Sunday, October 13, 2013

The 14ers Rite of Passage

Our transportation to the Chicago Basin
The black soot was everywhere. All over my hands, which had led to it getting all over my face as well. Literally everything in the gondola car was covered in it. Funny how I had not remembered this part at all when I was a kid and had first rode on the Durango-Silverton train that day my Grandpa and Grandma had taken us there. I guess when you were a kid being dirty all the time was just part of the package, but after having been out climbing 14ers and camping for the last few days - where we had not gotten half as dirty in all that time combined as we did on the train ride out - I was a little amazed at just how messy this mode of transportation really was. As if the blocks of coal left alongside the tracks the entire route wasn’t enough to convince me before. No way could anything like this train get built today - could you imagine what the environmental impact report would look like? No matter to me, I was just anxious to get back to Durango and eat a good meal in a restaurant, then take a shower and go to bed in an actual bed. We had accomplished The Rite of Passage all those who wish to climb all the Colorado 14ers must pass through. We had done the “train peaks” as I liked to call them, the 14ers of the Chicago Basin, Sunlight Peak, Windom Peak, Mt. Eolus and North Eolus. Our 46th-49th Colorado 14er summits.

The road to climbing all of Colorado’s 14ers goes through the Durango-Silverton railway for everyone eventually, unless they choose the ominously named “Purgatory” route - adding an extra 7 miles to what isn’t a short journey into the wilds of Southern Colorado. We knew this was coming, and we never even considered the Purgatory option. For me it was always about the train, a chance to share a cherished childhood memory with my wife and also bag some peaks while we were at it. But taking the train certainly wasn’t without its own challenges, as we would find out.

I bought our tickets ahead of time, just to be on the safe side as we were travelling on Labor Day weekend. They aren’t cheap either. You must specify the “Wilderness Train” when you buy them. Don’t buy them online through the website either - those will be for the regular train that doesn’t stop. Call them up and speak to someone. The tix cost $90, but they charge you another $10 for your backpack. And you don’t even go all the way to Silverton! Well, it is what it is. You can walk an extra 14 miles if you don’t want to pay it…

The backpack car

So we showed up Saturday morning for our train. It’s really very neat, watching the old Iron Horse pull into the station. There is a lot of excitement in the air - we were surrounded by a mix of senior citizens and families with kids, and everyone is looking forward to the ride. I had chosen a gondola car for our seats - hence why on the return trip we would notice that we had become covered in soot. But on the way there we didn’t really care, happy to be out in the fresh air and excitement of a journey into the mountains. A journey that would leave us stranded in an isolated Shangri-La, that the folks in Colorado call Chicago Basin.

The Durango-Silverton Trai

The train goes slow. I think they said the top speed is like 18mph. So don’t expect to get there in a hurry. Our stop was a place called Needleton, which is really a ton, but just a little stop with a few family-owned cabins and a bridge over the Animas River. Going through the canyons - I had forgotten (ok, it was 35 years or so since I was a kid and was there before) how dramatic the drop-offs are. The rails are literally inches from the cliff sometimes, and there are moments when the rock walls are easily less than 6 inches from the sides of the car. So it was definitely a memorable ride, at least enough to last me hopefully for another 35 years. The sounds and smells of the old-timey coal-fired steam engine evoked many memories for me. My Grandpa snapping photos with his 35mm camera (Grandpa was a bit of a picture nut), which I had thought at the time must cost thousands of dollars (and it probably did).

Goodbye, our only way back to civilization
At Needleton

And then all of a sudden you’re in Needleton and the train has dropped you off and chugs away. At that moment you suddenly realize how isolated and remote this place is. There is no cell service of any kind. The little family cabins have strict no trespassing signs, as you have to cross a ¼ mile of private property to get to the rest of the trail. You are out there - way out there. At first the trail is crowded, as the rest of the backpackers who came on the same train spread out among the route, but sooner or later people’s rates of progress are pretty evident, and it’s just you and your partner in this place, this big, uninhabited place.

