A Return to Chicago Basin

Peaks: Jupiter Mountain (13,830′), Windom Peak (14,082′), Sunlight Peak (14,059′), Mount Eolus (14,083′), North Eolus (14,039′)
Dates: July 2-3 2016
Trailhead: Purgatory Flats (8,740′)
Distance: ~ 40 miles
Elevation Gain: ~ 11,000′
Time: 36 hours
Group: Andrea Sansone, Andrew Hamilton, Charlie Nuttelman, Danielle Joy, Elizabeth Stevens, Dillon Sarnelli

My first trip into Chicago Basin was in the summer of 2013. Back then the objective was simple. Check off Colorado’s 4 most remote 14ers and make it safely back to the train in one piece. By all accounts the weekend was a success, but one thing was certain. I’d be back in the Wemi sooner than later. Over the years that followed I’ve made good on that promise, with each trip a constant reminder that the Weminuche, the granddaddy of all Colorado’s wildernesses, is hands down in a class all by itself.

Recently I had the privilege of sitting next to Elizabeth Stevens and Ryan Kushner at dinner during our annual reunion with the Jansen family. At the time Elizabeth mentioned she had 15 or so 14ers remaining and could use some partners as Ryan would be off in Pakistan for 2 months climbing something I can’t even try to pronounce. 🙂 Not being one to ever really turn down a Wemi trip, I gladly accepted the invitation.

As the days went on, the itinerary and crew members evolved. With the addition of Andrea, Danielle, Charlie and Andrew, the trip became 5 peaks in a day (Day 1 of their Wemipalooza) and when I missed the train out, the trip became 5 peaks in a day with a 17 mile hike out that night. Here’s the story of our 36 hours in Chicago Basin as best as I can tell it.

Day 1 – July 2, 2016: Purgatory TH to treeline in Chicago Basin. ~16.5 miles, ~3,500′ vert.

Danielle Joy, Elizabeth Stevens, Dillon Sarnelli, Andrea Sansone, Andrew Hamilton, and Charlie Nuttelman (L to R). All smiles. This would be a common theme with this group even with all the hazing Andrew threw at us.
It looks like it’s raining, but don’t be fooled. For a second even I thought the bluebird Wemi streak might be in jeopardy. No chance.
Here at about mile 3 the Purgatory Flats Trail joins the Animas River Trail . “If I could only have one food for the rest of my life? That’s easy. Pez. Cherry flavor Pez. There’s no doubt about it.”
What happens in Chicago Basin stays in Chicago Basin.
Here at about mile 10 we begin the 6+ mile trek to treeline in Chicago Basin on the Needle Creek Trail.
Like clockwork, the skies begin to clear as we enter the basin.
Basecamp. Still all smiles. Charlie didn’t see the 1st goat. Elizabeth just flossed. Andrew’s quietly scheming how he can turn this trip into American Ninja Warrior. Danielle is either Zul from Ghostbusters or channeling her inner big cat. And Andrea just ate a bug.
The smiles in the previous picture might make a little more sense now..
Wemi Sasquatch. I recently read a thread on the forum about the 3rd man factor. This is my 3rd man factor. I’m pretty sure this dude followed me all the way home the next night.

Good night.

Day 2 – July 3, 2016: 5 Peaks and a solo blitzkrieg back to Purgatory. ~ 24 miles, ~ 7,500′ vert. Go.

A quick recap of the cast as we ascend Jupiter:

Andrea and Charlie.
Danielle and Andrew.
Moving by 4 AM, daylight arrived as we began the 3,000′ ascent of Jupiter. Don’t be fooled, this steep grass kicked all of our asses, including Andrew.
First light over Chicago.
Alpenglow on Eolus.
Summit of Jupiter Mountain (13,830′) – July 3, 2016 – 6:45 AM
Descending the snowfields on Jupiter en route to Windom.
A look back in the direction of Jupiter and the snowfield as we make our way toward Windom.
The small couloir we used to gain the ridge on Windom, front and center.
The camera adds 30 degrees.
Summit of Windom Peak (14,082′) – July 3, 2016 – 9:15 AM
High above the Weminuche on Windom. Someone asked me the other day where my favorite spot in Colorado is. Here’s as much of it as I could fit in a picture.
Elizabeth is loving every second of this.
It looks like Andrew is glissading off of Windom, but he actually brought his own sled. 🙂
Ascending the upper portion of Sunlight.
Summit of Sunlight Peak (14, 059′) – July 3, 2016 – 11:00 AM – Please don’t try this at home… ever.
Jagged from the summit of Sunlight. I’ll hopefully be seeing you again soon.
Turret, Pigeon, Animas, Peak 13, Monitor.
Descending Sunlight.

The original plan was for Elizabeth and myself to take the train out at 3:30. Option A: Leave now and make the train or, Option B: Finish what we started. Hmmmm.

Eolus as seen from the Catwalk. I have no pictures of our Andrew “Ninja Warrior” Hamilton Class 5 ascent to the catwalk because I wanted to live to write this trip report. From the catwalk we then elected to stay ridge proper to the summit.
Summit of Mount Eolus (14,083′) – July 3, 2016 – 2:30 PM
Charlie beginning the descent off Eolus. Arrow, Vestal and the Trinities make a nice backdrop.
Andrea and company descending Eolus ridge proper.
Another angle.

Once on the saddle we dropped our packs and made quick work of North Eolus.

Summit of North Eolus (14,039′) – July 3, 2016 – 3:00 PM
A look at the day’s earlier work from the summit of North.
The Chicago Basin.

Back at camp Danielle and Elizabeth decided to stick around and take the train out the next day. Andrea, Andrew and Charlie had Peak 15 on the next day’s agenda and eventually headed off over the pass into Ruby Basin. I opted to continue the blitzkrieg and made a 6 PM 17 mile B-line for Purgatory. As I sit here and write this I still don’t really know what I was thinking. Hiking alone for miles upon miles in the darkness in one of Colorado’s most remote wildernesses will scare the living crap out of you, but at the same time I think I’d do it all over again.

Blair Weminuche Project.

What I learned: Beer is heavy and next time pack a Margarita for Andrea!

To the crew: You are some pretty amazing people with great attitudes and a heck of a lot of athleticism. It was a pleasure spending 36 hours with each of you. Thanks for having me along and even more thanks for not hazing me too bad.

Until next time… Cheers and thanks for reading!

Coming Soon – A recap of Spring 2016’s Greatest Hits, including Where’s Flattop, Boulder Will Break You, The Keplinger Disaster, and Jacque Ate My Binding, But At Least the Donuts Were Good – starring Mat Ballay and Dillon Sarnelli. Stay Tuned…

10 thoughts on “A Return to Chicago Basin

    1. Jacob, sorry for the delay! We started on the Hazel Lake Trail, but I feel like we cut north before the south ridge and ascended some Class 4 grass 🙂 It was pretty early in the morning and dark.


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