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In the last post I gave an introduction to the Chicago Basin, as well as the challenges in accessing the high mountains. Today I will introduce the high peaks that drew us to the Basin.
The Chicago Basin is home to four peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation, Sunlight, Windom, Eolus, and North Eolus. The four peaks are amongst the more challenging 14ers in Colorado, After visiting, I believe they are amongst the most beautiful. All four peaks have significant route finding challenges, and three of the four require Class 3 or Class 4 climbing.
In the US climbs are rated using a difficulty system developed in Yosemite National Park. The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) begins with Class 1 hikes, which are easy trails that have minimal obstacles. They may have significant elevation gain, but here is no danger. Class 2 hikes are more rugged, and may occasionally require the use of your hands to stabilize yourself as you scramble over boulders, but there is little risk beyond the risk of a twisted ankle. Class 3 climbs begin to have significant risk. Terrain is steep and you must use hands to pull yourself up significant barriers. A fall risks serious injury, but the risk is manageable. Class 4 climbs are similar to Class 4, but involve significantly more exposure , and a fall would be fatal. Some parties might consider use of a rope. My last post detailing our climb of Capital Peak was a Class 4 climb. Finally, Class 5 climbs are serious climbs where most parties use a rope and place protection in the rock to catch a fall.
Our climbs the next morning included a Class 4 climb, Sunlight, and a difficult Class 2 climb of Windom. The forecast indicated a significant risk of thunderstorms after noon, so we decided to leave camp by 4:00 AM, with a goal to be back to timberline at 11,500 feet, by noon.
We left our camp at 4:00 AM and hiked in the dark for an hour an a half, climbing from 10,600 feet to a pair of small mountain lakes at 12, 500 feet, arriving just in time for the sunrise.
As the sun rose, we caught our first views of Eolus and North Eolus, the peaks we would climb the next day
We also got good views of our objectives for the day, Sunlight on the left, and Windom on the right.
We climbed up a long, steep, loose gully on the west face to Sunlight. After climbing to a notch at 13,850 feet, we were greeted with this view. The climbing from this point on was difficult Class 3-4.
The author, climbing through a rock window 50 feet below the summit block
After a long descent off Sunlight, we climbed the comparatively easier Windom Peak. The climb up Windom was loose, and involved a lot of balancing on loose talus (rocks that are 1-4 feet across). Windom was supposed to be difficult Class 2, but we managed to get off route, and found a Class 3-4 variation to the summit.
Back to Twin Lakes
As we hiked up in the dark, we heard multiple cascades as we climbed towards Twin Lakes. It was a revelation to see them in the daylight.
We got back to timberline on exactly on schedule, and the skies opened with a tremendous storm at 1 PM.