Getting our stuff at Needleton

They say its a six-mile hike into the basin to the point where the campsites are. Honestly it felt a little further to us, but we had forgotten to take our little running GPS - the Garmin Forerunner - so we really were hiking blind so to speak. The trail is really scenic, as it parallels Needle Creek. My pack actually wasn’t too heavy, considering we were ready for 3 nights out. I’m sort of getting a feel (finally?) for packing a little lighter, and knowing what will be essential for a trip and what will not. I’m also getting a lot more used to my North Face Prophet 65 pack, which I had almost replaced because I was having so much trouble with it initially.

The Chicago Basin greeted us, with rain and hail

The Chicago Basin area is notorious for it’s rainy weather. Checking the weather forecasts in the days and weeks ahead of our trip, it was truly a discouraging outlook. Every day - literally - was forecasted for afternoon rain, 60-70% on nearly every day. We’re used to the afternoon rain thing in Colorado, as this was our 7th annual trip to the state, but even then normally the chances were not that high. As we walked along the storm clouds started to build up. Eventually, we heard a pretty big “boom” and Gineth mentioned that it must be a jet. I knew it wasn’t a jet. I didn’t want to tell her because I didn’t want to worry her too much, but it was definitely thunder. In short order that boom was followed up by more booms, and we knew the weathermen weren’t liars. By the time we reached the basin we were getting pretty well soaked, and even occasionally pelted by hail. Even though we were looking for the first possible site we could take, the Basin was all full up until we were very nearly at the trail split, where the actual climbing route “begins”. We camped just about 100 yards short of the junction in a field of weeds, which looked to be about the flattest spot we could find that also had a little tree coverage and some rocks for sitting on later. As night settled in, we had a nice view of the mountains and what would be ahead of us for the next day.

Finally, at camp

We were all set to wake up at 4am the next morning. The night was restless,  Gineth’s air mattress - which we had just patched before leaving for vacation - failed, slowly, and soon she was sleeping on the ground. Several times I woke up in the night to hear her putting air back into it. And I never really tent sleep well. I sleep on one side, until it gets numb, then reverse. It’s usually about an hour and half each side. So sleep is a precious commodity when you can get it, and it didn’t come easy. At one point I rolled over, unable to sleep any longer and turned on my Iphone to check the time. It was 4:25! Seems we had forgotten to reset our alarm clock to Mountain time. So we were more than ready to get up, not to mention that both of us were tried of trying to sleep only because it wasn’t morning yet. I choked down a protein bar, and we decided to forego morning coffee and just get going. We were ready to climb, not eat.

The first few minutes were fine, easy enough trail to follow in the dark. But then we hit slabs, and it was all “search for cairns” after that. After a confusing slow-down, we did hit trail again and it was pretty much up, up, up after that. As dawn starting to shed some light onto the mountains above us, we reached the Twin Lakes and our task lay in front of us.

We had broken the peaks down into two days. I know I’ve read some people who do all 4 in one day. I knew for us this wasn’t even on the table. We were very much not acclimatized, having only arrived in Colorado two days prior. Also, I’m realistic about my own climbing speed when it comes to Class 3+ terrain. So it was an easy decision to make to split the summits into Sunlight/Windom on day one, and Eolus/North Eolus on day 2. We somewhat hoped maybe we could summit the Eolus’ in time on climbing day 2 to get back down, pack up camp and get out that day, but left it open and prepared to stay that night in case. This turned out to be a very fortuitous decision.

The first obstacle was to go up what the description called the headwall. In their description and photo, it didn’t look like much of a slowdown. But once we got into it, man I couldn’t believe how much more difficult it was. We got up it, and then the trail petered out… That’s when we saw these two guys, who had passed us earlier in the morning going at a pretty fast clip, standing up ahead. They weren’t standing too close to each other at this point, but they did seem to be together.

Heading up Sunlight Peak

Turns out they had been up the previous day, and summited the other 3 peaks (or so they told us), but had been chased off of Sunlight by bad weather. One guy was pretty much like, he didn’t want to go up Sunlight. We told the other fellow where we are headed, and he just said “good”, and introduced himself to us. We figured he was just a guy who didn’t want to climb alone, which is definitely a smart move. His partner didn’t want to go back up Sunlight. So we started up Sunlight, now a group of 3 (sort of) with our new companion who immediately climbed faster and higher than us but was presumably in our company.

