Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mt. Eolus (14,088 ft.)

Glacier Point (13,709 ft.)

3 September, 2008: Worried about persistent reports that the footbridge over the Animas River at the Needleton train stop might be demolished, mountaineer Trisha decided that it was worth it to shell out for a second train ride, and go back to Chicago Basin to climb Mt. Eolus, the one fourteener we had missed on our early August trip. So Tuesday (the 2nd) at 11:30 am MDT found us once again crossing that footbridge and starting up the steep Needle Creek trail.

This time, we gave ourselves a full day for climbing, and another day to hike out. We enjoyed beautiful sunny late summer weather on the hike in. To my surprise, without particularly hurrying, we substantially bested our time up the trail of a month earlier, reaching our campsite in only 3 hours and 15 minutes. Thus, we had plenty of time to set up camp, and enjoy a very leisurely dinner, before crawling into our sleeping bags.

Unlike last time, we had no time pressure on our one climbing day. So, instead of getting up in the pre-sunrise chill, we slept until the hedonistic hour of 6 am (!). After an unhurried breakfast, we hit the trail at the unheard-of hour of 7:15 am.

Even though there were clouds in the sky, we felt that the fact that we had all day virtually guaranteed that we could successfully climb our one remaining peak. Because Labor Day had come and gone, we saw absolutely no one on the trail, either above or below us, all the way up to Twin Lakes and beyond.

The sky remained partly cloudy, however, and we kept wondering whether or not we would be, again, climbing up into the soup and losing our visibility. Fortuitously, after hiking up into the broad plateau above Twin Lakes, we encountered climbers Matt and Chad, from Denver, who had gotten the more traditional early start and were hiking down after climbing Eolus. We consulted with them about the route from that point on, and then proceeded up.

It turned out—to my amazement—that we had been on the correct route four weeks earlier for much farther than I had thought. We quickly arrived, via a much gentler route, at the point on the ridge where we had turned right back in August. All we had to do was to turn left (south) at that point, and we soon found ourselves at the beginning of the Catwalk! Of course, there was no way in the world we could have seen this when we were enveloped in clouds, but so it goes.

Once we did get to that point, however, there was no remaining doubt about the rest of the route. As you can see from the photos, once you get onto the Catwalk, the balance of the path to the summit is unmistakable.

Even better, the clouds had continued to lift just above us, and now were actually breaking up. We finally had real sunshine! Enheartened by this, we set off across the “sidewalk in the sky” for the final climb to the summit of Mt. Eolus.

It’s probably no more than a quarter of a mile, as the crow flies, and perhaps 200 feet vertical, but it still took us about an hour to make that remaining climb. Once across the Catwalk, the best approach is to veer left off the ridge crest, and pick the easiest path through the many, many ledges which make up the east face of Eolus. We followed a combination of cairns and our own analysis of the ledges, and finally headed straight up a gully that topped out between two high points.

I had to climb up all the way to the top of the gully in order to determine which point was the actual summit. It turned out to be the one to our right (north), and a few more bouldering moves over and around rather large rocks were required to get to the summit, but, at last, the benchmark and register came into view. Just a few minutes after noon (MDT) we had made it! It had taken me three tries (and Trisha two) to get, finally, to the top of this majestic mountain, but we could finally check it off. The video of Trisha coming up to the summit is at:

Since we did have all day, we were in no hurry to leave. We spent quite a good deal of time trying to get the register canister open. The threads seemed to be jammed. Despite our best efforts, we never succeeded. But we took a good brace of pictures, ate some food, and soaked in the fabulous view before descending.

The second crossing of the Catwalk went much more smoothly, for both of us, than the first. My video of Trisha doing the first section of that narrow ridge is at:

When we got off the Catwalk, we decided that it was time for a real rest, and some lunch. First, though, I wanted to do a quick out-and-back over to Glacier Point, the thirteener which is the next major ridge point north of North Eolus. I dropped my pack, put my windbreaker back on, and took off running while Trisha rested and put together sandwiches for both of us. When I got back, half an hour later, she informed me that she had made a video of part of my side trip!

After getting back and eating, we began the largely uneventful trip back to camp. The sky continued to clear, but a significant wind came up and stayed with us until we were back below timberline. On the way down, we did meet a trio of climbers returning from an attempt on Windom. Unfortunately, they hadn’t made the summit because, by their own testimony, they weren’t willing to trust the weather. Too bad.

Beyond that, there’s not much to tell. We took our time hiking down, getting back to camp just after five, for a total time on the trail of just under ten hours. We re-encountered Matt and Chad when we passed their campsite, and exchanged news. After another leisurely dinner, we had an astonishing thirteen hours to sleep!

The only remaining surprise was the time we made on our way out on Thursday. We had our camp un-made and were off down the trail at 11 am, leaving four hours and forty-five minutes to get to the train stop. Accordingly, we made absolutely no attempt to hurry. Instead, we concentrated on enjoying the scenic beauty, taking pictures, and taking it easy on our muscles and joints. And you know what? We were back at Needleton in less than three hours! It had only taken us about 15 minutes longer than back in August, when we had pushed ourselves mercilessly. Of course, the fact that we were starting fresh instead of having just come off a 3,000-foot climb might have something to do with it…

Oh, well; we had plenty of time to relax and chat with the other climbers and hikers waiting for the train. Pictures are at:

Long life and many peaks!


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