cleaning myself's all that much harder in the world. I am in constant battle with this place...and even in a tougher battle with myself. Each step in this walk with Christ is an exercise of commitment and dedication. One lapse, one mistep, one distraction could result in pain or worse. I'll admit it again...there are times when I wonder why I'm doing this at all. In the end, it's not that I'll "lift up the cross and follow you" its more like "I can't lift up the's just too heavy."
But unlike the unforgiving high country...Jesus comes to rescue. He doesn't let me do this by myself. He comes and fills my cup. He meets me at my need. He comes and gives me strength and power because He is my rock, because He is living water, because He is the bread of life, because He is my shelter, because he cleanses me, renews me and has saved me...

He comes as the most powerful source to humanity...period. Despite all the emotions of giving up, I choose to reach out when I have nothing left. Like the woman who snuck up on Jesus and touched his garment for strength, power, and salvation...I too simply stick out my hand and just believe.

I also recently read, that "My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge." (Psalm 62:7) With this truth, and the words of encouragement from Antoine de Saint Exupery, and the experience in the mountains...I feel like I have a better understanding of Paul's plea to the Corinthians in 3:14 (scripture above). I struggle...but I need to press on and continue pressing towards Christ.
So yes, I struggle and am painfully making my way up the mountain of faith, but I have to hold on...and know Jesus will get me through all of this.
Here's my prayer in this time of struggle: It's to ask the Lord to help me move forward, continue to push on, advance, and progress in Him (to grow). To be urgent in my faith, to pay attention, and be very persistent in pursuing Him. And to also apply pressure and be urgent in advancing the gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven in this world...
Join me.
(Chicago Basin)
Trip Report
Who: Austin (Arc) Crownover, A-A-Ron (Lu) Lawler, Brad (Benny) Hardin, Ugly (me)
When: 8/14/14-8/17/14
What: Chicago Basin 14ers- Eolus (14,083'), North Eolus (14,039'), Sunlight Peak (14,059'), Windom Peak (14,082')
Stats: 21 miles hiked roundtrip/climbed, nearly 10,000' of elevation gain total
Day 1   8/14/14

(Brad, Me, Lu, Arc)
 We left DFW on Wednesday evening after work, and drove 13.5 hours to Durango. The Chicago Basin can be approached in two ways. Either hiking in from Purgatory or taking the Steam Locomotive from Durango. We opted for the train ($100 with bags). The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a very cool experience. It rides from Durango up  North to Silverton. However, there are a few stops on the way up, including our stop at the Needleton bridge. We departed Durango at 8:45 a.m. and arrived at our stop at 11:15 a.m. Though you only ride for 30 miles, the train goes only 20 mph so it takes 2.5 hours to get here. Train beta: Reserve your tickets in advance...train seats get booked and your not guaranteed a seat if you show up the day of.
 The Needleton bridge is the unofficial start of our hike up the Basin...even though the TH is not for another mile up. The Needleton bridge spans across the Animas River which is also the same river the train follows for most of the trip. We started off at 11:30 a.m., after Brad stashed our beer in the river...
This is the bridge, with Animas River below, railroad in the backgorund, and Lu crossing the bridge.
After leaving the bridge, you will hike nearly a mile and reach a junction...the Needle Creek junction trail sign. Stay left on the trail and continue East. Shortly (like within a hundred yards)'ll reach the official TH for the Chicago Basin/Needle Creek drainage. Picture above is the official TH. Here you want to register your party.
We continued East towards the Basin. We didn't have an agenda this day. We didn't know how far or high we were going to camp. We were in no hurry and were enjoying the trail the entire way up. From previous trip reports, we knew the Basin gets crowded. But on this day, it felt like we had the trail to ourselves. Matter of fact, only two other parties came off the train and one headed towards Ruby Basin.So considering pervious trip reports...I felt like we lucked out.
Something to note...there are several, several waterfalls, cascades, etc...on the way up to Chicago basin. They are all around. The trail before the basin on it's own is worth the trip. This is one of the most scenic trails I have ever been on. Quite stunning.
Hope this image helps with orientation. Our hike started on the left side with the green hiker icon. Each pin is a mile. The train drop off/bridge is at 8220'. We hiked 5.5 miles the first day and ascended 2775' to basecamp. We arrived at 4:30 p.m. Took us 5 hours to hike up 5.5 miles. Remember, we are flatlanders...have not acclimated, and driven here through the night. We were tired. But, we also stopped to smell the roses on the way up. We took it slow...we stopped at each waterfall...we rested...we enjoyed the day. So if your looking to book it up the mountain, I'm sure you can do it in half the time. But why?
Near 10,800', you get your first views of the higher peaks. You first see Sunlight, Peak 18, Windom (the middle peak) and Jupiter to the right. We camped in the trees directly in front of us. Our basecamp was officically at 10,975'. So we camped somwhere near the middle of the basin.
We found an awesome campground close to the creek. The basin has several spots to choose from. One of our worries was not being able to find a campsite. However, we felt like we had dozens to choose from. I guess we must have picked a slow weekend...but no complaints here. Now, as for the goats...yes, they are everywhere!!!! But they aren't too bad. They do get close to camp but they dont bother you. If they get to close for comfort, just scare them away...they wont bother you too much. As for flies and skeeters...they are there as well. And they bite! What helped to go wash off at the creek, clean off your sweat...and cover your skin up with clothing. It worked every evening for me.
Day 2 08/15/14
Climb Eolus and N. Eolus (14ers)
Stats: 2.5 mile up, 3100' of elevation gain
Time: Woke up at 4am, started hiking at 5:20am, summited Eolus at 9:45am, N. Eoulus at 10:45am, and back down to camp at 1:50pm. This day was a 8.5 hour day.

