Trail Report - North Eolus - Chicago Basin - Colorado

August 17-19, 2019

Written by Paul van Valkenburgh

Showing Small Pictures    

Trail Report - North Eolus - Chicago Basin - Colorado
8-17-19 - Pack in to Chicago Basin: 6.2 Miles, 2728 feet of elevation gain
8-18-19 - Climb to North Eolus: 5.7 Miles, 2902 feet of elevation gain
8-19-19 - Pack out from Chicago Basi: 6.2 Miles, 9 feet of elevation gain
Total Statistics - 18.1 Miles, 5639 feet of elevation gain
Climbers: Paul and Tommy

A Closer Look At Mt Eolus

The Chicago Basin!! - N. Eolus - When you become fascinated with high peaks and climbing 14ers, you begin to research peak after peak to read routes, check out pictures and imagine which ones you might attempt. Some of them seem barely possible at first... not always because of the difficulty of the peak, but just what it takes to get to the mountain. The 4 14ers in the Chicago Basin are high on this list!!

The Chicago Basin is an incredibly remote (and beautiful!) area in the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado. Most people reach the basin by taking the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway to get there. The awesome old school train that departs Durango and winds up the Animas River canyon takes you to a remote stop called Needleton... here the train stops and drops off the hikers!! THEN, you hike up to the basin... and from there you can begin the hikes further up past Twin Lakes and to the 4 14ers; Mt Eolus, North Eolus, Sunlight, and Windom. While there is a much longer way to car park and hike in, either way, because of the remoteness and the logistic coordination to get there, you typically have 1 day to get to the basin alone. Some people will stay 4-5+ days depending on how fast you can complete your objectives and how much food you have!!

My brother Tommy Neville, who does all the crazy hikes in Colorado with me, and I had been eyeing getting to Chicago Basin for a couple of years. Neither of us had any real overnight backpacking experience but we did lots of research and got our gear and were ready to go!! We were staying in Pagosa Springs. The girls went with us to the train and their plan was to continue on to Silverton after we were dropped off... then there is a bus ride back to Durango. It's a beautiful ride in the open air train going up the Animas River canyon!! We couldn't believe it!! After so much research, we were finally on our way to Chicago Basin!!

As a back drop to the story, because of our inexperience in camping, basically we brought along WAY too much stuff. And we hadn't trained with heavy packs. This came back to bite us a bit.

Gear Check Headed To Chicago Basin

With The Team On The Durango Silverton Train

Heading Across The Train Towards Chicago Basin

Tommy Pumped To Head Into The Weminuche

Saying Goodbye To Everybody On The Train

Tommy Heads Towards Chicago Basin

Saying goodbye to the girls after being dropped off at Needleton!:

It was probably because of the huge amount of snow in the Winter of 2019, there were tons and tons of flies on the way up to the basin... what a pain. As we got closer to the basin, the flies went away but there were tons and tons of mosquitoes!! Funny how this really doesn't bother you too much when you're at such a beautiful place. The views as you get higher and higher into the basin are so gorgeous.

Beautiful Views Heading Into Chicago Basin

Beautiful Views Heading Into Chicago Basin

Beautiful Views Heading Into Chicago Basin

Beautiful Views Heading Into Chicago Basin

Our plan was to hike in day 1, try to do as many 14ers as we could on day 2, and if we had time to climb early on day 3 but be back at the train for pick up. The train drops you off at 11AM and picks you up at 3PM on the way back to Durango. The hike into the basin is approximately 7 miles and 3000'+ elevation gain. The steady climb with all of the weight really punished us. Later in the afternoon we got into the basin proper and found a camp site near the trail. Our set up took us a long time as we just didn't have the experience. Finally once set up, we filtered some water and made some dinner and were ready for bed.

Not having camped before, and being at 11,000 feet, we didn't realize in gets REALLY cold at night, even in August!! My bag was warm but Tommy's was a bit cold. We were supposed to get up at 4AM and hike. When the alarm went off, I realized there was frost all over the tent, and I was still exhausted. I told Tommy I had to rest a bit more and as always, he was really cool about everything. We finally got up and made some breakfast and were on our way about 6AM.