We started our climb up Sunlight and did our best to pick our way up the steep, scree slopes. We had an eye on our new friend, but weren’t necessarily following his exact footsteps. He in fact looked a little reckless here and there, so it wasn’t necessarily a bad  thing there was a little distance between us. We climbed up the crappy gully, and soon spied our new friend camped just below the saddle between Sunlight and Sunlight spire, seemingly looking at his phone and contemplating his next move.

We reached him and found out the problem. This was the same spot he and his buddy a day earlier had become confused as to the route. He pulled the route up on his phone (we had larger 8 X 11 prints I had printed out to look at) and calmly told him where the route went. He disagreed, and really seemed to get upset and argumentative about it. In all the previous 14ers I’ve ever climbed, I’ve never met an individual that got so strangely upset about which way to go. No matter to us, we just blew past it. Gineth and I continued on the way we thought (pretty much knew) was correct and left him and his phone behind. Not surprisingly, he soon followed our way.

Gineth going up through the chimney
There was also another group of about 4 or 5 coming up fast from below. They were definitely drafting up behind us, but at this point we were already on our way up the Class 3 cliffs of Sunlight. Soon they were up on us (It still kind of annoys me when people catch us from behind. I blame the aforementioned lack of acclimatization) and they really turned out to be some nicer, more helpful than our previous “friend” folks. Four guys and one girl, and from their banter amongst each other I can only assume they were one of those “Internet Climbing Parties” - people who decide to climb together from knowing each other only through the internet - type groups. Nevertheless, they seemed nice, and now our group of 3 was a group of about 8.

And it was nice, if ever so shortly, to have 8 brains figuring out a route instead of 2 (or 3). the description of the route is a bit vague, and honestly didn’t seem to really match up well with the reality of the mountain. We followed the route steps well, and soon we were pushing through and were up on the summit. We had climbed our 46th Colorado 14er.

From Sunlight Summit
Summit block stuff

Here’s the thing that everyone knows about Sunlight. The summit block - they call it the Leap of Faith. The summit marker is not up there. So, as far as many as concerned, yours truly included, the summit on this one is where the marker is, and is the top of the mountain. We climbed the mountain. It really is the top of the mountain, and I personally saw no need to scramble up what looks to be a pretty unsafe and pointless last few feet. Maybe purists would disagree with me. I don’t really care. I climb the 14ers for myself, there is no reward for this othe than what I feel inside. So risking my life to go (maybe) 5 feet higher on a mountain I’ve climbed? No, that is not going to happen.

But one of the group did decide to make a go at the leap. Our nutty friend #3 from earlier, slipped and desperately and awkwardly scrambled up the rocks, and soon he was up there. I’m pretty sure he was just trying to make up for looking like a bit of a dumbass earlier and not knowing the route. I didn’t care. I was Facebooking and Tweeting my summit records, and I read an e-mail. Just barely noticing him out of the corner of my eye, I noticed even he was a bit nervous about the leap down. Good for you big guy, you did it. Then some other poor fool from the other group went up there. I was still reading Facebook and Twitter (it was cut-down day for the Raiders roster, but I digress...) and then I noticed this guy was stuck. He was literally too afraid to jump down. Minutes went by, many minutes went by. Gineth and I decided the weather looked threatening enough that it was definitely time to go and start heading down and onto Windom. As we left the summit we finally heard his “friends” coax him down off the block. No one else out of the 8 or so people would try this ridiculous and pointless exercise.

We started back down the crumbly slopes of Sunlight, later joined by our co-climbers/followers/whatever as they had finally persuaded the friend down from the Sunlight block. Friend #3 whizzed by us and stumbled clumsily down ahead of us. There seemed to be some confusion about the best way across the scree onto the Windom slopes. That was about the time I looked at Gineth, and she looked back at me (of course, she’s always ahead of me) and we communicated telepathically. Time to leave this group of idiots.