 Picture above shows the routes of the 14ers...Day 2 objective were the Eolus Peaks. They are the two peaks on the top of the image. Basecamp is on left side of image before the mile 6 marker (so really, it's off of the image but it gives you sense of where we came from). From camp, we hike 1.5 miles, 1500' up to Twin Lakes (which you see in the middle of the image), then continue another mile up (West) and another 1500' towards the two peaks.
If you want a real chance to summit these need to start early. So bring your headlamps and start in the dark...
The trail up to Twin lakes is steep but on a good class 1 trail. It was difficult to get good images of this part of the hike since it was dark...however I did get better images on the way down in the afternoon. So I'll get sho those later. This part of the hike was tough...we were tired and sore from the previous day. As you leave the basin, you come to a junction...
you take a left up the trail towards Twin lakes. Continue on the trail through trees and rock slabs. Make sure you identify the cairns on the slabs and make your way to each cairn. They are easy to find if your looking for them. Once you go past the slabs, you will find the trail that leads up the grassy mountainside slope. You will see a major stream, which is a waterflow drainage of twin lakes above. On the trail, you will cross this waterflow twice. From the start of the junction, you will ascend 1300' on this slope up towards Twin lakes.
  Twin Lakes area is gorgeous. Even if you don't want to climb the 14ers, this trip is worth just coming out to visit these alpine lakes. I forgot to time our approach to the lakes, but I think it took us nearly two hours the first day. We were moving very slow. We hung out here for 10 minutes or so, but knew we would come back after summiting. So we ate a snack, took a few pics...and moved on.
 We continued up/West from the Lakes up towards Eolus...wildflowers scattered throughout the mountainside. From here, we tried to identify the so called "ramp" up to the "catwalk."
Let me just say...we failed to identify the "ramp." We took another climber's advice and found ourselves on a ledge system directly under Eolus. We knew the ramp was on class 2 terrain...yet, we found ourselves on more difficult ground. We followed the trail up, but then it disappeared. We could not find any cairns, so we continued up to what we thought looked like a ramp. So here's the deal...don't look for an actual ramp. There's not one. Instead, look for weakest way up the mountain. Or look up, find the huge smooth slab section on your right...continue past it...and come to the first ledges (right behind Brad in image below). Then immediately turn right...or else you end up on the side of the mountain like we did...
right here...continue up towards the lowest point (in saddle above). We felt like there was a lack of Cairns to help people up on this section. Or its possible the Cairns came down. So Brad and Lu built solid cairns to help point the way.
(Eolus in the background) 
Near 13,700' you climb up a short crack to reach the Eolus saddle, known as the cat walk. From here, you see the remaining route for both Eolus and N. Eolus.
(N. Eolus is high peak behind Brad and Lu)
We opted to summit Eolus first, and then go back and tag N. Eolus second.

But first, we needed to traverse the infamous "catwalk"...a narrow ridge connecting both peaks. The ridge is "wied enough" but there are a few sections that are very narrow and exposure is very very high!
Here's another view of the catwalk and the exposure...pretty neat.
 Ok, so after traversing the catwalk, you have another 300' of class 3 climbing to the top. Route finding can be tricky...but just follow the cairns. If you no longer see cairns, you are off trail. This climb can be a class 3...a class 4 continuing on the ridge...or a class "Oh shit!" in a hurry. Be very careful. There is extremly loose rock, the ledges are thin, and rock fall is imminent. Keep your wits, keep composed, and climb confidently.
At 9:45 am, we summited Eolus. Amazing.
 Our views from Eolus...Sunlight and Windom (two high peaks on left and 14ers we'll climb next day), Jupiter in Middle, more of the San Juans range in background and Chicago Basin basin below.

