- Date: August 6, 2019
- Partner: Mike Todt partway
- Height: 14,082 feet
- Range: San Juan
- Route: West Ridge (Difficult Class 2)
- Overall Distance: 5.00 miles
- Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet (Chicago Basin to summit)
- 14ers climbed: 32 separate climbs
- 14ers remaining: 21
- Road Condition to Trailhead: Not applicable.
The constellation of the three different 14ers in the Chicago Basin of the Weminuche Wilderness comprise a unique challenge because of their remoteness. Fortunately, the San Juan Mountains are arguably the most beautiful part of Colorado.
In order to access this area, my friend Mike Todt and I elected to take the Durango & Silverton steam locomotive railroad train to access the area. From Durango, it is about a 2.5-hour trip north paralleling the Animus River to the drop-off alongside the tracks. Then, one has roughly a six-mile hike up the Needle Creek Trail, with 3,000′ of ascent, to the Chicago Basin. Essentially, this whole process will take most of an entire day. Mike and I were able to do this in a relatively easy fashion and find a nice campsite that would serve as our basecamp for the next couple of days.
The weather was pleasantly warm and sunny our first morning heading out towards Windom Peak from the basecamp. Right away, there was a steep climb out of the basin on good trail up to Twin Lakes. It felt good not to be carrying our full backpacks like the previous day. From here, we could plainly see all three 14ers. Because of the previous tough winter, broad snowfields were still present all around the bowl. After taking a few pictures of the area and the resident mountain goats, we continued heading east and then did a right turn up a steep snowfield to access the West Ridge of Windom Peak. At this point, it was all Class 1 climbing.
Once on top of the ridge, things became a bit more serious. The trail became steeper and entered into a semi-serious boulder field. I somehow got off course and veered too far to my left. The reason I knew this was because what was supposed to be a “difficult Class 2” route was clearly turning into something far more of the Class 3 territory. Mike decided to turn around and I continued towards the summit. After about 45-minutes of scrambling and boulder hopping, I was able to find the trail and carefully make my way to the summit. Word of caution to whoever is reading this: watch for the cairns and when in doubt, stay to your right 🙂
This is a fun and very beautiful climb, but do not take it lightly. Bring a helmet and GPS capability with a downloaded GPX track. This felt like a solid 5 on a 1-to-10 scale of 14er difficulty.
I did not stay at the summit for too long and came down the correct way this time. Mike was waiting for me where we had topped out on the ridge and together we had a pleasant journey back down to our tents. By then, it was approaching early afternoon and the monsoon rains were getting ready to make their guest appearance.