Descending Sunlight towards Windom

I eventually caught up to Gineth and we started climbing Windom Peak properly. Windom isn’t really a technical type of a climb. It reminded me more of the collegiate peaks actually, in that it was a lot of boulder hopping and that sort of thing. We made it up to what they call the “notch” on Windom. We were well behind our former comrades at this point. But it really didn’t matter. We had long since written them off as “climbing” partners. Still, we were using them as gauge to our own progress, which was looking seriously in question due to the oncoming stormy looking clouds.

Heading up Windom

The climbing on Windom is less than class 3, but its still difficult at times. There  are no places you feel like you might be in danger of falling, but you definitely have spots where you have to muscle your way up. All this time we were looking to the south, making sure the little black cloud we saw wasn’t heading our way too fast. Eventually that cloud scattered of the east of us. We made it up to the summit and found ourselves in some perfect weather. We started getting a feel for cloud watching at this point - the paths the clouds seem to take and how much time that would buy us. Although we got a rogue hailstorm on us on the way down, there was never any lightning danger and sure enough, after we had cleared off the mountain completely the skies re-opened back and it was a lovely day.

As we made our way back down we noticed the multitudes of mountain goats around on the surrounding hills. We were actually surprised to this point, as I had heard about their abundance in these parts, yet to this point we had not seen a single one. That would change quickly. We arrived back in camp to see several goats just milling around all over. Completely unafraid of people, they seemed oblivious to our presence. I like mountain goats. They are pretty cute animals in my opinion.
Mountain goats on the slopes

That night we went to sleep with this plan: get up same time as yesterday, climb Eolus and North Eolus, and if there were still enough time we would high tail it down to the tracks and hopefully catch the 3:35 train. According to all the trip reports I had read, that was the way to do it. If this could be done, it would save us a whole vacation day, which was very enticing. What could go wrong?

At some point towards midnight as we slept, I awoke to hear the tap, tap, tap of raindrops on the tent.  This was soon to be followed up by on outright downpour. While soothing (I’ve always found the sound of rain on the tent to be relaxing and sleep-inducing) this was very troublesome for our early morning wake up and climb plans. Sure enough, when 4am rolled around, the rain was still coming down as steadily as ever.

Goats amuck in our camp!

I actually thought we weren’t going to climb at all this day. Certainly not if the rain continued, were we going to try our luck on Class 3 rock and the infamous Eolus Catwalk in slippery conditions. When we had parked in Durango, I had paid for an extra day parking ($7) for just such a contingency, so I wasn’t worried about leaving without getting the summits - yet. But I just did not especially think the rain was going to let up once it started, especially since all those forecasts I had previously read always said 70% chance of rain every day. I somewhat resolved us to a rest day, and uncomfortably as always fell back asleep.

We both awoke about the same time, the sun was up and the rain had stopped. A quick glance at the time showed it to be 6:30. Immediately gone was the idea that we would rest this day. The climb was definitely on. This morning we drank some coffee and took our time getting ready. I knew that our late start had effectively erased any chance we had to make the summits, descend and make the train that day. For sure we would have to endure one more tent night, and that removal of pressure actually was a load off our shoulders. All we had to do was summit Eolus and North Eolus, and we had all day to do it.

Going up the trail was much easier in the daylight, especially in the slabby section obviously. But also, it was really nice to see the rest of the trail in the daylight as well. It is a beautiful trail, the trail up to the Twin Lakes. Very green vistas, full of waterfalls in almost every direction await the climbers who hike this amazing trail. Indeed, it was inspiring to look back towards the Chicago Basin and see this pristine and remote Paradise all around.

The way to the Eolus’ is quite a bit easier walking than the way to Sunlight/Windom. As you get to the base of the massif it gets much steeper, but overall the trail is pretty good and easy to follow. We pretty easily navigated our way up the slopes to the notch, where the first bit of Class 3 climbing shows up. There, we bottlenecked up with the other groups on the mountain that day, parts of whom had been on the mountains we had climbed the day before with us. Before ascended this first section we stashed our trekking poles, confident that this area would be a safe cache point for them.

