- Date: August 7, 2019
- Partner: Mike Todt partway
- Height: 14,083 feet
- Range: San Juan
- Route: Northeast Ridge (Class 3)
- Overall Distance: 5.00 miles
- Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet (Chicago Basin to summit)
- 14ers climbed: 33 separate climbs
- 14ers remaining: 20
- Road Condition to Trailhead: Not applicable.
I am quite behind in updating this blog from my summer mountaineering. In any case, this post picks up from the previous day (see Windom Peak). In the morning, once out of my tent, I was moving around gingerly from the previous day’s climb. My friend Mike Todt and I had a light “mountain” breakfast and once again proceeded to head up the steep slope to Twin Lakes.
Once at Twin Lakes, we stopped to admire a beautiful mountain goat (see the pictures below). The trail made a hard left, went across a grassy plain at the base of a bluff, and climbed up towards a rugged valley. Once into the valley, we begin to encounter some snow and the trail entered into a boulder field. It was here that Mike decided he had enough and would wait for me.
The trail started to become steep and eventually I found myself at the base of a large ramp that cut into the face of a cliff. Once up the ramp, I pushed north until I came to a steep, long snowfield. This looked rather serious (and dangerous) so I made sure my helmet was on, put on my spikes, and used my ice axe as a running picket. Eventually, I reached a steep, narrow slot of rocks that led up to a notch about 200 yards off in the distance.
Once I went through the notch, I looked to my left and could see the infamous “Catwalk”, a narrow sidewalk of rock with very steep exposed drop-offs on either side. I focused on my breathing and feet, not daring to look to either side as I mindfully proceeded across.
Here is where things became much more serious. When I climb alone, I am much more deliberate and careful in my choices. I took my time inspecting the route going up and forward, but it looked dangerously exposed with Class 4 and 5 moves. Therefore, I decided to stay to climber’s left, skirt the rocky summit tower, and come at the summit directly below it from the south. (This would be my recommendation for anyone reading this who is going to attempt this climb.) The going was tough, and several times I got turned around in a maze of cairns, dead-ends, drop-offs, and chimneys. I put on my elk skin gloves and began pulling myself up and over ledges, carefully testing each hand and foot hold before loading my weight onto it. I’ll confess that there was one time where I had this feeling of hopelessness, that I wasn’t going to be able to solve the puzzle. However, ignoring the brief presence of the negative thought, I found a narrow passage that seemed to be leading towards where I thought the summit was. All of a sudden, the terrain seemed to ease up a bit and I popped out on flat rock no more than ten paces from the summit!
I did not stay up on the summit for long; just enough time for a small snack, a small can of coffee to regain my energy, and a gentle and grateful “thanks” to the Universe for delivering me up there safely. Rain was beginning to build to the west and I would not have lots of time to get back down to safety. It was hard to leave because the views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains and the wildflower-filled Chicago Basin were just so gorgeous.
There were two trouble spots on the trip back. First, the steep snowfield I had climbed in the late morning on the way had softened in the sun. I elected to down climb this backwards, facing in towards the slope, making sure my spikes and ice ax were firmly in 3-point contact with the slippery snow at all times. It took me awhile, but safety comes first. Second, it is easy to blow right on by the ramp I mentioned previously. If you do, then you will not be able to safely get back to Twin Lakes since it “cliffs out”, and will have to retrace your route to find the ramp. Please take great care to waypoint the location of where you exit the ramp on your way in (there is a very large cairn that marks the spot).
This mountain tested and humbled me a bit. I am going to give Mount Eolus a solid 7 out of 10 in terms of difficulty among the Colorado 14ers. It’s very remote and requires a disciplined and determined effort to gain its summit. I was once again reminded that I have never “conquered” any mountain; the mountain granted me a wish and chose to allow me to step foot on the summit.