More views, North Eoulus in front, Vestals in background, more SJ's...this is my favorite range in CO! The most rugged!
After spending 20 minutes on Eoulus, we traversed back over the Catwalk and summited N. Eolus. We were on top by 10:45am. It should only take 30 minutes to get over, but I went first to take shots of the guys crossing over the catwalk. That's Eolus in the background.
 (Arc enjoying Twin Lakes)
After summiting both, we hiked back down to the lakes and enjoyed lunch down there. There are pika, mountain goats, marmots running all over this place...We spent over an hour at the lake enjoying lunch, resting, filtering water, and enjoying everything about this place. FYI...the hike down from Eolus is more difficult than going up. The trail is loose...We opted to leave our poles the first day and we regretted it. Bring will make the descent so much easier.
Here's a good look of what the upper grassy slopes towards Twin lakes looks like.
On way back down to camp, you'll likely run into him again!
8.5 hours's been a long day.
Day 3 08/16/14
Climb Sunlight (14,059') and Windom Peak (14,082')
Stats: 2.5 miles up, 3100' up...again.
Time: Woke up at 4 am, on trail at 5:10am...reached twin lakes at 6:30 am, summited Sunlight at 9:15 am, summited Windom at 11:15 am, back at camp at 2:45 am. Today was a 9 hour 35 minute day!
Looking at image above, Sunlight and Windom are the two peaks on the lower right.
The approach to Sunlight and Wimdom are the same as the Eolus peaks. You climb to Twin Lakes first. But instead of heading West, you head the opposite direction...East.You get to the lakes, split off to the right and continue on a trail up a 300' headwall. The trail is very easy to follow and there are cairns that lead you all the way up the headwall. Once you reach over the headwall, the terrain level out for a quarter of a mile. Continue following the cairns.
We opted to climb Sunlight first and Windom second. Arc headed for Windom. When your in this upper Basin, the three high peaks from left to right are Sunlight, Sunligh Spire, and Windom. Sunlight Spire is easy to find, it's a lone 50' spire on the very top...
There's a nice 5.10 hand crack up the middle of this spire...mmm, maybe one day!
The route up to Sunlight is a chosspile. It's loose...its all I can say. Be careful, and wear a helmet. Continue up this chosspile all the way up the saddle conecting Sunlight and the Sunlight Spire. Identify a notch with Cairns and head left.
This is Lu making way to upper saddle...the notch is above him..
Once you reach up here, you get incredible views of to the East. The rock also becomes solid rock...which is a welcome. You can drop your poles here...and the scrambling begins.
...more views...

 ...Windom in the background...
 As you scramble up, you get to a rock window...follow the cairns to the window and go through it. There is some exposure here, be careful. Note, you are always following cairns...if your not, you are off route.
 Finally, the Summit. We reached the top at 9:15 am. Felt great. Brad and I went for the Summit bloc. When you first see it, it looks intimidating. All those youtube and pics don't do this justice. It looks sacrier in person, I promise. But strange enough, once you start climbing it, it's not bad at all. Just know there is extreme exposure here. On the left and back side of the bloc is a sure death drop off...Brad went up the slab and I chose to use the offwidth crack to get to the top.
On the opposite mountain, Arc was making his way up. Can you spot him in the image above? This is why you wear a helmet!!!! It's a rock minefield up these slopes.
 Shots of Sunlight and Sunlight Spire from Windom...
We arrived to Windom Peak at 11:15 am. I stopped taking pictures up this mountain. I was tired. Windom is a class 2+ climb...but really, it's a class 3. Let's just go ahead and re-grade this climb. I was scrambling up this mountain...while on route. We met Arc halfway up this mountain...he was decending as we were making our way up...We ate lunch up top, and enjoyed the views of our fourth and final 14er. We have come and summited all 4!
We made our way back down to Twin Lakes and filled up at the "Pee Hole", a natural fountain out of the granite boulder. Water is ice cold, and perfect. PERFECT!
Our final exit of the Twin Lakes above...
Day 4 08/17/14
Hike out 5.5 miles the the beer! We left camp at 9:15 am and arrived at our pick up, the Needleton bridge/stop at 12:45 pm.

The Train arrived at 3:45 pm...
we got on...
and enjoyed the best ride home! This place is special...amazing...incredible! This has been my favorite trip to CO so far! Overall, there has not been a better outdoor experience i've had. This is it! I recommend this trip to the novice and experenced alike. There is something for everyone.


  1. Alfonso, keep walking in truth. Gods word tells us that it will be difficult and it seems to be more tempting to give up every day. I rest n the fact that his faithfulness will get us thru all that I have to do is look at the last 5 years of my life to see blessing after blessing and then I trust. He is here in our sorrow and weariness and will not forsake us.

  2. Thanks for the awesome photos and post! You've got me excited to do this next year.

  3. Awesome photos and useful information. Your trip report is going to make my trip next weekend a lot easier. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for the post, very useful.

  5. Loved it, I am going with my brother and his family in September this year. I can't wait!!! I climb by myself a lot and always go thru what you talk about, the struggle, the excitement, the fear. Trusting God is such a rock to plant my feet upon.


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