This section is  not extremely hard climbing, and there were plenty of hand and footholds. It did take a little figuring it, but definitely was a lot of fun. When you reach the top of the notch, you can see clearly what you have before you - you are on the Catwalk. We had decided to climb Mt Eolus first, as it is the harder of the two. North Eolus in fact, is by all accounts that we had heard (and later verified to be true ourselves) is a much easier climb on easier rock.

We started off across the Catwalk, part of a larger group of climbers all crossing about the same time. Most of the Catwalk really isn’t hard, its just that it gets pretty narrow in a few sections. The drop off to the north is particularly precipitous. So we didn’t just run across it, even though its rated Class 2 - and justifiably so. Finally we made it across, and looked up at Mt Eolus, which from this perspective looked quite daunting indeed.

Before we climb a 14er, I usually spend a good amount of time studying the route, usually by memorizing the route descriptions I print out from This time, however, Gineth and I were far from alone on the climb. We found ourselves, willingly or unwillingly, part of a bigger group, like it or not. Everyone was climbing about the same speed,  so there was no way to make very much separation.  As such, when we started climbing up Eolus, we generally followed whoever was going first, sort of a pack mentality thing.. The group began by making some pretty obvious by generally wise route-finding decisions. But I couldn’t help but notice the two in front, a younger couple, start to make some choices that were decidedly against what the 14ers directions had described. In particular, they had said to stay towards the center/left, and we were very much headed off to the right. I started reminding people of this, but not many people seemed interested, as they were still making progress up the slopes. Finally, the ones in front hit the inevitable roadblock - end of Class 3 climbing and into Class 4 or 5 looking stuff.

That was when my Gineth took over, thankfully. She commandeered the group, and started going up what was to her the easier way - and just so happens that way agreed with what I had read in our 14er directions. Before I knew it, we were shouting up at people above us who were already on the summit, and just like that we were soon there ourselves. And then the rest of the group piled in behind us - and the Eolus summit is not a big one particularly.

While it was nice to have company on the summit for a change, so many of these we had summitted and been the only ones - it was a little frustrating as one guy sat right on the summit marker and started eating his lunch. Who does that? Nevertheless we got some good summit photos and there was a little cliff and Gineth was abl
e t
o get one of her summit/cliff photos. Again, these summits were the only places around one could get internet signal, so I was able to quickly catch up on the world before we took off for our descent.

The walk back across the Catwalk seemed for whatever reason a little more exciting than the walk towards Eolus had been. Maybe because it’s a little more going up, or maybe I was just more aware of that drop on the north side. Whichever, we made our way across and then up North Eolus, which was just as we had been told, a pretty easy climb up on rock that was very grippy, although a little sharp to the ungloved fingertips. Again, we shared our  summit with the “group” but waited as long as we could so we could be the last ones to leave. After all, we were in no hurry. We weren’t making a train today, and we really had nothing else to do. It was also 11:30am, and no sign of any kinds of threatening weather could be seen.

With a great sense of accomplishment we headed down. We had knocked out the 4 Chicago Basin peaks, an important milestone on the way to climbing all the Colorado 14ers. North Eolus was our 49th summit on our list of 58, and many in the “group” were at a similar number. There was one guy for whom it was his 4th 14er, but everybody else was in the 40’s. So in that sense the “group” really was together, no one really stood out as having more or less experience, as we all had about equal the amount of peaks under our belts.

We did have a surprise waiting for us back where we had stashed our trekking poles. Seems a friendly mountain marmot had decided to snack on the handles of Gineth’s poles! I’ve never worried about this happening before, seems Eolus marmots are hungry marmots.

Gineth and I made our way back down to the Twin Lakes. There we lingered and drank in the sights of the beautiful basin, the pretty alpine tarns, and the herds of mountain goats effortlessly roaming up and down the craggy cliffs. We sat by the lake and rested and napped for a couple of hours. I don’t think in all the 14ers we had ever done that we have had a chance like that to just relax and let the majesty of the mountains soak in. We not only had no other place to be, there was no other place we would rather be right at that moment.