Of course you can climb the mountains in the basin in any order. I had a feeling that Eolus would be the hardest, so I figured we try that first when we had the most energy. As you climb up higher into the basin, the intersection where you go to the different peaks is called Twin Lakes, a beautiful area between the mountains. As we neared Twin Lakes, I realized I was still toast from the day before, and Tommy let me take another nap in the warm sunshine in a brushy area off the trail! ha!! After a nap, some poweraid and tuna, I felt much better and we carried on. "Let's take a left and head up to Eolus" !!!

Approaching Twin Lakes

Arriving At Twin Lakes

Beautiful Scenery At Twin Lakes

Beautiful Scenery At Twin Lakes

The climbing continues as it's a good ways up to get to the saddle between Eolus and it's connecting 14er N. Eolus. As we neared the ridge, we had to cross a snow field... then there was some class 3 work to get to the ridge / saddle. Tommy took a gnarly chimney straight up and I veered more to the right for a little easier (but not easy) terrain.

Headed Towards The Eolus Group

Paul Headed Towards The Eolus Group

Tommy Begins Heading Towards The Eolus Group

Pica Living In Chicago Basin

Tommy Further Up Towards Eolus Group

Tommy With The Eolus Ridge And North Eolus Behind

Heading Towards Class 3 Ridge On Eolus

Paul Heading Towards Class Section On Eolus

Paul On Snowfield Heading To North Eolus

Tommy On Snowfield Heading To North Eolus

Tommy Climbs The Class 3 Section Towards The Ridge

Tommy Nears The Top Of The Class3 Chimney

By the time we reached the saddle, Eolus just looked insane. In retrospect, maybe we could have done it, but decisions you make on remote, high peaks can be life or death. So, it's always smart to go with your gut instinct. If you're not feeling it, you can always come back. The cat walk to Eolus, but more-so, the class 3 face was so daunting. Luckily another climber was there, who also passed on Eolus, stated to us "hey, you guys can still do a 14er if you hit North Eolus" .... Grand Idea!! While it was really just a side note for us originally, we traveled the easy ridge up to the summit!! The views were insane.

Tommy With Mt Eolus Behind

A Closer Look At Mt Eolus

Saddle Between N Eolus And Eolus With Catwalk

The Summit Of North Eolus

The Summit Of North Eolus

Looking Down The Ridge Of North Eolus

Summit Marker On North Eolus

Looking Across Chicago Basin From Summit Of North Eolus

Looking North From The Summit Of North Eolus

Looking West From The Summit Of North Eolus

Psyched Summit Selfie On North Eolus

The Summit of North Eolus in the Chicago Basin!:

Paul Begins Down North Eolus

Tommy Begins Down The Ridge Of North Eolus

Tommy Had A Small Mishap

Tommy Heading Back Above Twin Lakes

A Grouse Or A Ptarmagin

Gorgeous View Of Twin Lakes

Gorgeous View Of Twin Lakes

Sunlight From Twin Lakes

Windom From Twin Lakes

At this point, we knew that we wouldn't have the energy to go all the way back to Twin Lakes and back up to Windom or Sunlight. So, we took our time and enjoyed the views from N. Eolus. Then we took our time back to camp and had a nice dinner.

Knowing it would be a long slog to head back up in the morning, to try Sunlight or Windom would be too much. So we decided to take our time and get back to the train with plenty of time. We knew we would have to come back to Chicago Basin anyway, not only to complete the 14ers, but just to enjoy the beauty again! And oh!.. Tommy had stashed a six-pack of some yummy brew in the Animas River at Needleton!! Party Time!! Boy after 3 tough days of backpacking and climbing, it felt so good to finally relax by the river, soak our feet and enjoy a brew.

Mountain Goats In Chicago Basin

Home In The Chicago Basin

Ready For The Trek Out Of Chicago Basin

Back To The Needleton Train Stop

Look What Tommy Had Stashed In Th eAnimas

Cold Water Feels Great After Hiking


Cheers To Adventure In Chicago Basin

Here Comes The Train For Extraction

And A Great Trip It Was

The train back to Durango was great where the girls picked us up. In retrospect, if you want to do Chicago Basin, it is insanely cool. BUT, you want to definitely do not only training to get in shape, but also train, and do some good trial runs with your backpacking gear to be in practice with it. And DON'T take too much stuff!! We had chairs, extra food, extra clothing, extra cooking set ups.. all of these thing that we could have pared down and not carried so much weight. Next time we will be more prepared!!

Hope this has been enjoyable and / or helpful to anyone reading it!!


Posted By: Steve D - 11/26/2020
Comment: Amazing!!!!

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