The last thing I have to say about our Chicago Basin trip maybe will touch on a little more political issue, or conservation issue to be specific. When we got back into camp that afternoon, we just relaxed and were generally bored. I was walking around a little bit, just trying to kill time, and came upon two guys dressed in camouflage who were walking quietly up the trail. I wasn’t really thinking about hunters, honestly. I kind of stupidly asked them if they were climbing. No, it turns out one of them had a goat tag.

A few years ago, when we first started climbing 14ers, we had come across two mountain goat hunters while climbing a double summit hike of Mt Oxford and Mt Belford. I remember asking them about their hunt, and them telling us how they had to climb over these two 14ers to find a goat, and then lug the kill back over the mountains and get him out. To me then, mountain goat hunters seemed like the biggest badasses in the hunting world. Climb 2-14ers and then back with a huge animal! Crap, that must take a lot of work, and they were really earning their reward.

But to meet mountain goat hunters in Chicago Basin was just the opposite. Really? You’re going to hunt goats here? To me, it’s tantamount to walking into a herd of cows, and popping one point blank. Where is the “hunt” in this? Where is the challenge, the sport? We would later see these guys later on, as we were about to get on the train. They came running down the trail, smiling from ear to ear. Proudly telling some other hunters (a group of young men who looked to be in the early 20’s, and had come out empty-handed) about their victorious kill and how they had “Got ‘er done”. What a bunch of pussies. You went up and killed a  goat that wasn’t afraid of humans at all. We had them in our freaking camp at night, for godssakes. Now I think mountain goat hunters are the biggest wussbags in the hunting world. Oh well…

I probably ended up getting us out of camp too early the next morning, just because I didn’t want to see them bring a bloody goat down through our campsite. I had just felt too close to these creatures, these masters of mountaineering, to see one picked off by some cowardly redneck trying to prove his masculinity. We ended up waiting at Needleton for quite a few hours because of this, and in the end Elmer Fudd still caught the same train we were on.  By this point I was just ready to get back to civilization. Finally the train arrived, and we were on our way. We drank a couple of Durango Dark Lagers, and that’s when I noticed there was soot, like everywhere. Should have sat in a covered car, I guess. It wasn’t right away we were back in town either. The train picked us at about 3:45, and we got to Durango at 6. But the best thing is this was a trip we wouldn’t have to do again.

The next day, we were headed up towards the Telluride, and our first look at the Wilson Group - Mt Wilson, El Diente Peak, and Wilson Peak. The only one we planned for this year was Wilson Peak, because, well, from what I can tell, Mt Wilson and El Diente are super talus-filled crumbly ankle killers, and with Gineth leaving for Carstenz in little over a week, we needed to keep her healthy. So this was really more of a get to know the area part of the trip. And the Wilson’s had always looked a little intimidating to me too. I remember seeing them from the summit of Mt Sneffels - and I hated the Sneffels climb. They looked like more of the same .

Telluride the town itself I thought was really cool. I vaguely remembered coming here as a child, and hiking up to one the waterfalls east of town with my Dad. Definitely after roughing it for so many days in Chicago Basin it was nice to be in more modern comforts, take the gondola and drink some micro-brews. We had a great time at Tomboy Tavern, and also at Smuggler’s Brew Pub, where we watched the USMNT-Costa Rica soccer game. (We lost :( - making Gineth happy) and enjoyed also many a good brew at Tracks in the Mountain Village.

Back to the mountains, though. We decided on the newly-opened Rock of Ages trailhead, and took some time to find it the day before we were going to climb. Good thing too - although the turnoff to Silver Pick rd is visible on the eastbound side from Placerville, there is no sign coming from Telluride. We went all the way to Placerville and had to backtrack our way. So many times in Colorado I don’t get a chance to see these roads until it is like 3am, so it was good to actually see what we had to drive in the daylight. The road is rough, but easily do-able for a high clearance 2WD. (There’s one creek crossing I might be hesitant to do with a small car)

So the next morning we headed back out to the trailhead. We got there just as daylight struck. It’s great they’ve opened up this trailhead for Wilson Peak. It makes the peak easily do-able in just a dayhike. We easily navigated our way up - until we hit the “Rock House” or “Rock Hotel”  - I think technically it was a hotel, where the trail seemed to peter out. We couldn’t figure out which way to go. We saw people way up higher, and so decided to head straight up to where they were. This is what our 14er directions saidFrom the rock house, you will need to do some brief route finding. Look directly south up on the steep slope to see the remnants of the Silver Pick mine. Just to the left of the mine, locate a dirt "trail" that leads up to the mine. From the rock house, walk across and then up some talus. There's not a great trail here, just continue south up talus until you spot the best way to reach the base of the slope.”

So I thought, OK. We’ll just head up towards those guys. We were passing mine debris everywhere. It was also really, really steep. Was this the trail? We looked down and saw some folks who were following behind us - but they had gone over to the east and looked to be on a regular trail down there - although a flat area and we were climbing. We continued on up our way, and it seemed we had taken a really swell shortcut. We reached a switchback point, and regained a regular trail, from which we could see those behind us ascending up. Oh well, I liked our way better, even if it was a bit of a steeper climb.

Headed up to the saddle from the rock hotel

We reached the saddle, and I did something I have not done many times in the mountains. The mountain I thought we were climbing was the wrong mountain. I guess I had not study the route quite enough, and I thought we were climbing what turned out to be Gladstone Peak, a 13er. We traversed across just like the directions said to, but then at a point Gineth pointed to some climbers above us and said “That’s the way we go.” My first thought, honestly, was “No it isn’t, those guys must be climbing the 13er” - ah, but then I checked my directions once  again. Good thing I have my guiding light Gineth with me. She makes sure I never climb the wrong mountain.

Back on track, we started up the Class 3 ledges. A climber has two options here, the class 3 ledges or descend 100’ or so and climb back up, keeping things class 2 or so. We definitely decided upon the class 3. We just didn’t feel like going down and back up again. There is a little bit of route finding involved, and as almost always, a bit of deciphering between good cairns and cairns that just don’t make a lot of sense. We reached the ridge at last and followed it up to the false summit.

What we had before looked daunting. It really looks bad, looking at the summit of Wilson Peak from the false summit. Wanting to be able to move more efficiently, I cached my backpack. I’ve really got to get myself a better, slimmer, more fit for rock climbing/scrambling backpack. I was still climbing with my expedition North Face Prophet - way overboard. Definitely I felt better without it, as I descended down to a cairn I could see below, on some very challenging terrain.

Wilson Peak Summit block

This was when Gineth busted out the neon green tape. We carry this with us sometimes on harder climbs. It really does help us see - especially on the way down - how we go up a route. We always clean the tape on the way down - always leave no trace. But the neon green tape is easy to see, and definitely acts as a climb-by-the-numbers especially on the way down. We got up to the summit, and it was fantastic. Our 50th Colorado 14er, and it felt very  good. Wilson Peak is a very fun climb, and goes down as one of my favorites. The summit block was tough, but plenty of handholds and footholds made it a blast.

And thus wrapped up our Colorado 2013 campaign. We did get a dayhike in of the Kilpacker approach of El Diente. It’s very beautiful, and I can’t wait to do it next year. I’m a little undecided if we should do the famous traverse to Mt Wilson, or just do separate climbs. Obviously the traverse would be epic, I’ve heard it’s very hard. The approach to Wilson from the north looks - ugh - talus scree blah. But we will see. Until next year Colorado….

Hope we can finish next year. If not, it's still will be good to go to Colorado again. Call it a win/win. 


  1. Awesome trip log! This one has been on my bucket list for a while. Can't wait to do it myself. Thanks for the inspiration. Hope you don't mind if I share on my FB page.
    - Sherpa Bill

  2. Great TR! I have been looking into train-ing it in to the Chicago Basin for a few years, looks as beautiful as I imagine!

  3. Looks like eons have passed after this great trip report. Read through the whole thing. I hope you completed all by now. Please let me know.

    1. Hello midhu and thanks for reading - Yes we did complete the 14ers last year (2016) by summitting Capitol Peak. I have not done a proper write-up to include in the blog... I probably should instead of leaving this off with our 2015 climb. Thanks

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